FIRST it was ice-cream. No longer just a scoop of vanilla with a squirt of raspberry sauce for decoration if you were really pushing the boat out. Nowadays we’re not happy unless it comes from organic happy cows in a range of weird and wacky flavours, from cigar-smoked caramel to parmesan and gravy.
Then it was cupcakes, transformed from dinky little bites of sponge into towering architectural extravaganzas topped off with Philip Treacy creations – blame Sex and the City. Now it’s time for the humble marshmallow to step into the limelight and have its gourmet makeover moment.
Those squidgy pink and white lumps are being transformed from something you shove on a stick and toast over a campfire into fluffy pillows of fantasy in all shapes, sizes and flavours. From Singapore to New York, they’re the latest taste trend and Scots can get in on the sticky act thanks to Edinburgh’s own Nicole Roberts, the Marshmallow Lady, who has just opened a shop and cafe dedicated to the confection.
With a range of flavours from Guinness and whisky to lemon meringue and raspberry, Roberts has mastered a repertoire of around 30 different confections, from bijou bite-sized to biscuit-based wedges and full-sized cakes. Using fair-trade sugar, free-range eggs, Scottish butter, cream, berries and beer, the mallows are all handmade, right down to using home-made peanut butter with no additives and preservatives. She also uses recycled, recyclable packaging. Most of the marshmallows are also gluten-free, dairy-free and low-fat, while a veggie option is in the pipeline.
Now 27, Roberts discovered marshmallows, like most of us, as a child. With her parents in Africa, she went to boarding school in Scotland – where she discovered the tuck shop. Evenings were spent toasting the sweets over a candle, but little did she imagine it was a future business opportunity. “I had grown up in Nigeria, Tanzania, Uganda, Congo, and it was a very interesting childhood. We were evacuated twice because of the war in Congo, and seeing what the rest of the world has to go through makes you grateful for what you have,” she says.
After studying English literature at university and finding the job market far from sweet, Roberts decide to start her own baking business. Kicking off with cupcakes and tray bakes, she soon realised the market was saturated and decided to experiment with something a little different. “I couldn’t find a job and it was getting a bit desperate. I thought, ‘If I’m going to make the minimum wage, I might as well work for myself and get something out of it.’ Then a lot of other cupcake-makers started up and did it better than me, so I wanted to do something different.”
Roberts searched websites and saw huge gourmet marshmallows in Singapore and New York, where they were just taking off. She had found her product. “There was nothing like that here and I like making confectionery more than baking. I like the idea of taking something and putting a gourmet spin on it. Marshmallows go back to the ancient Egyptians, who used marshmallow root to make medicinal lozenges for throat problems, so they’ve been around a long time but it was time to bring them up to date.”
Once the recipe was perfected through trial and error, Roberts started selling her marshmallow at farmers’ markets and online. “Getting people to try them is the hard part, but once they do they love them because they’re not like the ones we’re used to. They don’t have the same texture and they’re made with real ingredients.”
With the revamp of a former hair salon in the Capital’s Canonmills area, Roberts now has premises in which to make the sweets, as well as a café. She has also taken on staff to help keep up with the demand that saw her win a two-star Great Taste award from the Guild of Fine Food this week. “I’m used to cracking them out at high speed now and am doing about 15 different types. I’m going to do a daily flavour and a monthly mallow club.
“People say, do you only do marshmallows and I say, ‘Yes, I’d rather do one thing and do it really well, than ten things not very well.’”
• Marshmallows, £2.50-£3.50, The Marshmallow Lady, 14 Rodney Street, Edinburgh, Wednesday to Friday, 12pm-7pm, and weekends, 11am-7pm (07843 699790, www.themarshmallowlady.com)
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Weather for Edinburgh
Saturday 18 May 2013
Temperature: 9 C to 13 C
Wind Speed: 18 mph
Wind direction: North east
Temperature: 9 C to 18 C
Wind Speed: 8 mph
Wind direction: North east