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Published April 04, 2010, 12:25 AM

Peeps be with you: Local chefs turn treats into fine food

Despite their status as an Easter institution, Peeps are sort of the Rodney Dangerfield of confections; they’re thick around the middle, good for a laugh and get no respect.

Despite their status as an Easter institution, Peeps are sort of the Rodney Dangerfield of confections; they’re thick around the middle, good for a laugh and get no respect.

Sure, some people love them. But I recently wrote a Facebook post asking what people think of the often-chick-shaped, sugar-coated marshmallows. The post yielded 24 mostly negative comments, including: “gag,” “Yucky to nasty” and – my personal favorite – “I hate Peeps! I don’t think I’ve ever had one, but I hate them. Not a huge marshmallow fan and they creep me out!”

That seems a bit harsh. They’re sugar-covered marshmallows. How bad could they be?

At any rate, we at The Forum wanted to find out what sorts of desserts the culinary geniuses at some of the high-end establishments in the area could create from this lowbrow confection. The results were impressive, from Peeps-laden trifle to a chocolate cake created with the marshmallow treats. Here are the sugar-laden fruits of their labor, along with instructions so you can try to re-create the results at home.

Strawberry-Lime Mousse with Lime Curd

By Minda Ringdahl, Nichole’s Fine Pastry

Minda Ringdahl, pastry chef and cake decorator at Nichole’s Fine Pastry on Eighth Street in Fargo, says she “was surprised how well (the Peeps) complemented” her Strawberry-Lime Mousse. She served the mousse with lime curd, blue-hued white chocolate and Florentine cookies with pistachios.

It’s a fantastic mix. I think I actually chuckled while eating the ensemble; now that’s culinary joy.

Ringdahl melted the marshmallow Peeps to incorporate them into the light and airy mousse. It’s good, but if you’re going to the trouble of making the mousse, make the curd, too. The tart lime cuts and complements the strong sweetness of the Peep-imbued mousse and takes the flavor experience up a notch or two … or five.

The only downside to lime curd in general is that it’s green and gelatinous, so it can look like, well, snot. Just get over it. This combo is oh-so-worth-it. And if you can get some white chocolate and Florentine cookies to munch along with it, unmitigated happiness will ensue.

Peeps Molten Chocolate Cake

By Erin Smith Elznic, Silver Moon Supper Club

Erin Smith Elznic was, without a doubt, the right person for this Peeps dessert challenge.

“I’ve always loved Peeps since I was little,” says Elznic, pastry chef at the Silver Moon, 309 Roberts St. N. in Fargo.

In fact, she was nicknamed “Peeps” during her junior high days.

Her affection for the confectionary creatures must translate into deliciousness because her Peeps Molten Chocolate Cake is a chocoholics dream. The cake itself is like a cross between a really good brownie and that cake batter that your mom used to let you lick off the mixing beaters.

“It’s more like a baked chocolate mousse than a cake,” says Elznic, a self-described “sugar hound.”

And all that chocolate goodness has a Peep buried inside along with some chocolate Cadbury Mini Eggs.

Before I tried it, Elznic told me “there’s going to be like this ball of molten goo.”

Mmmmmmmm … goo!

Pick your favorite overused food cliché/word: melts in your mouth, mouthwatering, decadent. They all fit.

By the way, Elznic says they’re planning to run the dessert on the menu at the Silver Moon this Easter weekend and maybe a bit beyond.

Strawberry Peep Cake

By Timothy Fischer, HoDo Restaurant

The coolest thing about the Strawberry Peep Cake – other than its general delectability – is the fact that it contains four Peeps that had been left out until stale, ground in a food processor and then incorporated into the batter mixture. Even if it wasn’t lip-smacking good (and it is), it would be awesome just for that fact alone.

That “gave it a little sugariness,” says Timothy Fischer, who’s been the executive chef at the HoDo Restaurant, 101 Broadway N., since January.

Fischer’s creation is also garnished liberally with the marshmallow critters. But while the Peeps are the novelty, the icing is the highlight of this item. A blend of strawberry and a rich cream-cheese flavor, this cake coating is delicious.

As for the cake, per se, it rocks in its own right. The mild lemon-flavored concoction has some of the lightness of angel food, but is moister and has a bit more body to it. This is tasty stuff. Peeps fit for a king, I say.

I told Fischer that you’d never know there were Peeps inside.

“Which is a good thing,” he added.

Peeps Trifle

By Darla Julin, Fantasies in Frosting

Fantasies in Frosting custom cake shop owner Darla Julin says she’s really not “much of a Peep person.” But to taste the Peeps Trifle she created, you’d think they were her passion.

Don’t let the simple looks fool you. Julin incorporated basic ingredients like white cake, vanilla pudding and whipped topping to create a diverse palette of gentle textures and mild flavors that please the palate.

And while some people find the sugar-coating of Peeps a bit cloying, that crystallized sweetness really kicks this trifle up a notch. (I feel an Emeril-style “BAM!” coming on.) Those little marshmallow bunnies add just a hare (all puns intended) of crunch to the generally smooth texture.

What the crunch does for the texture the strawberry taste does for the flavor, as the mildness of other ingredients provides a base upon which the slight tartness of the strawberry can play.

Tammy Bevins stopped by Julin’s shop at 207 17th St. S. in Moorhead while I was “reporting” on the dessert.

