Wednesday, April 4, 2012

A return from the dead (or at least from the absent)

So I haven't written in forever and, the longer it went, the harder it was to come up with something that justified a post. But I finally came up with something!

I believe I've mentioned before that I am completely obsessed with Peeps, despite not liking to actually eat them (unless they're baked). This year has been no different. As soon as the brightly colored marshmallows showed up in stores, I started making my normal S'meeps and occasionally just sticking them in the oven for a quick fix.

But that wasn't enough. After talking every year about how I could make my own version of Peeps, this was the year I finally did it!

First off (and this is the part that always hung me up in the past), I had to find the perfect cookie cutter. And I did find them here. In fact, they have several different sizes and I got the x-small and the large. The size choices weren't the best because the x-small was REALLY small and the large was pretty darn big. But they worked.

Then I just had to make the marshmallows. This is my favorite recipe. The only change I made was to add vanilla bean paste so that the marshmallows had those awesome vanilla specks that I love. Oops... I made one other change too. Instead of following the instructions and covering the bottom of the pan with powdered sugar, I just coated the pan (hardcore) in non-stick spray. Then you just pour the mixture in and let it sit out overnight.

Once they've had time to sit up completely, just use the cookie cutter to cut out your peeps. The cutter will get sticky stuff on it (spraying it with the non-stick stuff didn't seem to help at all), so wash and dry it frequently. As soon as you cut one out, drop it into a bag of whatever color of sanding sugar and make sure it's covered completely.

If you choose to put the little eyes on (like Peeps), I prefer to pipe melted chocolate on them. Some say they use food coloring and a toothpick, but I just found the chocolate easiest.

And then you have your own homemade Peeps! The mini cookie cutter actually turned out nice too, since I stuck a stick in those peeps and dipped them in chocolate, making them the perfect little treat.
I started doing these at the bakery about a week and a half before Easter, which was just enough time for me to get bored with the perfect, cute, vanilla bean marshmallows. So I decided to try Strawberry Peeps (and I'm hoping to try chocolate soon). To do the strawberry, I still used the same basic recipe as above(from Smitten Kitchen), but here are the changes I made:

3 1/2 envelopes (2 tablespoons plus 2 1/2 teaspoons) unflavored gelatin
1 cup strained strawberry puree, divided
2 cups granulated sugar (cane sugar worked just fine)
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 reconstituted egg whites (reconstituted w a 50/50 mix of water and strawberry juice)
1 tablespoon vanilla

Oil bottom and sides of a 13- by 9- by 2-inch rectangular metal baking pan and dust bottom and sides with some confectioners’ sugar.

In bowl of a standing electric mixer or in a large bowl sprinkle gelatin over 1/2 cup cold strawberry puree, and let stand to soften.

In a 3-quart heavy saucepan cook granulated sugar, corn syrup, second 1/2 cup of strawberry puree, and salt over low heat, stirring with a wooden spoon, until sugar is dissolved. Increase heat to moderate and boil mixture, without stirring, until a candy or digital thermometer registers 240°F, about 12 minutes. Remove pan from heat and pour sugar mixture over gelatin mixture, stirring until gelatin is dissolved.

With standing or a hand-held electric mixer beat mixture on high speed until white, thick, and nearly tripled in volume, about six minutes if using standing mixer or about 10 minutes if using hand-held mixer. (Some reviewers felt this took even longer with a hand mixer, but still eventually whipped up nicely.)

In separate medium bowl with cleaned beaters beat egg whites (or reconstituted powdered whites) until they just hold stiff peaks. Beat whites and vanilla (or your choice of flavoring) into sugar mixture until just combined. Pour mixture into baking pan and don’t fret if you don’t get it all out (learning from my mess of a first round). Chill marshmallow, uncovered, until firm, at least three hours, and up to one day.

The result is a lovely, pale pink marshmallow with a strong strawberry/vanilla flavor (which is achieved with NO artificial flavors or colors - at least none until the colored sugar covers them! LOL)

I really have loved doing them. And they have quite a few fans at the bakery too! One day I'll manage to get the nerve to try piping some Peeps Chicks, but that's a whole nother blog entry!