When I found out how easy it is to make marshmallows, I went a little crazy for a while. Fresh marshmallow in everything. Finally I topped a layer of banana cake with a layer of butterscotch-flavored marshmallow in place of frosting. People loved that one, though they did point out its distracting appearance because it reminded them of rapper Vanilla Ice’s haircut from the ’90s.
Once upon a time, the only desserts I made were pies, and then it occurred to me that a repressed desire for a thick, rich filling was subverting my more recent cake obsession. So I figured, might as well go with it and make a pie with a marshmallow filling.
For some reason, I saw it with a graham cracker bottom crust and a chocolate top crust. Well, clearly another repressed desire was breaking through. This was basically the idea of the Mallomar, that over-the-top cookie that Nabisco produces only during the cool part of the year because the chocolate coating would melt in hot weather.
The difference is that 1) this was a pie that I could slice into pieces of any size I liked, and 2) I could make it any time of year! A triumph over the limitations of eating guilty pleasures seasonally! You probably have most of the ingredients in your pantry all the time.
The result is a truly seductive indulgence, combining the toasty, buttery aroma and cinnamon perfume of the graham cracker crust with the rich, bittersweet chocolate ganache and the incomparably plush treat that is fresh marshmallow. Frankly, I liked it even better than a Mallomar because I preferred the flavor and crumbliness of this crust to the latter’s prosaic cookie bottom. Also, I can make it with whatever kind of chocolate I liked (psst: Valrhona), and the marshmallow filling is moist and fresh.
Not a picture-perfect look, but simply delectable
If you like your desserts to look neat, this one has a certain failing. I’ve tried and tried, but it’s practically impossible to slice through the ganache topping without leaving some chocolate bits on the filling. On the other hand, those bits are chocolate, so they’ve got that going for them. And no matter what you do, there will be crumbs.
Of course, you could buy one of those ready-made crumb crusts at the supermarket, but make sure it’s big enough. You want a 9-inch crust that’s about 1½ inches deep (the label may refer to it as a 10-inch crust). You could even buy (or make) a chocolate crumb crust, which gives you more chocolate, but at the cost of a certain diversity of flavor.
I’m obliged to say I think the graham cracker crust is philosophically superior. It’s wholesome and earthy; it’s there to remind you that life is real, life is earnest, and it’s never going to be all chocolate and marshmallow. Or at least only part of the time.
Note: These days Nabisco is marketing its graham crackers in a box with three packets of nine crackers each. I think this crust really needs 10 because it’s a little more fragile and less flavorful with nine. So we have a familiar problem, like the way hot dogs and hot dog buns are sold in incommensurable quantities.
For the crust:
10 graham crackers
2 teaspoons sugar
½ teaspoon cinnamon
2 to 3 grindings nutmeg
5 tablespoons butter, melted
1. Put the crackers, sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg in a food processor and process until fine, about 20 seconds.
2. Pour in the melted butter and pulse about 10 times, until just amalgamated.
3. Pour the crumb mixture into a 9-inch pie pan and, pressing with your fingers, spread around the bottom and part-way up the sides. Make as even as possible, then smooth with a water glass, tamping the bottom and rolling along the sides so that the crumbs reach the top of the pan.
4. Refrigerate for half an hour before filling.
For the marshmallow filling:
1 cup water, divided
2 tablespoons unflavored gelatin
½ cup light corn syrup
1½ cups sugar
¼ teaspoon vanilla
1. Put ½ cup water in a mixing bowl or the bowl of an electric mixer and sprinkle the gelatin over the surface. Allow the gelatin to sit for 5 minutes, then set the bowl over a small saucepan of simmering water. Leave without stirring until the gelatin is entirely dissolved (no floating layer), 15 to 20 minutes.
2. Remove the bowl from the saucepan and set aside until cool, 10 minutes or so. Return the mixer bowl to the mixer and whip the dissolved gelatin, as if it were egg whites, until foaming and starting to hold soft peaks, about 1 minute.
3. In a small saucepan, mix the corn syrup, the remaining ½ cup water and the sugar. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce the heat to medium and place a lid on the saucepan for 3 minutes so that steam can wash any sugar crystals off the walls.
4. Remove the lid, raise the heat to high and insert a thermometer probe into the syrup. When it reaches 238 degrees F, about 10 minutes from the start of cooking, pour the syrup into a 2-cup glass measuring cup, scraping as much as you can from the saucepan with a heat-resistant spatula.
5. Beat the hot syrup into the gelatin in 6 or 7 small batches, stopping the beaters when you add syrup to avoid pouring any of it on the beaters themselves; they’ll waste syrup by whipping it onto the walls of the mixing bowl. Scrape all the syrup you can from the cup. Beat on high until the temperature of mixture is just warm, 15 to 25 minutes.
6. Beat in the vanilla and scrape the marshmallow into the prepared pie pan. Carefully spread with a spatula, making it as even and smooth as possible without breaking up the crumb crust.
7. Refrigerate overnight.
For the ganache frosting:
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate
6 ounces cream
1. Chop the chocolate into small pieces, put into a food processor and process to the consistency of coarse sand.
2. Put the cream in a small pan or saucepan and bring to a full boil. Pour the hot cream onto the chocolate and process until smooth, 10 to 15 seconds.
3. Pour the mixture onto the marshmallow filling of the pie and spread around evenly. Refrigerate until the ganache hardens, 1 hour.
4. To serve, run a sharp knife around the edge of the pie, hewing as closely to the pie pan as possible. Turn a plate upside down and place it over the pie, pick up the pie and plate together and turn the whole thing upside down. Rub the bottom of the pie pan for 30 seconds or so with a paper towel soaked in hot water and wrung out; this is to melt the butter of the crust a little. Thump the bottom of the pie pan sharply and the pie should release.
Photo: Marshmallow pie. Credit: Charles Perry