Candy Lab Homemade Marshmallows

by R.B. Quinn and Min Merrell

Homemade marshmallows are so easy to make. I made a batch for the B roll portion of my episode of Chopped, “Offal Surprise.” My son, Louis Dunn, was the hungry teen who jumped up and popped one in his mouth. Here’s my quick story about these dessert gems. 

Today, if you want a career in food, you’ll likely start by applying to culinary school. It wasn’t always this way, especially for women. Last century, generations of young ladies (and some guys) learned food prep and science through home economics departments thanks to the land-grant university system. With the mission to provide American citizens with practical knowledge based on university research, home ec fit right in with agriculture and engineering efforts to make lives easier and more efficient. Home economists with food and nutrition degrees went to work as county extension agents, newspaper food editors, dietitians, home ec teachers, corporate consumer affairs and test kitchen managers, and food marketing and communications specialists.

In fact, I am a Virginia Tech home economics graduate; quite an unusual major during the early 1980’s when most women at that time were searching for big careers far beyond home ec. “I don’t cook,” was the fashionable mantra of the young women heading to the office in big shoulder-padded blue suits, bow blouses, and sensible pumps. This caused a severe identity crisis for home economics as many universities voted to eliminate the outdated term altogether in favor of human ecology, consumer sciences, family studies, and at Virginia Tech—human resources. What’s that?

How ironic that the foodie world would explode with artisanal and handmade everything. Meanwhile, plenty of home ec grads and I are still busy churning out clever ideas, good advice, and great home cooking thanks to practical knowledge learned in classes like Food Selection and Preparation.

More than 25 years later, when faced with a nagging question about leavening, the hard ball stage, or braising a chuck roast, I still refer to my tattered 7th edition Foods textbook and lab manual co-authored by my Foods and Nutrition professor Dr. Jean Phillips. A product of the land-grant university system with degrees from the University of Tennessee and Purdue University, Dr. Phillips was an accomplished, well-liked, no-nonsense teacher driven by the core belief that good food represents the balance between science and art.

This same philosophy drives us at Cheater Chef. We strive for balance. In an era a little too interested in perfection and confused by too many choices, it’s easy to lose sight of the reasonable middle ground and the joy of making good food in regular life with regular ingredients.

For example, well into my food marketing career in the late 1990s, a Dr. Phillips’ moment occurred at swanky Jean-Georges in New York City. The epiphany was a tiny tray of pristine homemade marshmallows, some flavored with lavender. Worlds collide! Dr. Phillips’ candy lab morphed into five-star gastronomy. A little practical home ec food science blended with a little-checkered pants pizazz. It’s all perception. You, too, can blend art and science and enjoy the power of homemade marshmallows in your own kitchen candy lab.

I like to wow dinner guests with a plate of homemade marshmallows. Seals the deal every time. Once at a lively dinner with the neighbors, I passed a plate of vanilla and peppermint marshmallows to accessorize rich chocolate Cheater Chef Pot de Creme. Everyone went nuts—-a simple Cheater Chef moment of balance thanks to Dr. Phillips and Jean-Georges.

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