My Peeps

You'll love Peeps when you raise them yourself
The sugary, soft, chewy treat nesting in the Easter basket is hard to beat when it's homemade

Published April 11, 2006
The Oregonian/Food Day

Peeps are essential to any self-respecting Easter basket. For me, the marshmallow chicks with the vacant stare are the penultimate Easter treat, ranking only after jelly beans, of course. Apparently I'm in good company. Americans devour more than 700 million Peeps per year, proving my theory that they're so darn cute, it doesn't really matter how they taste.

I didn't grow up eating Peeps. My sister and I were raised in Northern California during the 1970s, if that helps to set the scene. One year my mom tried to make "sensible substitutions" in our Easter baskets. We tore through the house that morning, frantic to make short work of our baskets before church. It took seven minutes to find the booty: carob-coated raisins, honey sesame candies, a Tiger's Milk bar and fruit leather. Where had she hidden the hollow chocolate bunny and speckled jelly bird eggs? We'd been hoodwinked by the Easter bunny.

It wasn't until a couple of decades later that a marshmallow Peep first came to nest in the green grass of my Easter basket. I learned that they weren't the stuff of dreams, though they were pleasantly squishy and sweet beyond words. Disappointing, really, yet I've polished off enough Peeps since then to make up for their absence in my youth.

The secret to a Peep that you might actually enjoy eating is to make them yourself.

Peeps have been around since 1953, when they were hand-squeezed using a pastry bag, a process that took 27 hours to "hatch" each Peep, according to the Peeps official Web site. The simple recipe here calls for an electric mixer and a candy thermometer; the other ingredients are probably already in your cupboard. Within only 27 minutes you'll have a sheet of delicious, pillowy marshmallow that will metamorphose into a large brood of chicks. Dunk them in fine-crystal colored sugar, add a chocolate-dot eye and tell me you're not down with my Peeps.

©2006 The Oregonian

Marshmallow Peeps

2/3 c cold water
2 envelopes (2T) unflavored gelatin
1 1/3 c sugar
½ c light corn syrup
½ t salt
1 t vanilla

Line a 9-by-13-inch pan with sides using a large sheet of foil as follows. Smooth the foil over the inverted pan folding the sides and corners down to conform to its shape. Remove the foil, turn the pan over and press the shaped foil into place. Use a brush to lightly coat the foil, including the sides, with vegetable oil or shortening.

Place 1/3 c cold water in the bowl of an electric mixer and sprinkle the gelatin over the surface. Put the sugar, corn syrup, salt and remaining 1/3 c of water in a heavy saucepan with a tight-fitting lid and stir to dissolve the sugar. Cover the pan and place over moderately low heat. Remove the cover after 4-5 minutes. The steam will have caused any sugar crystals to dissolve and the syrup will be bubbling lightly. Increase the heat to high, insert a candy thermometer and boil the syrup without stirring until it reaches 240°F. Immediately remove from the heat.

Fit your mixer with the whisk attachment. Slowly and carefully pour the syrup into the gelatin while the mixer is beating constantly at medium speed. When all of the syrup has been added, increase the speed to high and whip for about 10 minutes. The mixture should be lukewarm, very white and the consistency of marshmallow cream. Add the vanilla toward the end of mixing.

Pour the marshmallow onto the prepared pan, smooth the top and sprinkle liberally with colored sugar. Let the pan stand uncovered at room temperature to dry out. Depending on the humidity, this may happen in several hours, or take up to 8 hours. Generally speaking, the longer you let it set up, the easier the marshmallow sheet will be to cut.

Invert the pan of marshmallow onto a clean cutting surface, remove the foil and coat the top with colored sugar. It should adhere easily. Use cookie cutters to stamp out your peeps (or bunnies) and toss them in a bowl of the sugar to coat all over. If you find your cookie cutter getting sticky, wash it and lightly coat with vegetable oil.

Store the marshmallows in an airtight container. Makes about 65 - 1” peeps.

Make your own colored sugar using superfine sugar and luster dust, a cake decorator’s tool found at the Decorette Shop. The color called ‘daffodil’ captures a peep’s essence perfectly.