Fresh and Fruity : Fruit purées perk up homemade marshmallows

I don’t like chocolate.

Don’t get me wrong, I like to work with chocolate and I know for most desserts and confections, it’s the go-to ingredient. It’s just that I find the taste of chocolate overpowers everything else in the dish. And it’s just so expected; it seems like everything you can do with chocolate has already been done. If I’m going to have something sweet, I prefer that it be fruit-based, light and a little unusual.

Enter the fruit marshmallow.

Plain marshmallow recipes typically call for two main parts, a base – a sugar and water syrup – and a bloom, usually a mixture of gelatin and water. You heat the base to around 250 degrees, stir in the bloom and whip the mixture thoroughly. Simple, right? Yes, but also a bit bland. I like to try to get as much flavor as possible into the little confections and, for me, that means making fruit marshmallows.

I have discovered that there are two main ways to infuse fruit flavor into marshmallows. The easiest is to substitute some type of fruit juice for the water in both the base and the bloom. I’ve had success using liquids such as orange juice, apple cider and mango nectar. But marshmallows are the Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm of the culinary world, that is, they’re intensely sweet and they have a tendency to overwhelm the delicate flavor of some juices. In order to combat this, I’ve found that it’s a good idea to reduce down the juice by about half in order to boil off some of the water and concentrate the fruit flavor.

The second way is to purée the fruit itself and add it to the base and to the bloom. Puréed strawberries, blackberries or bananas add a more intense flavor than the juice alone and, depending on the fruit, lend a vibrant color as well. (Be sure to strain out the seeds or you’ll have a weird texture.)

Among my marshmallow experiments, I’ve had a few flops. Literally. I’ve used fruit purées that, despite enough whipping to make a dominatrix blush, quite simply refused to inflate. It seems that certain tropical fruits, chiefly mango and passion fruit, contain a protein-dissolving enzyme that negates the power of the gelatin. You can combat this by using products such as mango nectar or by cooking a purée for five or 10 minutes before use.

Some cooks like to punch up the color of the marshmallows with a little food coloring. But some types of natural food colorings contain oil, and any marshmallow, fruit-flavored or plain, likes fat about as much as your average Hollywood housewife. Any sort of fat or oil will cause the confection to deflate immediately, so a gel-based food coloring is often the safest bet.

You can seriously up the cuteness factor of fruit marshmallows in several ways. Make a batch of, say, blueberry marshmallows in a rather thin sheet, and then pour a vibrant blackberry batch on top. When you cut them, you’ll have double layers of flavor and color. Although I don’t tend to be handy with the pastry bag, those who are could easily pipe the fresh marshmallows into shapes. Easier for me is to use a cookie cutter when the marshmallows are set.

Although I tend to eat fruit marshmallows straight up, you can easily use them in recipes which call for plain. Wouldn’t passion fruit marshmallows punch up an old-fashioned ambrosia salad? Or if you absolutely must have chocolate, how about strawberry marshmallows scattered on top of a fudgy brownie? Just hold the brownie for me.