The "craft food" category has really been taking off in town. Ten years ago, with craft beer on the rise, we've seen craft charcuterie, artisanal barbecue, even hand-made sausages. We thought we'd heard everything, until last week, when we learned about craft marshmallows.
Craft marshmallows? Those unnatural-looking poofy balls that feel like a byproduct of the petroleum refining process? Yes, indeed.
Forget everything you think you know about marshmallows. This week, you'll have a chance to try made-from-scratch marshmallows with succulent flavors.
They're produced by Sweet Artisan Marshmallows, the brainchild of Detroit resident Michele Bezue. Bezue, 48, levels with us, admitting that it sounds unusual.
"I know, right? No one calls them craft marshmallows here, although there are a handful of places across the country that are getting attention. There are a good dozen or so that make pretty good marshmallows and just about a handful of us that make what could be considered craft marshmallows. I know it sounds insane, but I don't know what else to call it."
Bezue says people understand better when they taste them.
"People look at me like, 'What is this that I'm eating?'" she says. "And, let's face it, how many of us have had a home-made marshmallow? I never had an idea you could do it, and I would never eat a bagged marshmallow. But I heard about it and thought, 'I'm going to try it.'"
It all started this July, with plans to open "a cool, hip candy store." Instead of just buying and selling candy, Bezue wanted to create something unusual, and started researching online.
"I did try to do some typical flavors initially," she says, "and what you use are 'flavor oils.' I was shopping for them and smelling them — and they were gross! So I began to do things like use hibiscus flower and make tea with it, using that as my water. What I've found is that marshmallows are the pure vehicle for flavor, the purest that you could ever imagine. When I make marshmallows out of Atwater Vanilla Java Porter, one of my favorite beers, first you get the vanilla, then the coffee, then the beer. I just couldn't believe the way the flavor comes through.
"Simply talking about a vanilla bean marshmallow, which is the closest equivalent to the kind of marshmallow you'd get in a store, it's so much better. It's like a poofy version of vanilla bean ice cream."
Bezue sticks closely to craft practices, starting from the most basic elements possible, making her own marshmallow syrup (and eschewing corn syrup), buying her own bourbon barrels to age her own vanilla, always striving for far-out flavor profiles that she calls "culinary-inspired, wildly creative."
"My marshmallows include ginger-roasted cantaloupe with sake, a mango-Cholula, a triple berry balsamic in which I macerate the berries in balsamic sugar. I'm not getting cherry flavoring for my cherry marshmallows, I'm getting pitted cherries at the farmers market."
Bezue's rich recipes can involve a bit of cooking, using such ingredients as grilled cherries, roasted peaches, poached pears, and browned butter.
"Right now," she says, "I'm doing a roasted sweet potato-and-chai spice marshmallow. That's my fall seasonal marshmallow."
Those flavors, as well as the confections and baked goods of several of Detroit's small craft food producers, will be on sale at her new shop, Sweet: A Confections Boutique, starting this week. The kick-off event will see more than a half-dozen vendors selling their wares, alongside her fresh-roasted marshmallows. Is there any flavor she won't try? Don't count on it.
"Garlic in a marshmallow doesn't sound good to me," she says, "but I'm not above making a horseradish marshmallow to go with a steak. Maybe it's something I could pitch to a steakhouse." — mt
Sweet: A Confections Boutique will open 1-6 p.m. Oct. 11, at 15439 Mack Ave., Detroit; 313-585-5637. Retail hours will be 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Wednesday, and 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Saturday, with home delivery Tuesdays and Fridays.