08 April 2009

Peep Culture


Peeps are a major touchstone of kitschy pop culture in the U.S. I think I had my first one a couple of years ago. Yes. I went over thirty years without a Peep. It just wasn't a treat that showed up in our Easter baskets. I have to admit that it is actually the contrast between the gooiness of the marshmallow and graininess of the sugar that I like best.

Just Born, the company that spawns Peeps, has a surprisingly long history. Before the 1950s, they were produced by hand, and took twenty-seven hours from start to finish! After 1953, they were mass-produced. The founder of the Just Born company was named Sam Born. Many people think the name has more to do with the fact that they produced "just born" chicks and bunnies.

I find it kind of funny that several people I know try to figure out exactly what a Peep is made of. I rarely recreate something like commercial candy. It will never taste exactly the same and even if the homemade version is better and a bit better for you, we've become accustomed to how a Peep (or Reese's cup, or Hershey's Kiss) should taste. Homemade marshmallows are the best kind- hands down. And, if you prefer the slight staleness of a grocery store marshmallow, just leave yours sitting around for a week or so and there you'll have it!

Think out of the box when making your own marshmallows. They don't have to be square. One of my first classes in culinary school included an opportunity to make marshmallows. The entire time I really wanted to make an amazing gooey sugar sculpture, but we had to make them square. : ( I've included Martha Stewart's directions for piping a bunny at the end of this post. You can make your own colored sugar if you don't have pastel colors on hand. Simply mix a tiny bit of food coloring into some white granulated sugar you have put into a zip-lock bag. I have to stress that you use a minuscule amount until you get the desired color. It doesn't take much to make pastel colors. And, I have to include that the little eyes are simply a little dot of chocolate.

You could get really creative and make Peep Nests, stir up a pot of chocolate fondue and dip your Peeps, or have a Peep eating contest. There is a whole world of Peep culture out there, like the Peeps Film Festival. Did you know that Lenox has a whole line of Peeps china? We're going to just put them in Easter baskets at our house. I'm the only one around here who appreciates a good homemade Peep and I'm sure I am the only one within a couple of square miles who knows about the Peep Film Festival.

Homemade Marshmallow “Peeps”

1 unflavored gelatin, (2 1/2 teaspoons)
1/3 cup cold water, for gelatin, plus 1/4 cup for syrup
1 cup sugar
fine colored sugar (for dusting the bunnies and chicks)

In the bowl of an electric mixer, sprinkle gelatin over 1/3 cup cold water. Allow gelatin to soften, about 5 minutes.

In a small saucepan, combine 1/4 cup water and sugar, and stir over medium-high heat until sugar is dissolved. Stop stirring, and place a candy thermometer into sugar water. Wipe down the sides of the pan with a wet pastry brush to prevent the sugar from crystallizing. Place a candy thermometer into the sugar water. (Do not let it touch the bottom of the pan or it will not give an accurate reading.) Boil sugar until temperature reaches 238 degrees, also known as soft-ball stage. Remove syrup from heat and add to gelatin mixture.

With an electric mixer on low, beat until the bottom of the bowl is cool, about 2 minutes. Add vanilla, then increase speed to medium high until soft (not stiff) peaks form, about 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer marshmallow mixture to a large pastry bag fitted with a 1/2 inch tip, and use immediately.

Fill rimmed baking sheet or small bowls with about 1 1/2 cups sugar. If desired, color white sugar by stirring in a drop of food coloring. Pipe shapes onto sugar.

Make Bunny Shapes

(Martha Stewart's Directions)

Pipe a small marshmallow mound onto sugar, about 1 1/2 inches long and 1/2 inch tall. Pipe two smaller mounds on either end for the head and tail.

Pipe the ears, starting from the top of the head onto the body, pulling forward and off to finish. With a damp finger, pat down any marshmallow spikes formed from piping.

Immediately sprinkle sugar over the entire surface of the bunny. Allow a few minutes for the shape to set.

Pipe on a royal-icing face (or you can use a dot of chocolate syrup) with a #1 Ateco icing tip; lift bunny out of sugar with a spoon or small offset spatula. Place in a parchment-lined airtight container until ready to serve, or for up to 2 weeks. (or longer if you like them stale)

1 comment:

Desmone007 said...

Hmmm...homemade Marshmallows?! Very neat idea. Thanks for sharing, Melanie!