The next big thing: Artisan marshmallows

Caterer Shauna Sever is the author of the new book "Marshmallow Madness!" She...
(Karl Mondon/Contra Costa Times/MCT)
Story by Jackie Burrell
(San Jose Mercury News (MCT))
Thu, Mar 8, 2012
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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” (Quirk Books, 96 pages, $16.95), and her publisher has teamed up with Serious Eats for “Marsh Madness” (cue the pun-induced groans), a marshmallow-inspired Sweet Sixteen for food bloggers.

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.

Q: Does it have to be a stand mixer? You can’t use a whisk?

A: 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.

Q: We get the vanilla, the chocolate, the Fuzzy Navel-flavor and the creme de menthe. But maple-bacon?

A: 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.

Q: Did you try anything horrible?

A: 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.

Q: So the Marsh Madness thing is an opportunity for people to make their own weird, wonderful flavors?

A: It’s crazy and brilliant. The possibilities are endless, I’m eager to see what people come up with. But I’m capping it at maple-bacon.


Quirk Books and Serious Eats are teaming up this month for a Sweet Sixteen of a very different sort. Instead of basketball, their version of Marsh Madness features marshmallow recipes crafted by 16 food bloggers. Track the fun on Twitter by following the marshmadness hash tag. For more information, visit


The bloom:

  • 4 1/2 teaspoons unflavored powdered gelatin
  • 1/2 cup cold water

The syrup:

  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup light corn syrup, divided
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt

The mallowing:

  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla
  • 1/2 cup classic coating, plus more for dusting (see recipe below)

Lightly coat an 8-by-8-inch baking pan with cooking spray. Whisk together gelatin and cold water in a bowl and let soften for 5 minutes.

For the syrup, stir together sugar, 1/4 cup corn syrup, water and salt in a saucepan over high heat. Boil, stirring occasionally, until temperature reaches 240 degrees.

Meanwhile, pour remaining 1/4 cup corn syrup into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk. Microwave gelatin on high until melted, about 30 seconds. Pour into mixer bowl. Set the mixer speed to low and keep it running.

When syrup reaches 240 degrees, slowly pour it into the mixer bowl. Increase speed to medium; beat 5 more minutes. Increase speed to highest setting and beat 1-2 minutes more. Beat in vanilla. The batter will be opaque white, fluffy and tripled in volume.

Pour it into the prepared pan, using an offset spatula to smooth it into the corners. Sift coating evenly and generously over the top. Let set for at least 6 hours in a cool, dry place.

Use a knife to loosen the edges. Invert the slab onto a coating-dusted work surface and dust with more coating. Cut into 1-inch squares or whatever size you prefer (a pizza cutter works well for this). Dip the sticky edges of the marshmallows in more coating, shaking off the excess. Makes about 2 dozen.

Variations: Fold in 1/2 cup mini chocolate chips or 1/3 cup crushed Oreo cookies before pouring the marshmallow into the prepared pan.

— Shauna Sever, “Marshmallow Madness!” (Quirk, 96 pages, $16.95)


  • 1 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 cup cornstarch

Sift the ingredients together or use a food processor to combine them. Store in an airtight container. Makes 2 1/2 cups.

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