Ginny O'Neill's Dream Puff Marshmallows

Ginny making marshmallows.jpg

Ginny and the marshmallows

Please don't call her The Marshmallow Lady. There's more to Ginny O'Neill than that.

Ginny is a computer software engineer, an accomplished cook and a self-proclaimed
geek who just happens to really like marshmallows.

You may have seen her at the Troy Farmers' Market, selling her home made Dream Puff Marshmallows, flavored with everything from simple chocolate and strawberry, to saffron, herbs, pears and... wait for it... bacon!

She makes thousands of packs of marshmallows a week, but she took time out to talk with AOA about how she comes up with her flavors, the science of whipping hot sugar into marshmallowy goodness and her passion for the marshmallow.

So of all things, why marshmallows?
Actually I made them first because of an aunt's comments in a travel journal. She just really loved marshmallows so she had all kinds of comments about all kinds of marshmallows she had tried. I started making them, and I just really enjoyed it. And then i started getting a little creative and it was just fun. At the time I was preparing for a second career...I was going to go back to law school. I was just making them for friends. My poor husband, his co-workers ate a lot of marshmallows (laughs).

So you gave up law school for marshmallows?
I can't say I gave up law school for marshmallows. I can say marshmallows became a heck of a lot more interesting. The law is still very interesting, computers (my first career) are sill very interesting. But right now marshmallows are a lot of fun, and fortunately I'm at a stage where I can pursue something fun..

What's fun about making a marshmallow?
The science of a marshmallow is fun . When you are talking about whipping enough air into something liquid -- enough that it has a certain amount of volume or you're trying to achieve a specific gravity or something like that... or even the strength of sugar. Ever seen sugar strands -- how strong they get?

I'll admit I'm a little geeky. My background is in computer science so the geekiness starts there. But there's a lot to it -- changing blades to achieve different types of fluffiness, deciding that one flavor should be a little denser than another. I just made a batch of Guinness marshmallows and I wanted them to be a little denser. Instead of melting in your mouth I wanted people to chew their beer. And then there's a layering of flavors.

Everything is better when you make it yourself . You have more creativity you can choose your ingredients. Right now I'm at a stage where I don't have to compromise on ingredients. I can decide to use the best chocolates.

DP Smore.jpg
You create some pretty wild flavors. What do people think of them?
Well you know marshmallows are a French confection --the French are very into their marshmallow and they flavor them -- blackberry, one i'm doing this fall is popular in France is saffron. I'm doing saffron and caramelized pears as part of the fall line-up.

I use all natural ingredients--we grow the herbs, I grow my own strawberries, blueberries come from our garden . Last year for the pear marshmallows, we were able to use pears that we've grown on our property. I supplement with things I get at the farmers markets last summer I did peach marshmallows.

You get foodies who really enjoy it and understand what you're doing and then you get people who aren't so into their food that start to appreciate it and you get the educational aspects there-- and people get happy (laughs). Marshmallows make people happy.

How do you do research your flavors and decide what to mix?
I get ideas from the things I eat or the things I'm interested in eating. The one that just came out is a bacon marshmallow. It was so funny when i saw the bacon hot chocolate
at Uncommon Grounds
! I thought "I've been scooped!!" (laughs) It's really good. I went through several layers with tasters--one wanted more bacon -- one, wanted the bacon to melt in their mouth with the marshmallow. It's a chocolate marshmallow with bacon and candied pecan pralines. So it's a lot of fun!

Right now I've been drinking tons of iced coffee because I'm working on an iced coffee marshmallow. Yesterday I had six iced coffees. I'm trying everybody's iced coffee to make sure of how I want them to taste. And i get home and I'm like why do my arms feel sort of like spaghetti?

I also put together flavor profiles. For example, I'm doing a blood orange and prosecco, so i decide what i think the flavor is going to be and then I start mixing stuff and we taste it and i do a very small batch -- I don't worry about the texture or anything -- just flavor. You can take care of the texture and get enough air into it later .. but is the flaor what we want it to be.

What are the most popular flavors?
Depends on the season. During St. Patrick's Day, Guinness. All of a sudden people were contacting me to se if they could have it at their weddings. But the most popular are still Frilly Vanilly -- vanilla rolled in coconut, chocolate and plain vanilla. For fun, sometimes I don't take one of those to see if I can get the people who like chocolate to try something else. Sometimes I can get them to try something else but they'll still say, "OK, I'll be back next week . You'll have chocolate?"

Every couple of weeks I'll add a new flavor depending on who is performing well. Chai used to be a big performer --poor chai. It'll be back in the winter. I use statistics to figure out what to bring to market and I get really excited when I'm dead on. I'll bring extras of everything but if I tell my husband we're going to sell 18 cardamom today and 18 sells, I'm like "Oh yeah baby!" (laughs)

powdered marshmallows.jpg

What's the secret to a good marshmallow?
The texture.

My marshmallows are made of glucose, natural sugers, kosher gelatin, fruit or liquor or whatever the flavor is going to be be and a litttle corn starch or powedered suger at the end so they dont ' stick to each other. But the secret is not over-whipping so you end up deflating it. When it's just right it's fluffy. I used to have to weigh it to know when it was done. I would take the specific gravity. But now I can tell by the look. I can tell by how fast it's moving down the beat.

What you are doing is taking something in a liquid state...in my case hot sugar and pretty much what your doing is your constantly beating air into until it becomes marshmallow so you are actually taking something that is in this liquid state and you're actually transforming it into something interesting... something useful... something soft and fluffy.

I like marshmallows a lot. I guest it could be kind of weird if you think about it but isn't it important to have a passion for what you do?

Different people at the market, they've been calling me The Marshmallow lady. I kinda hate that (sigh)... They don't know the half of it. I love all kinds of food, I'm actually quite an accomplished cook. (laughs) I can make a crepe!

There's more to me than marshmallows.

This interview was edited and condensed.

Comments

I tried a cardamom one the other week at the Troy Farmer's Market. Tasty, but a little too pricey for marshmallows for me.

O...M...G. I need a marshmallow ASAP after reading this.

I shop at the Troy Farmer's Market every Saturday, and I always buy treats from Dream Puff. My favorite flavor is Sun Kiss, but I always buy Treats! Ginny is really friendly and it's easy to see she is a happy person.

not only does she make marshmallows, but she uses statistics to quantify flavor popularity? sigh.
don't know which I love more: her nerd cred, or the fact that SHE MAKES MARSHMALLOWS....gah...(drooling onto my keyboard)

I love hearing the stories behind the food. I'm usually a Schenectady Green Market gal, but I'll have to make the trek to Troy to try these...

Loved the bacon marshmallows! They were wonderful!

I couldn't find price information on her website. Do you know how much they cost?

hmmm... Torani just sent us toasted mashmallow flavor, I guess I don't need to mix that with bacon now.

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