While some may choose to debate the Christian versus pagan symbolism and circumstance surrounding the Easter holiday, we at 12 Bottle Bar instead turn our sights on that most eternal of vernal demagogues: the PEEP®. Whether you are in the love-em or hate-em camp when it comes to PEEPS®, we’re certain that you’ll appreciate the question that begat today’s Easter post: Could we booze “peeps” up? The answer proved to be simple, yet eloquent: Hell, yeah.
Of course, we first had to lay out the challenge before us and define what would constitute success:
- The “peeps” had to use a real cocktail as their base liquid, and one which tasted good.
- They had to have appropriate “peep” shapes, colors, and consistency.
That was it. But before we get to how things turned out – let’s turn back the clock, 12BB style, and take a trip we like to call “The Rise of the Planet of the PEEPS®.”
The no-so-long history of those little yellow squishy chicks began a hundred years ago, in 1910, when Russian immigrant Sam Born stepped onto U.S. soil and began to get busy in the candy-making trade. Within a few short years, Born revolutionized the industry. He created “jimmies” (those little chocolate sprinkles), the hard chocolate coating on ice cream bars, and, in 1916, a machine to insert sticks into lollipops (parents out there – imagine lollipops without sticks and all the gooey little hands grabbing for everything in sight). In a bit of obvious marketing pun-fun/genius, Born opened his first confection store in New York (1917 – with all that lollipop stick money) with a sign proclaiming everything inside “Just Born!”, a name which stuck and which the company still bears today.
In 1953, Just Born acquired the Rodda Candy Company, a jelly bean maker that had a sideline making marshmallow chicks for Easter. The Rodda process of hand-piping each bird was laborious at best, so within a year, Just Born mechanized the manufacture of PEEPS® and , by 1960, expanded the line to include snowmen for Christmas as well as pumpkins and cats for Halloween. Today, PEEPS® obviously come in many more styles than those – chocolate dipped, chocolate coated, and sugar-free variations have joined the ranks of chicks, bunnies, pumpkins, ghosts, cats, Christmas trees, stars, reindeer, snowmen, gingerbread men, teddy bears, hearts, and “I (Heart) You” shapes. Since 1999, Just Born has been actively shipping to 20 markets around the globe and their products are available to 1.5 billion people worldwide (that’s about one-quarter of the planet’s population).
So, now that we knew where baby PEEPS® came from (right here in the US of A), the question was how to make our cocktail peeps (the question of why should be obvious). First, we needed to use a drink as our base – a drink which not only had the right alcohol-to-not-alcohol ratio but one which, most importantly, would taste good in marshmallow form. Using our standard and reliable marshmallow recipe (included below), we needed 1 cup of liquid. As marshmallows are basically just whipped gelatin and sugar, we turned to Gary Regan’s guidelines for jelly shots, which call for 7 to 9 ounces of liquid, of which no more than 1/3 is alcohol. One drink on our list met all the requirements: the Painkiller. One recipe made enough liquid, the alcohol proportion was spot-on, and the flavors would taste great in squishy chick form.
We did make a few small modifications to our base Painkiller, however. Purely in the name of consistency, we replaced the Coconut Milk Syrup with über-trendy coconut water (we used “ONE” brand). We also cut back the Rum to 2 ounces (although, in hindsight, 3 ounces would have been fine), and after we mixed the drink, we left it in the fridge for a few hours, let the pulp separate further, and strained it a final time through a fine filter. As the marshmallow recipe calls for water, we wanted something as close to water in consistency as possible.
The second bullet above was the trickiest one. Getting the color of PEEPS® is easy, you just buy the appropriately colored sanding sugar at a cake supply store, or as we did, just buy regular colored “cookie decorating” sugar and give it a spin in the food processor until powdery in consistency. A point of note here, too, is that even though our Painkiller drink is the requisite dark-rum-and-juice color, there’s so much sugar in the resulting marshmallows, they come out white. We could have added yellow or pink food coloring to the mix, but by keeping the white base, we were able to cut the same batch into multiple shapes and color them afterward.
