What you can do is turn them into a fun family activity with vast creative potential, says Barber, a food writer and author of "Classic Snacks Made From Scratch" (Ulysses Press, $17.95), which includes a recipe for DIY Peep-like creatures.
Kids might have trouble piping out the iconic bird shape from a pastry bag, so consider instead spreading the marshmallow mixture into a greased, sugar-dusted baking dish, letting it sit overnight and then using lightly greased cookie cutters to stamp out different shapes, Barber suggests. If you don't want to use melted chocolate to create "the tiny blank stare," decorate the marshmallow creations with tubes of frosting.
Imaginations can run wild in Peepland. But some rules are fixed. For example, don't skirt the candy thermometer, lest your Peeps look more like a puddle.
So many options to chirp about
Once you've mastered the basic techniques, you can really start to play around with your "peeps."
Vanilla flavoring can be substituted with another flavoring, such as almond, mint or lemon extract. Or use powdered spices such as ground cinnamon. You can even use rose- or orange-blossom water, which is actually quite delicious. Start by beating in about one-fourth teaspoon of the flavoring at a time and then adding more to reach the desired taste.
Colored sugars are available at most grocery stores as well as at cooking and baking supply stores, but you can make your own custom hues: Place granulated sugar in a sealable plastic bag or jar with a few drops of food coloring, then shake until the coloring is evenly distributed. Spread the sugar out onto a rimmed baking sheet for about 30 minutes to dry, then sift the sugar before using to remove any lumps.
Makes: About 24 candies
Note: Adapted from "Classic Snacks Made From Scratch" by Casey Barber.
1 envelope (1/4 ounce) powdered unflavored gelatin
3/4 cup water
1 cup granulated sugar, plus more for baking sheet
1/4 cup light corn syrup
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
Colored sugars, optional
1 ounce chocolate chips
1. Line a rimmed baking sheet with wax paper; sprinkle with a thin, even layer of granulated sugar. Pour 1/4 cup water in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted; sprinkle the gelatin evenly over the water. Fit the mixer with the whisk attachment.
2. Combine the remaining 1/2 cup water with 1 cup sugar and corn syrup; cook until the syrup reaches 245 degrees on a candy thermometer. Remove from heat.
3. With the mixer running on low, carefully pour the hot syrup down the inside of the bowl so it doesn't splash against the whisk. Slowly increase the mixer speed to high; beat until the marshmallow lightens in color, about 5-6 minutes. Beat in the vanilla. The liquid will turn from syrupy and frothy to a light, fluffy and shiny white marshmallow mixture; it should form soft peaks when the mixer is stopped and the whisk is lifted.
4. Fill a pastry bag with marshmallow (or use a large zip-close bag with a small hole cut from one corner). To form the bodies, pipe fat teardrop shapes about 1 inch across and 2 1/2 inches long onto the baking sheet, forming a tail at the end. Pipe a circular blob on top of each body, then quickly move your hand back toward the tail and flick the goo forward to make the head and beak. If the chicks are spreading rather than setting, wait a few minutes before piping more to allow the marshmallow to become more firm.
5. Sprinkle the finished chicks with colored sugar, if you like; let rest to set, 6-8 hours. For the eyes, melt the chocolate over low heat in a small saucepan; dip a toothpick into the chocolate and dot eyes onto the chicks' heads.
Note: You can buy colored sugars at cooking supply stores and in some supermarkets; or make them yourself: Shake granulated sugar in a plastic bag with a little food coloring.