Weightless pillows of sweet perfection, light as air and oh so heavenly. Drop them in a steaming cup of chocolate, use them to bind cereal into gooey deliciousness or simply pop one in your mouth and let it dissolve into pure sugary delight. The marshmallow with its mass-marketed, brightly colored, supermarket incarnations may seem like a truly modern candy, but in reality, like so many things, it was born in our shared ancient history. Let’s take a look at its past before we share with you a recipe from its present, a decadent S’more Pie.
The marshmallow wasn’t always a confectionary treat. The “marsh-mallow plant” or Althaea officinalis grew around salt marshes and large bodies of water and contained important medicinal properties. The ancient Greeks used it to treat a variety of ailments. Hippocrates recommended it for wounds, bruises, hemorrhages, dislocations, swollen muscles, dysentery and lung problems. “The decocted root is given to the wounded as a drink to quench thirst arising from the loss of blood.” The Greek philosopher Theophrastus noted that marshmallow could be used in oil and applied to ulcers or put in wine to treat coughing. The ancient Egyptians put the little plant to work as far back as 2000 BCE, giving it to children with sore throats, but they also recognized its culinary potential. The extracted sap was combined with nuts and honey to create a chewy treat. The Egyptian candy was reserved for children, gods and royals.
Fast forward to the mid-nineteenth century where the modern marshmallow finally began to take shape. After centuries of being used mainly as a throat lozenge, the French decided that while it was quite a good lozenge it was also a rather delicious treat and they endeavored to improve upon the ancient recipe. They whisked the sap together with egg whites and sugar to create a frothy foam that would harden into a candy. It was a slow process that yielded a small amount of marshmallows at one time so it was only undertaken by small candy shops and confectionaries.
By the late 1800’s, with marshmallow popularity on the rise, it became necessary to find a new and more efficient way to mass produce the candy. Gelatin replaced the actual marshmallow plant sap and a system called the “starch mogul” system used cornstarch molds that allowed for a much easier and efficient marshmallow-making process. The addition of gelatin and cornstarch gave the confection its chewy, but stable form.
Throughout the years, new and better ways of making the marshmallow have developed so that today we have every color, shape, size and variation at our finger tips. The only sad thing about our modern day mallow is the lack of any trace of the original marshmallow plant. It is important to note however, that the medicinal benefits of the plant are still appreciated today and included in all natural sore throat remedies. These soothing concoctions are especially useful for children who may have adverse reactions to typical store-bought pharmaceuticals.
And now it’s time to enjoy the marshmallow in a truly decadent way. As you bite into the rich and gooey S’more Pie, remember the humble marshmallow plant, treating the ills of the ancients, not knowing how it would inspire an iconic candy with endless possibilities.
Prep time: 5 hours including chilling
Cook time: 35 minutes
- One 9-inch pre-made graham cracker pie crust
For chocolate filling:
- 7 oz. bittersweet chocolate (not more than 70% cacao), finely chopped
- 1 cup of heavy cream
- 1 large egg, at room temperature for 30 minutes
For marshmallow topping:
- 1 teaspoon of unflavored gelatin
- ½ cup of cold water
- ¾ cup of sugar
- ¼ cup of light corn syrup
- ½ teaspoon of vanilla
- Vegetable oil, for greasing
- Unwrap the pie shell and place it on a cookie sheet.
- Preheat the oven to 350ºF.
- First make the chocolate filling by placing the chopped chocolate in a large bowl.
- Bring the heavy cream to a boil in a heavy saucepan then pour it over the chopped chocolate and let it sit for 1 minute.
- Whisk together the chocolate and heavy cream until it’s thoroughly incorporated and smooth.
- Gently whisk in the egg and a pinch of salt until combined, then pour the mixture into the prepared pie crust (it will be about half full). Cover the exposed crust with a pie shield or foil.
- Bake the pie for 20 to 25 minutes, just until the chocolate is mostly set but slightly jiggly in the center.
- Allow the pie to cool on a rack for one hour while you make the marshmallow topping.
- Make the marshmallow topping by adding ¼ cup cold water to the bowl of a heat-proof stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Sprinkle the gelatin over the water and let it stand until firm, about 1 minute.
- Stir together the sugar, corn syrup, a pinch of salt, and remaining ¼ cup water in a heavy saucepan and bring it to a boil over moderate heat, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Boil it until a candy thermometer registers 260ºF, about 6 minutes.
- Begin beating the gelatin mixture on medium speed, then very carefully pour in the hot sugar syrup in a slow stream. Try your best to avoid the paddle and the sides of the bowl.
- Once all the syrup has been added, continue beating it on medium speed until the mixture has tripled in volume and is thick and glossy, about 5 minutes.
- Add the vanilla and beat it just until combined and then immediately pour the marshmallow topping over the pie. It will be loose enough to spread. Refrigerate the pie for one hour, uncovered, then cover it with plastic wrap that has been coated lightly in vegetable oil and chill it for 3 more hours.
- Preheat the broiler.
- Place the pie on a cookie sheet, remove the plastic wrap and cover the pie edges with a pie shield or foil.
- Very carefully rotate the pie under the burner, about 3 to 4 inches away from the flame, just until the top is evenly browned, about 3 minutes.
- Let the pie cool for 10 minutes before slicing it with a sharp knife dipped in hot water.
 Rohde, Eleanour Sinclair; A Garden of Herbs, Hale Cushman & Flint, 1936