Maybe they slowly grew on me. Or maybe it was the sheer sugar rush — from testing close to 75 dozen chicks — but I’ll admit it. I’ve grown fond of Peeps.
For most of us, an Easter basket simply isn’t complete without a box of Peeps. The colorful marshmallow candy brand is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year, and the popular chicks are to Easter what candy corn is to Halloween and candy canes are to Christmas.
Of course, Peeps are probably just as famous for what people do with them, and I’m not just talking about fluorescent-tinted s’mores or a post-apocalyptic trip in the microwave.
A quick Internet search will give you Peep “sushi” (“peepshi”) and “peepza” (add the Peeps during the last minute or so while baking a pizza, so they just start to melt with the cheese). You’ll find Peeps on cars (“peepmobiles”) and as clothing, fluffy re-creations of famous art (Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” and Warhol’s “Marilyn Monroe”), and countless methods of Peeps destruction. And no Easter season is complete without the annual Peeps Diorama Contest.
But I was never a big fan of actually eating them — that is, until I tried homemade. While commercial Peeps have a devoted following, others find them to be overly sweet, tough and chewy. (Some fans actually prefer that tougher texture, aging the Peeps — “curing them,” as they call it).
But freshly made, “peeps” are soft in texture, each bite light and fluffy. Delicate almost.
They’re nothing more than homemade marshmallows, a simple combination of sugar, water, gelatin, corn syrup and flavoring. Basic cut-out peeps are easy to make: Spread freshly made marshmallow on a baking sheet and leave it to set up, and then cut out peeps in any of a number of holiday shapes — flowers or bunnies, whatever you like — dipping the little creations in colored sugar for decoration.
Piped chicks are a bit more challenging. While online recipes for Peeps-like chicks are plentiful, I found none yielded a marshmallow stiff yet pliable enough to form the right shape. After comparing a bunch of recipes, tweaking and fine-tuning to perfect a method, I found that the right marshmallow consistency — along with a bit of practice with a piping bag — is key to homemade marshmallow chicks.
That said, don’t be embarrassed with your first batch of piped chicks. They take practice. (Did I mention testing almost 75 dozen before getting it right?) If you find your piping skills are lacking, you can always spread the marshmallow out onto a greased sheet and cut them out later. You’ll still have peeps.
The thing I like best about homemade peeps — well, beyond the pillowy soft texture — is that I can flavor them however I’d like. Vanilla is classic, but try adding a touch of almond or lemon extract, perhaps mint or a touch of ground cinnamon. My favorite was a little rose water — it added a hint of floral sweetness to the marshmallows, perfect for spring.
Then go crazy. Make enough peeps for a diorama, Easter bonnet or demolition derby. Who knows? You might even find you actually prefer to eat them.
HOMEMADE MARSHMALLOW CANDIES
Total time: 1 hour, plus setting time
Servings: About 3 dozen candies, depending on size
Note: This recipe requires the use of a candy or digital thermometer.
2 packages gelatin