If the word "marshmallow" conjures up images of burned Jet-Puffs oozing between graham crackers, prepare to be wowed. Marshmallows now come in every flavor -- apricot, coconut and even maple-bacon. And Shauna Sever is helping to lead the puffy revolution.
The San Francisco caterer and author began making her own marshmallows as a lark a few years ago, first just to see if she could and then, when she discovered the dessert genre's range of flavor possibilities, in a froth of creative inspiration.
Now she has a new book -- "Marshmallow Madness." We grabbed a few minutes with Sever by phone to ask some deeply serious, sweetly puffy questions.
Q: Let's start with the obvious question. Marshmallows?!?
A: I have a small dessert catering business -- party favors, dessert tables, dessert buffets. As a sort of filler, I'd make a variety of marshmallows in different flavors -- vanilla ones, creamsicle flavor, chocolate, strawberry. They were colorful -- you can do them to match the theme -- and I was noticing, those were the things that disappeared first.
Q: Wait, the marshmallows were disappearing before the fancy-pants tarts and cakes?
A: People were just delighted by the textures, the colors, the flavors. When you see something that makes somebody light up, especially in San Francisco, where no one's impressed by confections because they've had everything -- wow.
Q: How did you get a publisher to bite?
A: Well, I had this opportunity to write a book, and I said, "This is bananas, but what about marshmallows?" My editor was like, "Oh my god." It was a brainstorm that worked.
Q: Well, we're always saying X, Y and Z are the new cupcake. Are marshmallows the new "it" thing?
A: It's up-and-coming. A lot of people are starting to pay more attention. Some smaller artisan candymakers are making marshmallows. The food trends of 2012 -- marshmallows are on a few of those lists. I've never been one to be on trend, so the way this worked out was kind of amazing.
Q: Walk us through the process, the bloom, the syrup, the mallowing. Is that a word?
A: It's a trademark thing -- the mallowing. (Laughs) A lot of people don't understand what's in a marshmallow. The bloom refers to softening powdered gelatin in water, liquor or fruit puree. Meanwhile, you're making the sugar syrup, which is the backbone of a lot of different candy. It's a place to inject a little flavor. In the mallowing stage, you bring these two things together in a heavy-duty stand mixer.
Does it have to be a stand mixer? You can't use a whisk?
It's the key to making these things without your arms falling off. The air gives it the lift and opaqueness. It's a pretty awesome thing. I've made bazillions of batches, and it's a cool thing when it turns from this syrup into this billowy mass. What you get is this little bite of heaven -- this fun little thing.
We get the vanilla, the chocolate, the Fuzzy Navel-flavor and the creme de menthe. But maple-bacon?
Doesn't everything have bacon? It didn't start as much with the bacon as the maple. I was playing with the (maple) idea, and my daughter, who was ingesting too much sugar, said, "This tastes like pancakes!" And my husband was like, "Ha, ha, you should put bacon in it." There you go. It evolved. You have to candy the bacon first, it eases you in, marries the flavor.
Did you try anything horrible?
Oh yes. My husband still talks about the Guinness marshmallow. The idea of it was great -- Guinness has almost earthy, chocolate notes, so I tried it with a crunchy gingerbread coating for an earthy, spicy, malty thing. It was tragic.
BY SHAUNA SEVER
96 pages, $16.95