What’s the number one omnivore’s treat that vegetarians miss eating? Okay, fine, technically it’s bacon (don’t ask me why that is, as I don’t miss it at all), but I’m going to bet that marshmallows come more or less right after it, definitely in the top five.
This hole in the vegetarian’s candy jar is hard enough in the summer, surrounded by blissfully happy s’more-toasters at any campfire you twirl a veggie dog over. But months later, Easter hops onto the scene, and suddenly us vegetarians are surrounded by not only chocolate-covered marshmallow eggs, but Peeps, glorious Peeps.
A few years ago, I started satisfying s’mores cravings with a complicated procedure involving a low-heat oven, Marshmallow Fluff and a blow torch, but then homemade marshmallows became all the rage. It killed me even more than I not only couldn’t eat regular marshmallows, but I also couldn’t make their gourmet grown-up cousins. I saw a recipe for marshmallows made with agar at one point, but I was never really keen to try it knowing the kind of brittle, flaky gel agar tends to produce. At one point, there was a brand of vegetarian marshmallows on the market, but they were outed as not actually being vegetarian before I got my hands on a bag.
Fortunately, the situation is on its way to being resolved. Last year, Chris started getting curious about molecular gastronomy stuff, and one of the interesting recipes he came across was a recipe for marshmallows set with xanthan gum rather than gelatin. It’s from Texture: A hydrocolloid recipe collection, a free PDF download at khymos.org that contains all sorts of interesting recipes, from the weird to the ingenious. He made them, and even though he over-cooked the sugar and made “caramel marshmallows”, I was really amazed at how good the texture and flavor were.