Monday, July 16, 2018
Cooking

The magic behind handcrafted marshmallows, another artisanal food trend

Nathan and Jenn Clark are wild for marshmallows.

Not the perfectly shaped grocery store blobs that last a lifetime, but the real, handcrafted deal.

Like doughnuts and macarons before them, marshmallows have been swept up in the artisanal food trend, made from scratch with flair the way so many trendy confections now are. Chicago's first marshmallow-only shop, XO Marshmallow Cafe + Wonderland, opened in June to much fanfare; its Harry Potter-themed Butterbeer marshmallows sold out rapidly last month.

And the Clarks were on the marshmallow scene long before that. They own Wondermade in Sanford (Jenn, 37, grew up in Safety Harbor and St. Petersburg), a specialty sweets shop that opened in 2012 and has since become known nationally for its 'mallows in hundreds of flavors.

MAKE YOUR OWN: Michelle Stark tells you how to make marshmallows at home

There may be no greater person to spread the marshmallow gospel than Nathan, 39, who asked how much time I had when I posed this question to him recently: Why marshmallows?

"The thing that hooked me to even think about them is that they're so small and light and there's not many calories in them," Nathan said. "They are this perfect vehicle for flavor delivery. And they're just so much fun. It's unusual to find a food that everyone wants to love but hasn't experienced in its best form."

He is very passionate about this idea, that to eat a handcrafted marshmallow is to experience something completely new. That's how he and his wife first caught the marshmallow bug. It was a Christmas gift for her: a candy thermometer and a marshmallow cookbook. Something they could do in their spare time when their young kids (they have five) were sleeping. That first batch, a passion fruit flavor, changed everything.

"The first time you make a dish, it's never the best version of that dish," Nathan said. "But this was the best marshmallow we had ever tasted. That's when we realized we had only ever encountered mediocre marshmallows. And we soon found out that marshmallows were intended to be a much better thing than people normally experience."

They started giving marshmallows to friends, and one day, someone asked if they could buy some. From there, it was a year of ingredient sourcing, process refining and branding before they opened the shop.

"We launched it without any market research. We were honestly just so in love with really great marshmallows," Nathan said. "And it seemed so self-evident that the whole world would agree."

Now, they are known widely for their many flavors. This Christmas, Wondermade is debuting a vegan marshmallow, something the Clarks have spent three years perfecting. It's elusive in the marshmallow world, because marshmallows rely heavily on gelatin, which is made from animal products. (More about that in a bit.)

Bestsellers are Birthday Cake, Gold Champagne (which they flake with 24-karat gold) and Bourbon, which Nathan said has become a popular gift for the inscrutable man in your life.

"You can only give your dad so many ties. He only has one neck."


COOKING: Recipes and more at Stark From Scratch

SIGN UP: Get cooking tips in your inbox

MORE: Restaurant news and reviews


• • •

I had heard about Wondermade before; most local folks who take an interest in artisanal marshmallows end up there. But finding a Tampa Bay confectionery that makes its own marshmallows was more difficult. There aren't many at all.

A tip from a local small-business owner eventually led me to Cake Affection, a St. Petersburg shop owned by Aaron and Ivy Lippard that is mostly known for its (notably delicious; they do a cooked European buttercream) cupcakes and custom cakes.

Marshmallows have been part of the menu since they opened in 2014.

On a recent visit to the shop, the Lippards had marshmallows in three stages: done and ready to be packaged, small white squares covered in confectioners' sugar, some dipped in chocolate, sitting on a parchment-lined pan; in the squidgy waiting stage, resting in a pan until they were ready to be cut; and various liquids just getting ready to come together in a KitchenAid stand mixer.

I watched Ivy work as she explained a couple of things about marshmallows.

First, the components: cane sugar, water, corn syrup, gelatin and egg whites. ("We're so anti high-fructose corn syrup, but we tried to make it without it and you don't get same texture, you don't get the same sponge," Aaron said.) That's really it, aside from flavorings like vanilla, the Lippards' standard flavor. The first three ingredients get mixed together in a saucepan and brought to a boil, then added to gelatin and whisked heartily for about 15 minutes to create a marshmallow flufflike consistency. That gets poured into a pan, set out for a couple hours, and voila, marshmallows.

Second: the sticky factor. Making marshmallows can be really gooey, so Ivy likes to coats all of her baking supplies with Crisco, to keep things moving along.

"I tell people to make them at home with their kids, even though it's messy," she said. "It can be a fun science experiment." Later, I think about how it is in fact miraculous that such a simple process leads to the oddly textured sweet.

Third: Gelatin stinks. Ivy told me this right away, saying she often has to apologize to customers for the stench when they're making marshmallows in the space that opens right out into the storefront. I figured she must be exaggerating, that it couldn't be that bad. Standing across the counter as Ivy added the boiling sugar mixture to the mixer, I still thought this. Then, finally, after a couple of seconds of whisking, it hit me. The Times photographer who was also there suggested dirty gym socks; all I have to say in my notes is this: "Wow, it really, really stinks."

The self-taught bakers do seasonal flavors and have experimented with things that turned out to be both hits and misses. Pumpkin spice? Not so much. Their most popular flavor is s'mores, which is dipped in chocolate and graham cracker and gets torched. Another winner? Unicorn, inspired by that infamous Starbucks latte: cotton candy-flavored marshmallows with swirls of color throughout.

I tried one of their s'mores marshmallows, Aaron torching the little guy just before handing it to me. It tasted like a marshmallow. But a really good marshmallow, satisfyingly chewy and not too sweet, the hardened chocolate and crushed graham crackers rendering an actual s'mores unnecessary.

I can see why the Lippards and the Clarks find the treat so intriguing. It's a blank canvas onto which creativity can be wildly cast. And it's like nothing else.

Nathan Clark finds marshmallows constantly engaging — uncooked, toasted, in s'mores, in steamy drinks. There are so many things you can do with them, and so many chances to recruit converts. People who think they don't like marshmallows often fall for particular flavors at Wondermade.

And Nathan is confident that the only thing separating the lovers from the haters is trying a handcrafted version.

"We haven't found anyone we couldn't win over with some form of a marshmallow."

     
           
Comments
Here's what we learned about buying and cooking beef after spending time with Niman Ranch

Here's what we learned about buying and cooking beef after spending time with Niman Ranch

We started off our education at a Niman Ranch family ranch, where the Edelman family raises Angus beef, birth to finish, in the Flint Hills of Sabetha.
Published: 07/09/18
Nine recipes for ice pops you can make at home

Nine recipes for ice pops you can make at home

By Daniel Neman Itís summer, and the sun is relentless, merciless, heartless. The air hangs heavy. Your shirt sticks to your back. Beads of sweat threaten to drip into your eyes.Air conditioning wonít help, and neither will a dip in a pool. Those c...
Published: 07/09/18
Give vegetables a starring role in grilled kebabs

Give vegetables a starring role in grilled kebabs

Americaís Test KitchenWhen it comes to grilled kebabs, vegetables are often an afterthought, typically used as a filler on meat-heavy skewers. But this treatment often leads to mushy, burnt vegetables with no flavor of their own. We wanted to create ...
Published: 07/06/18
Quench your thirst with a Watermelon Strawberry Smoothie

Quench your thirst with a Watermelon Strawberry Smoothie

By Katie WorkmanHoly mother of summer, itís gotten hot. My dog is sleeping in our shower because the tiles are cool. Iím testing recipes in the morning because I donít want my oven cranking all afternoon. And (this is how I know itís really hot), I m...
Published: 07/06/18
Recipe for pork tenderloin, my favorite cut for a weeknight dinner, with cherry relish

Recipe for pork tenderloin, my favorite cut for a weeknight dinner, with cherry relish

Pork tenderloin has become my dinnertime champion. I love it for its low fat content, its relatively low price point and the way it will cook perfectly with little to no supervision. The tenderloin, as you might expect, comes from the loin of the pig...
Published: 07/05/18
Updated: 07/10/18
Tips for your home bar, plus cocktail and trail mix recipes

Tips for your home bar, plus cocktail and trail mix recipes

On this most American of holidays, I went to local spirts (and tiki) connoisseur Dean Hurst for some expert advice about tiki culture ó and the drinks that foster the colorful, tropical vibes. Tiki bars are an American creation, though they borrow th...
Published: 07/03/18
Recipe for a bright quinoa salad with a bite, creaminess and acidity

Recipe for a bright quinoa salad with a bite, creaminess and acidity

Sure, quinoa is a complete protein and is known as a "superfood," so itís a great base for a hearty and healthful main dish salad. But we love it also for its intriguing and delicate texture and nutty flavor. For a quinoa salad that showcased these g...
Published: 07/03/18
Taste test: Storebought sugar cones for ice cream

Taste test: Storebought sugar cones for ice cream

Whenever we talk about summertime memories, our panelists always end their stories with ice cream. Making our own cones was a big treat in my youth, and our tasters have similar experiences. This week, we asked them to taste some of the sugar cones o...
Published: 07/02/18
Five ideas for appetizers and snacks using summer fruit

Five ideas for appetizers and snacks using summer fruit

Fourth of July falls on a Wednesday this year, which means your best course of action is probably to enjoy the federal holiday at home with an abundance of summery foods and cold drinks. Click here for grilling inspiration, an easy way to get that m...
Updated one month ago
All burgers taste mostly the same. Hereís how to make one stand out.

All burgers taste mostly the same. Hereís how to make one stand out.

By Daniel NemanAnyone can make a hamburger, and they all taste pretty much the same. So how can you make yours stand out?Hereís a mantra to remember: It isnít the burger, itís what you put on top of it. A hamburger is just a hamburger, but a bacon-ch...
Updated one month ago