Some of the girls in my Girl Scout troop this year are vegetarian. I was rather surprised to find out that they cannot have marshmallows and Jell-O, as gelatin is made from animal products. This left me a bit nonplussed -- Girl Scouts make s'mores, and for s'mores you really have to have marshmallows!
So the hunt was on for vegetarian marshmallows. Ready-made ones seem to be very hard to come by, and so I started searching for recipes. One at About.com's dairy-free cooking site seemed promising, and I even managed to find agar-agar flakes, a seaweed product, at a small local health-food store.
I could not, though, get the agar-agar flakes to dissolve completely, and so the first few batches were gritty and unpleasant, and tasted vaguely like the smell of the beach. I am not sure how determined I am to perfect a recipe on my own -- since there may be a much better one out there that I just haven't found yet, and to be honest, my own need for them is somewhat limited, not to mention that agar-agar flakes are absurdly expensive -- but I post my version here in the meantime.
These marshmallows are very soft, and they toast rather quickly over an open flame, but make pretty decent s'mores. You will need to be careful not to let them drop off of the toasting skewer once they get hot!
1/2 cup hot water
2 tablespoons agar-agar flakes
1 2/3 cups sugar
2 egg whites
a pinch of cream of tartar
3 tablespoons powdered egg substitute, such as Egg Replacer
1 to 2 teaspoons vanilla
Line an 8x8 pan with parchment paper.
Pulverize the agar-agar flakes in a clean coffee grinder. Add the flakes to the hot water and let dissolve as much as possible. Alternatively, let the whole flakes sit in the hot water, stirring occasionally, as much as 15 minutes, then strain.
Put the sugar into a small saucepan, and strain the water and agar-agar flakes into it; stir well. Over medium heat, stirring constantly, bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce heat to low, and simmer, stirring occasionally, about 7 minutes, until the mixture is thick and syrupy.
At the same time, beat the egg whites and cream of tartar in a large mixing bowl with the whisk attachment, until fluffy and stiff, about 5 minutes. Gently fold in 1 tablespoon of the egg substitute.
Carefully, in 3 or 4 additions, pour the warm sugar syrup down the side of the mixing bowl into the egg whites, beating well between each addition. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons egg substitute and 1 teaspoon vanilla, and continue to beat at medium speed until the mixture is glossy and stiff, about 2 minutes. Add the rest of the vanilla to taste, if desired.
Spread the marshmallow cream into the prepared pan and place in the refrigerator or freezer at least 30 minutes, or up to overnight.
To cut individual marshmallows, sift the powdered sugar in a plate, and remove the parchment-lined marshmallows from the pan. Carefully cut with a sharp knife -- you will need to wipe the knife frequently -- and roll each marshmallow in the powdered sugar.
Makes about 30 marshmallows. Active work time, about 20 minutes.