Make your own Peeps: Gale Gand’s Easter chicks and bunnies
By VERONICA HINKE Sun-Times Media Contributor April 3, 2012 11:06AM
Sticky situation: Homemade marshmallow chicks dry on a baking sheet at pastry chef Gale Gand’s home. | Ruthie Hauge Sun-Times Media photos
Updated: May 5, 2012 8:05AM
It’s a sure sign of spring when those dark-eyed chicks and rabbits in improbable shades of yellow, pink and purple, begin to show up on shelves of supermarkets and drugstores.
The fluffy, sugary marshmallow Peeps have added color to Easter baskets for generations. And these days, they’re popping up everywhere, from the edges of springtime cakes to the rims of seasonal martini glasses.
People love their Peeps for many reasons. For some, they’re like Proust’s madeleine, triggering a nostalgic reverie of Easters past. Others love the bright colors the candies bring to Easter dinner tables. And some “peeps” just like that pillowy, marshmallowy mouthful that weighs in at a mere 32 calories.
Chef Gale Gand might be a popular food TV star, but at her home, the award-winning pastry pro delights in concocting homemade marshmallow chicks and bunnies for Easter. She’s been making them for about 10 years. “They’re funny in a retro kind of way,” she said. “If I make them, I can make them any color I want.”
Gand’s twin daughters, Ruby and Ella, often work alongside her. “Kids get so much out of cooking: math and motor skill development, a sense of how to nurture, chemistry — and then it tastes good in the end,” she said.
At Gand’s home, piped marshmallow chicks are a colorful centerpiece on the Easter brunch table, next to the ricotta doughnuts her family makes every year. But they don’t last long because they taste great. “We just pop them in our mouths and eat them,” Gand said.
Gand uses a few tricks of the sugar trade to ensure top-quality chicks. “Make sure the mixture is slightly cooled so it holds up. Test the consistency first before piping the whole batch,” she said.
At the Just Born factory in Bethlehem, Pa., some 1 billion Peeps are produced each year. That’s enough Peeps to stretch from New York City to Tokyo, if Peeps could swim.
In 1954, factory owner Bob Born introduced a new machine to mass-produce his bright yellow marshmallow chicks, which he trademarked Peeps (www.marshmallowpeeps.com). The factory had been known for making fine French chocolates.
And now we finally know what came first, the chicken or the bunny. It wasn’t until the early 1980s that Born began making his marshmallow treats in the shape of a bunny.
Home candymakers can use a cookie cutter in the shape of a bunny or some other favorite springtime symbol to personalize their marshmallow treats.
By the mid-1990s, Just Born had begun producing Peeps in still more pastel colors and added vanilla and chocolate flavors. Today, bunnies and chicks are made in a variety of colors, including pink, green, blue and lavender. Naturally, the best-selling Peeps in the United States are those colored the original — and beloved — bright yellow.
Just Born, which lately touts a chocolate mousse Peep dipped in chocolate among their latest innovations, now also produces shapes for other holidays. It produces marshmallow hearts for Valentine’s Day, pumpkins for Halloween and snowmen for Christmas.
Gand too, works her marshmallow magic for Valentine’s Day, taking the marshmallow cream she uses for chicks and bunnies and stuffing it between two heart-shaped pieces of chocolate cake. That marshmallow cake sandwich recipe is included in her cookbook, Chocolate & Vanilla (Crown Publishing Group, 2006).
Factory-made Peeps are always given a fine coating of granulated sugar, and Gand does that too sometimes. It’s that final bit of sparkle on a holiday classic.