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Homemade chicks rule

FOOD & DINING

Unlike store-bought Peeps, the handmade versions are soft, light and fluffy. They are easy to make and to customize too.

March 23, 2013|Noelle Carter

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.

Left to dry in the air, even homemade peeps will turn stiff and chewy. But store them in a baking pan covered tightly with plastic wrap, and they'll stay soft and delicate for several days.

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.

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noelle.carter@latimes.com

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So many options to cheep about

So many options

to cheep about

Once you've mastered the basic techniques, you can really start to play around with your "peeps."

Vanilla flavoring can be substituted with another flavoring, such as almond, mint or lemon extract. Or use powdered spices such as ground cinnamon. You can even use rose- or orange-blossom water, which is actually quite delicious. Start by beating in about one-fourth teaspoon of the flavoring at a time and then adding more to reach the desired taste.

Colored sugars are available at most grocery stores as well as at cooking and baking supply stores, but you can make your own custom hues: Place granulated sugar in a sealable plastic bag or jar with a few drops of food coloring, then shake until the coloring is evenly distributed. Spread the sugar out onto a rimmed baking sheet for about 30 minutes to dry, then sift the sugar before using to remove any lumps.

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Noelle Carter

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Homemade marshmallow candies

Total time: 1 hour, plus setting time

Servings: About 3 dozen candies, depending on size

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Note: This recipe requires the use of a candy or digital thermometer.

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2 packages gelatin

3/4 cup water, divided

Butter for greasing a baking sheet, if cutting out shapes

2 cups sugar

2 tablespoons light corn syrup

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2 cups colored sugar

1/2 cup chocolate chips

1. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, sprinkle the gelatin over one-fourth cup of water and let stand until the gelatin is softened. If piping chick-shaped candies, fit a piping bag with a large, round tip (preferably one-half inch) and place the colored sugar in a bowl. If cutting out shapes, butter the baking sheet and line with parchment paper, then butter the parchment paper.

2. In a large saucepan, combine the remaining water with the sugar and corn syrup, and cook until the sugar reaches 245 degrees using a candy thermometer. Remove from heat.

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