“It’s to die for,” Bevins said.

No argument here.

Peeps recipes from the pros

Peeps Trifle

1 package yellow Peeps bunnies

1 package pink Peeps bunnies

1 small package vanilla pudding prepared according to directions

8 ounces whipped topping

1 pound fresh strawberries cut into slices and sprinkled with granulated sugar to taste

Pound cake, sponge cake angel food cake or white cake cut into cubes

Layer ingredients in bowl starting with cake cubes. Line Peeps along the perimeter of the bowl. Layer with pudding, whipped topping and strawberries until bowl is full. Top with whipped cream and garnish with a strawberry. Other fruit and pudding combinations can be substituted to suit individual taste.

Strawberry Peep Cake

1 pound egg whites

0.12 ounces cream of tartar

1/2 teaspoon salt

8 ounces sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon almond extract

1/4 cup lemoncello

0.8 pound sugar

6 ounces cake flour

4 dried, ground Peeps

Whip egg whites to soft peaks with cream of tartar, almond and vanilla extract and 8 ounces of sugar. Mix flour, salt, Peeps and 0.8 pound sugar and fold into the above mixture. Bake at 375 degrees for 20 minutes. Pour lemoncello over cake layers prior to frosting.

Frosting

4 cups powdered sugar

1 pound cream cheese

1/2 cup pureed strawberries

Whip frosting ingredients. Frost cake. Top with zest from one lemon and garnish with Peeps.

Strawberry-Lime Peep Mousse With Lime Curd

Lime Curd (makes about 3 cups)

1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons finely grated lime zest

1 cup fresh lime juice

1 1/2 cup granulated sugar

4 large eggs

pinch of salt

1 3/4 sticks (14 tablespoons) room-temperature unsalted butter

Whisk together zest, juice, sugar, eggs and salt in a 2-quart heavy saucepan. Cook over moderately low heat, whisking constantly, until curd comes to a boil and holds the marks of the whisk. Whisk the butter into the curd until fully melted. Immediately force curd through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl; discard the solids. Press plastic wrap onto the surface of the curd to prevent a skin from forming and refrigerate until set and chilled.

Strawberry-Lime Peep Mousse (serves about 4)

1 cup whipping cream or heavy cream

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

1 tablespoon vanilla

1/4 cup strawberry marmalade

1/4 cup chillled lime curd

16 Peeps

4 strawberries, chopped

1 teaspoon powdered gelatin

2 teaspoon cold water

Whip the cream along with granulated sugar and vanilla until soft peaks form and then add the chilled lime curd and strawberry marmalade. Whip the cream until medium peaks form. Wash the Peeps in cold water to remove sugar granules and place the Peeps in a microwave safe bowl; gradually melt. Then fold the melted Peeps and chopped strawberries into the whip-cream mixture. Put 2 teaspoons cold water in microwave-safe bowl and sprinkle gelatin over it. Let sit for 5 minutes. Then melt gelatin, which should turn to liquid and be warm (do not boil the gelatin). Whisk the melted gelatin into the whip-cream mixture. Refrigerate the mousse. It should set up within an hour. Serve with the chilled lime curd.

Peeps Molten Chocolate Cake

6 ounces good-quality dark chocolate

6 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 tablespoons natural cocoa powder

2 egg yolks*

3 tablespoons granulated sugar

3 egg whites*

1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar

6 Peeps, cut up or whole

Cadbury Mini Eggs, optional

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease and flour six ramekins (or six cups of a Texas-sized muffin tin) if you wish to remove cakes from ramekins.

Measure all ingredients before beginning. Slowly melt chocolate and butter together (use low setting if melting in microwave). Remove from heat and whisk in yolks and two tablespoons of the sugar. Set mixture aside briefly.

Beat egg whites, remaining tablespoon of sugar and cream of tartar until soft peaks form. Carefully fold whipped whites into chocolate mixture. Divide batter between ramekins (or muffin cups), placing a Peep in the middle of the batter. Add a few chopped-up Cadbury Mini Eggs “for extra gooey chocolate in the middle” (optional). Bake 8 to 12 minutes or until tops look a bit dry and are cracking. Do not over-bake. Serve immediately after a 2- to 4-minute resting period. Invert cake onto plate or serve in ramekin.

*The FDA advises that consuming raw or undercooked eggs may increase the risk of food-borne illness. Pasteurized eggs are the safest ingredient for this recipe.

Peeps Facts

  • Year Peeps were nationally introduced: 1958.
  • Calories in a Peeps chick: 28
  • Grams of fat in a Peeps chick: 0.
  • Time it took to make a Peeps chick in the early 1950s: 27 hours.
  • Time it takes to make a chick today: 6 minutes.
  • Best-selling color of chicks and bunnies in America: yellow.
  • Number of Peeps chicks you’d have to line up to reach from New York City to Los Angeles: more than 70 million.
  • Number of unofficial Peep Web sites: more than 200.
  • Variations on the standard Peep variety: chocolate mousse; vanilla crème, strawberry crème, cookie-flavored, peppermint, milk-chocolate-covered and dark-chocolate-covered.

Sources: www.marshmallowpeeps.com; www.usatoday.com


Readers can reach Forum reporter Shane Mercer at (701) 451-5734

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