More than likely, if you've ever made s'mores at a campfire, opened a plastic egg to find a marshmallow Peep, or drank a mug of hot cocoa with mini marshmallows floating on top, you'd agree that marshmallows are fun. They're puffy, light, and springy—qualities that convince the kid in us that marshmallows must be made by magic, or at least in some Willy Wonka-esque factory.
Magic You Can Make at Home
Marshmallow-making is magic you can very easily create at home. Make a sugar syrup and beat it for awhile with gelatin and you've got marshmallows. That's the easiest method. Add egg whites to the mix, and they become even more ethereal. My favorite method for making marshmallows with eggs is to just blend beaten egg whites into that syrup/gelatin mixture. To see the basic process broken down into steps, take a look at the slideshow.
Adding flavors, colors and textures to create a marshmallow tasting platter of your own is simple enough. Green tea, coconut, cocoa-amaretti, espresso, peppermint is the assortment I tried out at home.
The Vegan Marshmallow Conundrum
The only truly tricky thing about marshmallows is making a vegan marshmallow. I'd seen them out there (Sweet and Sara and Chicago Soydairy) and figured, how hard could it be? But here's the problem: it's the protein in animal-based gelatins that works so beautifully in combination with the sugar syrup to create those marshmallow-y peaks. If it's mammal protein you'd like to avoid, and you can locate some fish-derived gelatin (possibly at a Kosher market where might also find other Kosher gelatins that are beef derived), you can substitute that.
But if you want to use a vegetable-based gelatin, like agar agar, you need to introduce another ingredient that is high in protein, like soy. Plus, you'll want other ingredients to help bind and stabilize the ingredients. Experimenting with agar agar, egg replacer, vegetarian gelatin packets, soy flour, soy protein isolate, xanthan gum, and sweet rice flour, I had many disasters and a renewed respect for store-bought vegan marshmallows. Finally, I did wind up with something that works.