Kelly Donohoe, a baker for Rosemont Markets, squeezed the pastry bag and the marshmallow goo flowed expertly onto the baking pan, hatching the thick body of a marshmallow chick. A little flourish at the end from her practiced hand created a tiny tail.
Then it was my turn.
I moved the pastry bag a little too quickly – a rookie mistake. My peep came out looking like something left behind in the marshmallow poultry powder room. After Donohoe gave it a head and eyes, and it was rolled in yellow sugar, my chick looked more like a flatworm with a failing liver. I ate it anyway.
Peeps – can we call them that, or will we get a cease-and-desist order? – are everywhere this time of year. Fans of Peeps know they are not health food. The first two ingredients, after all, are sugar and corn syrup. Yet the people who like these classic Easter treats really like them, empty calories and all.
“If you like Peeps,” Donohoe observed, “you really freak out about them.”
People who don’t care for them, or are indifferent, or think they are a sugary sign of the Apocalypse, will not be happy to hear that the chicks are still multiplying. First, there were just yellow ones. Then they started coming in other colors – pink, white, blue, lavender – and in flavors such as strawberry, gingerbread, sweet lemonade, blue raspberry and sour watermelon.
Yes, sour watermelon.
Now Peeps – the ones manufactured by the candy company Just Born – are also regularly appearing at holidays other than Easter. Way to take all the specialness out of limited edition holiday candy, corporate peeps.
“That’s a travesty to me,” said Josh Davis, co-owner of Gelato Fiasco, where their most popular flavor this time of year is Toasted Marshmallow Peeps gelato. “Easter was the last frontier of candy that was special for that time.”
The folks at Rosemont Markets always like to make something special for holidays, but they try to stay away from things like preservatives and food colorings.
This year, they are sculpting their own homemade marshmallow chicks, which they are calling Peeps even though there are only three main ingredients in the Rosemont version: sugar, gelatin and vanilla. There’s a touch of food coloring in the yellow sugar, but no potassium sorbate or carnauba wax in the chicks.
The marshmallow part of the Rosemont chick itself contains no corn syrup. They’ve enhanced the flavor by using real vanilla. But perhaps the best thing about them is that they aren’t made by a machine. Like the marshmallow chicks of yore, these Peeps have personality.
“They’re pretty simple; it just takes a lot of practice,” Donohoe said. “The hardest thing, I think, is piping a shape that actually looks like a chick.”
“Yeah, we had a lot of Jabba the Hutt Peeps and walrus Peeps,” said kitchen manager Erin Lynch.
“Each one has its own personality,” Donohoe added. “Their heads point in different directions. Some of them have chubbier necks.”
One of the bakers’ biggest challenges has been figuring out what temperature the marshmallow should be when it goes into the pastry bag.
“If you cool it too much, it doesn’t really pipe very easily,” Lynch said, “but if it gets too runny, you get snakes.”
After Donohoe finished making a tray full of bodies, she turned them around and started putting on the heads. (The trick to the neck rolls, Lynch says, is pretending you’re making two little Hershey’s Kisses stacked on top of each other.) Then the chicks are rolled in yellow sugar, which gives the finished bird a satisfying crunch when you bite into it. The eyes are a dab of black food coloring applied with the tip of a wooden skewer.
They only come in one color ($4.99 for a six-pack), but don’t think the bakers haven’t had a little fun. One chick came out wearing sunglasses and a bikini.
Donohoe, oddly enough, is not a big fan of Peeps. “I can have one or two, but that’s my max I think,” she said.
Not surprising, given how many they’ll be making this year.
Hundreds? “Oh, yeah,” Lynch replied.
“I hope not.”
Staff Writer Meredith Goad can be contacted at 791-6332 or at: