Photo credit: StockFood
As noted butter enthusiast Linda Richman might say, “A Lucky Charms marshmallow is neither lucky nor deserving of the word ‘marshmallow.’ Discuss.”
Though the chalky pastel nubbins in Lucky Charms cereal—which turns a ripe 50 years old on March 17—may seem as different from fluffy, melt-in-your-mouth ‘mallows as night is from day, they’re both members of the marshmallow family.
How is such a thing possible? For answers we turned to Alex Levin, the pastry chef of Osteria Morini in Washington, D.C., and maker of many a marshmallow.
There are two distinct types of marshmallows, Levin explained: confectionery and pâte de guimauve. Confectionery marshmallows tend to be the mass-produced type, and include both Kraft’s Jet-Puffed Mallows and Lucky Charms’ petite marshmallows. (The difference in texture between the two is thanks to varying levels of gelatin and water.) Pâte de guimauve, on the other hand, is a silky French style of marshmallow favored by high-end restaurants and bakeries. Both types are made using gelatin, sugar, corn syrup, and water, but only pâte de guimauve contains egg whites, which makes them light and airy.
"[Confectionery marshmallows] are very dense and they’re made to be a candy, really," Levin said. "For instance, Lucky Charms uses a method of making marshmallows that minimizes the amount of water. That makes it so shelf-stable that you could have a marshmallow that lasts over a year."
Conversely, the egg whites in pâte de guimauve give it a much shorter shelf life. “They’re light. They’re fluffy. You can flavor them in many different ways, and they are incredibly delicious,” said Levin. “But in three days, they oxidize and turn yellow. After a week, they actually start to become moldy.”
Levin unabashedly prefers pâte de guimauve, and has ever since he first sampled one while working as an intern at New York City’s Jean-Georges restaurant in 2011.
To this day, Jean-Georges serves complimentary pâte de guimauve at the end of every meal, along with petits fours. Levin recalls waiters walking around cradling large glass jars containing long, sugared marshmallow strips, snipping off fluffy cubes onto diners’ plates using a “very beautiful pair of scissors.”
"That made an impression on me," Levin said. "It’s a special experience to see this happen—to have [diners] think, ‘Oh, it’s just a marshmallow,’ and then they bite into it and think, ‘This is the best thing I’ve ever had.’ I’m very glad that I learned how to make them."
If you’re up for making marshmallows at home, we suggest trying a recipe for pâte de guimauve. Sure, they won’t stay fresh for as long as other ‘mallows, but these aren’t the sorts of treats you’re going to want to tuck away in a cabinet. They’re too good.
Pâte de Guimauve (Fresh Marshmallows)
from Alex Levin, adapted from Jean-Georges
Makes two 9” x 13” sheet pans of marshmallows
60 grams (2.11 oz) silver gelatin bloomed in ice cold water
900 grams (31.75 oz) white sugar
200 grams (7.05 oz) corn syrup
600 grams (21.16 oz) egg whites (about 20 eggs)
2 vanilla bean pods, split lengthwise and scraped
2 cups powdered sugar
2 cups cornstarch
1. Dampen two 9” x 13” x 1” sheet pans with a wet cloth and press plastic wrap against bottom and up sides of pan, leaving overhang.
2. Place gelatin in bowl of ice-cold water, letting it sit until the gelatin is fully saturated.
3. Add sugar and corn syrup to pot, adding water until the mixture is roughly the texture of wet sand. Set heat to high, and let come to a boil. Meanwhile, in a separate bowl, mix egg whites at medium speed in a stand mixer until soft peaks form.
4. In the meantime, using hands, squeeze water from gelatin. When sugar and corn syrup mixture reaches 311 degrees Fahrenheit, remove from heat and fold in gelatin. Mix with a wooden spoon until fully incorporated.
5. Mixing egg whites on low speed, pour in hot gelatin and sugar mixture, then increase mixing speed to high. Continue until mixture has cooled to room temperature, about 10 minutes.
6. Spread egg white, gelatin, and sugar mixture evenly over plastic in sheet pans and let sit for 2 hours.
7. Mix confectionery sugar and cornstarch together in a separate bowl. Spread 1/2 cup of the mixture over the top of each pan of marshmallows. Cover tightly with plastic wrap, then flip tray onto a 9” x 13” baking sheets. Remove bottom plastic wrap, which is now on the top, and spread remaining confectionery sugar and corn starch mixture. Let marshmallows sit at room temperature overnight before cutting into cubes and serving.