1 ( ¼-ounce) envelope powdered unflavored gelatin
¾ cup water, divided
1 cup granulated sugar, plus 1 ½ cups for coating
¼ cup light corn syrup
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 ounce milk chocolate or semisweet chocolate chips, a scant ¼ cup
Vegetable shortening (for bunnies)
Line a large rimmed baking sheet with waxed paper and shake a thin, even layer of granulated sugar across the waxed paper.
Sprinkle the gelatin evenly over ¼ cup water in the bowl of a stand mixer. Don’t bother to whisk; the gelatin will absorb the liquid on its own.
Stir the sugar with the corn syrup and remaining ½ cup water in a high-sided saucepan over medium heat. Stir until the sugar has dissolved and the liquid no longer feels grainy. Clip a candy thermometer to the saucepan and bring the mixture to a boil. Stir constantly to prevent burning. When the sugar syrup reaches 245 degrees on the thermometer, remove it from the heat and move fast.
Pour the hot syrup into the dissolved gelatin. Using the stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whisk at a low speed for 30 seconds. Gradually increase the mixer speed to medium-high and beat for 6 minutes, adding the vanilla during the last minute. The liquid will turn from syrupy and frothy to a light, fluffy, and shiny white marshmallow mixture that forms soft peaks when the mixer is stopped and the whisk is lifted.
Form the chicks: Fill the pastry or a gallon-size zip-top bag with marshmallow. Working on the sugar-dusted baking sheet, make chicks by piping fat teardrop shapes about 1 inch across to form the fat bodies. 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 the beak. (If peeps are spreading rather than setting, wait a few minutes and try again.)
Sprinkle finished peeps with sugar and let sit on sheet for 6 to 8 hours to set.
Make the eyes: Once the peeps are set, melt the chocolate over low heat in a small saucepan, stirring constantly, just until smooth. Dip a toothpick into the melted chocolate and dot eyes on both sides of each Peep’s head.
Make bunny peeps: Instead of sprinkling a rimmed baking sheet with sugar, grease the bottom and sides of an 8-inch square glass baking dish with vegetable shortening and dust with granulated sugar, shaking the dish to coat evenly.
Use a spatula to spread the marshmallow goo into the prepared dish. Dust the top with granulated sugar. Let sit overnight, then remove the set marshmallows in a single block onto a clean cutting board. Spray a bunny-shaped cookie cutter with vegetable spray. Cut out bunnies and roll in additional sugar to coat sides. Dot on eyes as directed above for chicks.
Color your peeps: You can use either pre-colored sanding sugar or make your own. To make your own Technicolor peeps, pour 2 cups granulated sugar into a gallon-size zip-top bag. Add a couple drops of your preferred food coloring, seal well, and shake violently, using your hands to gently press the bag and make sure the granules are evenly coated. Use this sugar for dusting the baking sheet or pan and coating the shaped Peeps. (Barber recommends using gel food coloring. Brands such as AmeriColor can be purchased online. I got good results with liquid food coloring.)
Yield: about 2 dozen peeps
From "Classic Snacks Made From Scratch: 70 Homemade Versions of Your Favorite Brand-Name Treats," by Casey Barber (Ulysses Press, 2013).