Easter candy: Homemade Peeps that are better than store-bought

This Easter, try making your own Peeps – they'll taste great, and are endlessly customizable. Whether you're a family of head-biters, or a all-in-one-bite bunch, these marshmallow chicks will disappear quick.

Laura Edwins/The Christian Science Monitor
Homemade marshmallow chicks might not look quite as perfect as store-bough Peeps, but they're fun and easy to make, and taste much better.

Americans love Peeps. Each year, we eat about 700 million marshmallow Peep chicks and bunnies.

I guess that leaves me in the Peep-hating minority. I could never muster an appetite for more than one or two. To me, store-bought Peeps have an awful taste and texture, like old, hard cotton candy. I know this, but each year when they make their  Easter appearance in the grocery store aisles, I’m smitten. The cheerful chicks are deceptively cute in shades of yellow, pink, lavender, and blue. Why can’t they taste as great as they look? 

So when a recipe for homemade Peeps came across the Stir It Up! desk that addressed this very problem, I was more than a little excited. The instructions seemed simple enough, and a brief conversation with the recipe’s author, About.com candy expert and candy chef Elizabeth LaBau, confirmed I wasn’t alone in my Peep predicament.

"The Peeps you buy in the store tend to be stale and kind of tough or chewy,” Ms. LaBau explained. “The texture of the homemade Peeps is much better, and the fact that you can flavor it with your best vanilla extract or a fresh lemon flavor means the flavor is pure.”

I was sold. But executing the chick bodies seemed a bit difficult. LaBau’s instructions require wielding a pastry bag, and piping pretty specific shapes. I’m no expert pastry chef, but LaBau provided a few helpful tips, and this step-by-step tutorial.

“The first couple will probably be a little rough,” LaBau warned. “It will be more successful with a piping bag with the round tip. Fill the bag half full so you have more precision and control, and work with smaller quantities and practice. It shouldn’t take too long before you get comfortable.”

She was right, filling the piping bag halfway made things easier, though I did struggle with my releases. I ended up with a variety of chicks, none as perfect as LaBau's. Some really looked like chicks, others had extra-long tails, were looking in a funny direction, were a little chubby, or were more marshmallow blob than anything else. (Warning, do not try to "fix" misshapen chicks with your fingers... it just doesn't work.) My chicks don't look exactly like store-bought Peeps, but I think they're pretty cute in their own way. 

After sprinkling my chicks with sugar and adding a dot for eyes, all that was left to do was to taste them. They were much better than the store-bought kind; the marshmallow texture was very soft, fluffy, and fresh. Most people prefer to eat Peeps head first, but I'm a all-in-one-bite kind of girl, and made my chicks a little small with that in mind. I'll save my candy decapitation impulse for the chocolate Easter bunny.

Still intimidated by piping the chicks or want more even more Easter candy recipes? Check out some more of LaBau's favorites: peanut butter eggsspeckled Easter eggsPeeps s’moresPeeps popsEaster bird nests, and chocolate-dipped Peeps.  

Marshmallow chicks
From Elizabeth LaBau at About.com
Yields about 20 (I made mine slightly smaller and got about 30)

3 cups sugar, divided 

Yellow food coloring (may substitute pink, lavender, blue, or other pastel colors)

9 tablespoons water, divided 

2-1/2 teaspoons (1 envelope) unflavored gelatin

1 teaspoon vanilla extract, or any other flavoring you'd like (LaBau suggests trying lemon, coconut, or almond extract)

1 tablespoon cocoa powder or chocolate chips

Special equipment

Piping bag with 1/2-inch round tip (Don't have a 1/2-inch tip? The coupler base works just fine.)

Candy thermometer

Mixer with whisk attachment (You'll be beating the candy for over 10 minutes, so a stand mixer works best for this recipe.)

1. Place 2 cups of the granulated sugar in a large, gallon-size zip-top bag. Add a few drops of yellow food coloring to the sugar. Massage the coloring and sugar together with your hands through the plastic bag, adding more color if necessary to achieve the desired hue. It will take a few minutes to fully distribute the color, so be patient and thorough. Sift the sugar once it is the color you want so that any remaining clumps of color can be removed.

2. Prepare a baking sheet by lining it with aluminum foil. Generously spread a layer of colored sugar on the foil.

3. Place the gelatin and 5 tablespoons of the water in a small bowl and stir. Allow the gelatin to sit for several minutes. (There will be lumps of gelatin at this point, that's OK.)

4. Combine the remaining 1 cup of plain granulated sugar and 4 tablespoons of water in a small saucepan. Insert a candy thermometer, bring to a boil over medium heat and cook to soft-ball stage (235 degrees F.).

5. Once it reaches the correct temperature, remove the pan from the heat and add in the gelatin mixture. Stir with a whisk or a spatula until it is thoroughly combined and no gelatin lumps remain.

6. Pour the hot gelatin syrup in the bowl of an electric mixer. Allow it to cool until it is barely warm to the touch.

7. Once the gelatin is just warm, begin to beat it with a whisk attachment. Start on medium speed, and once the mixture is no longer clear but has turned white and opaque, add the vanilla (or other flavoring) and turn the mixer to high speed.

8. Beat for 10 minutes, until the candy is stiff, glossy and white. Add in a few drops of liquid yellow food coloring and beat until well-distributed.

9. Immediately place the candy in a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2–inch round tip (or a coupler base without a tip). Pipe the chicks onto the baking sheet covered with colored sugar. To pipe the chicks, begin with the body: hold the bag an inch above the surface at a 90 degree angle. Squeeze the marshmallow out, allowing it to form a 1-inch round before beginning to pull back towards you. Taper as you move backward, forming a 3-inch body. Release pressure and pull the bag upward to form the “tail.”

10. Next, form the chick head by again placing the bag at a 90 degree angle. Pipe on top of your body segment, and move the bag back toward the tail. Once you have reached the middle of the body, reverse directions and move the bag back toward the front of the chick's body. Simultaneously release pressure on the bag so that the marshmallow stops flowing and tapers off into a "beak" shape. Now is a great time to refer to the marshmallow chicks photo tutorial to help you out! Depending on the size of your chicks, you should get about 18-20 marshmallow chicks from this recipe.

11. While the marshmallow is still wet, sprinkle the chicks all over with the remaining colored sugar.

12. Mix the cocoa powder with a few drops of water to form a thick paste, or melt the chocolate chips in the microwave. Use a small paintbrush or a toothpick to dot the chocolate on the chicks to form eyes. (Work carefully, the chocolate easily bleeds and spreads into the sugar.)

13. Let the marshmallow chicks sit out at room temperature for 4-6 hours to set the marshmallow before enjoying them. Store them at room temperature in an airtight container, and for best texture, enjoying within 2-3 days.

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