Have you ever made a marshmallow from scratch? Well let me tell you, it’s not easy. Actually, allow me to rephrase that. It’s not easy at first. The beginning of my homemade marshmallow adventure was an impossibly sticky mess of goo that refused to shape into uniform, bite-sized confections. But with a little bit of practice and a lot of will, I was soon roasting and devouring the perfect homemade marshmallow, and making hundreds for our guests to share in this campfire ecstasy. A homemade marshmallow is unlike any store-bought marshmallow. It is otherworldly.
When we pitched Firelight Camps in the fall of 2014, I was determined that any food we served would match the quality of our natural surroundings: beautiful, vibrant, fresh and unadulterated. I wove these values into our breakfast program, and then set to work ensuring their consistency in our budding line of Camp Store Provisions, beginning with our homemade s’more kits. After all, the quintessential American campfire experience is not complete without a s’more.
I tested batch after batch of marshmallows in my home kitchen. At first I refused to use corn syrup or gelatin, trying every sweet alternative available to mankind: brown rice syrup, honey, maple syrup, a combination of egg whites and organic cane sugar, and more. The final product was always divine in flavor, but couldn’t stand up to a licking flame. The marshmallows would melt fast, often escaping into the ashy abyss before landing on a graham cracker. The shelf life was also wobbly at best; the marshmallows would sweat in their packaging on scorching hot days and wrinkle like a prune in the cold. It was essential for me to create a recipe that would guarantee we could serve consistent s’more kits at camp while also producing the exaggerated puffy, torched effect we Americans have come to love from store-bought, Jet-Puffs.
One of Firelight Camp’s co-founder, Kyle Reardon, eventually tired of my crusade against corn syrup and dug up proof of its merits in marshmallow production. According to Wikipedia’s article on “Marshmallow”, French confectioners pioneered a version that called for a combination of gelatin and cornstarch to transform the sap of wild marshmallow root into a more conventional treat for the masses. Eventually, corn syrup replaced cornstarch, creating a widely accessible recipe. Moving into the modern scene, Louise Emerick unabashedly uses corn syrup in her YouTube video America’s Test Kitchen DIY Marshmallows. We can safely assume she tested her recipe to perfection. So, I caved, and tried again with corn syrup. After all, I was making candy.
The following round of trials yielded astounding improvements. My new marshmallows sliced into pillowy squares, held up to - and reveled in! - the campfire, and stayed perky and fresh in their packaging. My next challenge was to satisfy our guests’ growing s’more addiction.
When we first opened, my days were filled with umpteen other tasks before I could turn my attention to marshmallows and graham crackers. As a result, s’more production usually happened after midnight and into the wee hours of the morning. Forget burning the midnight oil … it was burnt out, and so was I! After our first season came to a close in late October, I set out to find a partner who could produce our s’more recipes with the same attention to quality.
My search was equally challenging. Apart from the fact that we were producing s’mores in small batches, most “co-packers” I met with couldn’t ensure where their ingredients came from. If we couldn’t use locally produced ingredients, it was important to me that we were using the next best option.
Then a thought dawned on me: why not ask Serendipity Catering? They were one of our preferred caterers to work with for weddings and events, and operated out of a kitchen not more than half a mile from camp. They were known for taking on the most exciting challenges when no one else would, for attracting the best chefs, and for sourcing local ingredients when possible.
Serendipity took to the idea immediately and I sent along my recipes for their pastry chef, Benjamin, to experiment. Benjamin was trained at The Culinary Institute of America, which along with his natural intuition gave him a treasure trove of tricks for producing food on a large scale without sacrificing the finesse of handcrafted flavor. When it comes to s’mores, his combination of skills is essential.
Within a week I was back in their test kitchen, sampling an array of marshmallows torched on the spot. The graham crackers retained the same chewy, shortbread quality from the whole wheat pastry flour we use, produced by our local growers and millers at Farmer Ground Flour. Benjamin had improved them with a cracker roller, imprinting consistent dots to help the crackers rise evenly. His bittersweet chocolate squares were velvety and luxurious, thicker than a Hershey square and offering a wider surface for melting with the scorched marshmallow. We worked together over the next few weeks to refine the product, from flavor to size to packaging.
We opened in 2015 with our new s’mores, neatly packaged and ready to roast. Thousands of guests have since had the simple, indulgent pleasure of roasting one over the campfire in our outdoor lounge. On more than one occasion we’ve witnessed guests teaching s’more newcomers (usually from Canada, abroad or New York City) how to make the perfect dessert sandwich … this is nearly always accompanied with a debate on how to roast a marshmallow.
I ate so many s’mores last season that I welcomed this winter break, but as spring unfolds and we begin to pitch the camp again, I’m looking forward to many more excuses to sink my teeth into a s’more while swapping stories around the campfire.
How do you roast the perfect marshmallow? I’d love to hear in the comments below!
With sticky fingers <3