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News / Life / Clark County Life

Frozen marshmallow dessert Marlow is the bee’s knees

Treat from the 1920s can be made with your favorite fruits

By Monika Spykerman, Columbian staff writer
Published: May 22, 2024, 6:05am
4 Photos
This recipe for Vanilla Marlow &mdash; a creamy frozen dessert made with marshmallows &mdash; was popularized by silent film star Clara Bow.
This recipe for Vanilla Marlow — a creamy frozen dessert made with marshmallows — was popularized by silent film star Clara Bow. (Monika Spykerman/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

I had a little extra time on my hands recently when I was holed up at home with a terrible cold. I did a lot of reading to distract myself, but man (or in this case, woman) cannot live by books alone. We also need the internet. As I was aimlessly scrolling around, I came across a recipe for Vanilla Marlow, a frozen dessert made with melted marshmallows, milk and cream.

Since my throat was on fire with what felt like the stings of a thousand bees and a tablespoon of Carolina Reaper hot pepper sauce, I had been fantasizing about cool, creamy things to counteract the relentless burn. I slurped on a lot of Popsicles and ate a lot of cold pudding. (I was relieved, a few years ago, to come across a Mayo Clinic article showing that dairy products do not produce phlegm, and now I enjoy cool dairy treats whenever my throat is scratchy. The sugar is terrible, of course, but you can’t have everything.) A frothy, foamy, frozen dessert like marlow sounded like just the thing to tame my bees and peppers.

Marlow was popularized by silent film star Clara Bow, who submitted the recipe to a 1933 issue of Photoplay magazine. To be clear, Bow didn’t invent the recipe (she famously said she couldn’t even boil water) so the recipe is more likely from Bow’s cook. Although the dessert’s historical origins are somewhat murky, marlow and its close cousin mallobet (with whipped egg whites instead of cream) have been enjoyed since the mid-to-late 1800s by anyone who had an icebox.

The recipe seemed pretty straightforward: melt, whip, mix and freeze. Another plus: I’d get to eat it all myself because who else would want a dessert that someone has coughed all over? Well, my husband, perhaps. He’s famously immune to most of the dastardly little viruses that take me hostage. I’d been hacking and gurgling over him for the better part of a week, and he was still fit as a fiddle, which was convenient, because while I was sick I needed him to fetch many things for me. Many, many things.

If you don’t have an ice cream maker, this frozen treat might become your go-to recipe for summer gatherings, especially since it can be used as the base for other flavors, such as chocolate, mocha, pineapple or rhubarb. You can make it all summer long using whatever fruits or berries are in season. (For inspiration, see the fruity marlow at afamilyfeast.com/strawberry-marlow.)

First, you need a double boiler large enough to hold a whole bag of marshmallows and 2 cups of milk. Unfortunately, the only double boiler I have is rather small. I thought the marshmallows might shrink when melted down, like they do when making cereal bars, but instead they frothed right up and over the top of my pot. I had to ladle some of the mixture into another bowl and work in batches. It was a warm and sticky mess, but if my error in judgment can serve as your cautionary tale, then it was worth it.

It did take a fair amount of stirring before the marshmallows lost their shape and became one with the froth. Then I stirred in ½ teaspoon lemon extract and 2 tablespoons vanilla extract. (I added lemon extract because my mother always added a little lemon to her vanilla ice cream and that hint of citrus is so tantalizing.) I took the pot off the burner to cool and went to do other things. Some marlow recipes recommend whipping with a hand-mixer at this stage or continuing to stir the mixture while it cools. Bow’s recipe doesn’t specifically say to keep stirring it, so I didn’t. Maybe the continuous stirring keeps the mixture from separating into a top foamy layer and bottom liquid layer, which is what happened to me. I was worried it might ruin the recipe, but I stirred it around to reincorporate it and it didn’t seem to make a difference to the final result. Then again, I’ve never had any other marlow so I’m not exactly an authority on the subject.

When the mixture was room temperature, I whipped a pint of whipping cream until it had nice stiff peaks but wasn’t yet butter. Very slowly and very gently, I poured the marshmallow-and-milk foam into the whipping cream. I coaxed it along with the spatula in soothing, calm motions that wouldn’t scare all the air out of the foam. When it was sufficiently combined, I poured it into a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. (I say “poured” rather than “spread” because I didn’t want to accidentally squish any more of those nice air bubbles.) Then I put it in the freezer and checked on it about six hours later. It was firm and well set but not difficult to scoop — just right!

It will freeze harder if left in the freezer overnight (said Captain Obvious) or you can go the other direction and serve it after three or four hours, when it will have achieved a pleasing mousse-like consistency that’s like biting into a cloud.

Marlow fell out of fashion sometime after 1950s, although I can’t understand why. Maybe it was just easier to buy ice cream and other frozen delights from supermarkets instead of making them from scratch at home. No matter why marlow disappeared from the culinary landscape, I think it’s a bit of a shame. Marlow is ice cream’s cheerful little sister, the Skipper to ice cream’s Barbie, less famous but wonderful in its own way.

The marlow was soothing to my throat and full of vanilla flavor laced with lemon. It calmed my bees right down like smoke on a hive.

If you’d like to see Bow’s vanilla marlow recipe, see welcometosilentmovies.com/features/cooking/bow.htm.

Vanilla Marlow

One 12-ounce bag regular-size marshmallows (not mini)

1 pint whipping cream

2 cups milk

½ teaspoon lemon extract

2 tablespoons vanilla

Optional: 1 teaspoon lemon zest

Melt marshmallows and milk in a large double boiler. Stir in lemon extract, vanilla and lemon zest, if using. Allow to cool. Combine with stiffly beaten cream. Pour into tray and freeze without stirring for 4 to 6 hours or overnight.