As for the shapes themselves, PEEPS® come either in the traditional piped chick shape or a cut shape. Piping marshmallows makes them lighter in consistency, so we were initially going to go that route, using this Martha Stewart recipe. Unfortunately, most of the people who commented on the piped method complained of the overall difficulty, so we passed. We also contemplated adding egg whites to our mix, which increases the loft, but after sampling a packet of the cut, not-piped, PEEPS® bunnies, we felt that our standard marshmallow recipe, without being piped and without egg whites, would do the job just fine. The shapes we ultimately went with were simply based upon the cookie cutters we could find (in this case, mini-size Wilton-brand Easter shapes). The marshmallow can be made in any thickness and cut easily (oil your cutter first), so like Just Born, you can produce these for any occasion.
Covering all of our concerns, off we went to the mixer, and approximately twelve hours later (the peeps need to harden overnight), we had a beautiful slab of Painkiller marshmallow ready for cutting and dusting. They taste wonderful. The flavors of the drink are all there, if much more subtly than we might have expected or even hoped for. As one drink makes dozens of “peeps”, these aren’t going to get you bombed in the slightest (sorry), but we think the mission was definitely accomplished.
The marshmallow recipe follows, and if you follow the steps (and you have a good candy thermometer and a stand mixer), it’s incredibly easy. After your first batch, you’ll start to imagine all of the wild flavor and shape combinations you might be able to create – we certainly are. Anyone up for Chelada clam peeps? Yeah, probably not.
Here’s some more PEEPS ® fun:
Basic Marshmallow Recipe
2 envelopes gelatin
½ cup Water, clear Fruit Juice, or clear Cocktail (for blooming gelatin)
3 oz Water, clear Fruit Juice, or clear Cocktail (to go into the pot)
1 ½ cup sugar
5 oz light corn syrup
1/8 tsp salt
A 50/50 powdered sugar and corn starch mixture for dusting
- Prepare a pan by lining all surfaces with foil, then spraying foil with non-stick oil and sifting a liberal dusting of your sugar & starch over it. It is preferable that you use a metal pan with very square corners but you can use any shape you want.
- Pour the ½ cup juice into the bowl of a stand mixer and sprinkle two envelopes of gelatin over the juice so it will bloom.
- Combine 1 ½ cup sugar, 5 oz corn syrup, remaining 3 oz juice and salt in a heavy saucepan. Bring to a boil and cook until it reaches the soft-ball stage (234-240 F).
- With the mixer at full speed, pour all of the hot syrup slowly down the side of the bowl. Be careful as the mixture is very liquid-y and hot at this point and some may splash out of the bowl – use a splash guard if you have one. Whip until the mixture is very fluffy and stiff, about 8-10 minutes.
- Pour mixture into the foil-lined pan and smooth with an oiled offset spatula so that it’s level with the top of the rim (it won’t completely fill the pan). Sift the sugar/starch mixture generously over the top of the marshmallow slab then allow the mixture to sit, uncovered at room temp for 10 to 12 hours. (You can cover once the mixture is mostly set and no longer has any warmth to it… I typically cover it after 4 hours)
- After the marshmallows have rested for 10-12 hours uncovered, turn it out onto a cutting board or counter, peel off foil and dust with more sugar/starch mixture. Cut in whatever manner you want, making sure to oil any knives or cookie cutters.
- Dip all cut edges in sugar/starch mixture and shake off excess. Marshmallows will keep several weeks at room temp in an air-tight container. FOR PEEPS – Skip this step and see below.
Once you’ve made the above recipe, skipping Step 7, you’re ready to sugar-coat your peeps as follows:
- Prepare the cut-out peeps, a bowl of clean water, a plate, a bowl of colored sugar, a spoon, and a cookie drying/cooling rack .
- One-by-one, quickly dip the peeps into the bowl of water, then transfer them onto the plate.
- Using the spoon, sprinkle enough sugar over them to coat, turning the peep to cover the whole thing. Handle them delicately. Note: Coating them this way keeps the reserve sugar dry. Wet sugar won’t coat them properly (we learned the hard way).
- Once the peep is fully coated, transfer it to the drying rack and repeat with the rest of the peeps until done.
- One the peeps are dry, place them in a fine mesh strainer and toss them about to “buff” them – removing any excess sugar clumps.
- Add eyes, if desired, with royal icing, fondant, currants, or drageés.