Vanilla Bean Marshmallow Peeps with Natural Colors
I made Peeps this weekend.
These aren’t just any Peeps. Commercial Peeps contain “sugar, corn syrup, gelatin” and “yellow #5, potassium sorbate, natural flavors, and carnauba wax.” Yellow #5 is a food coloring that has been proven to be carcinogenic or contaminated with known carcinogens. You can read more about food colorings here. “Natural” flavor is, just like artificial flavor, created in a lab with weird chemical compounds – there’s nothing “natural” about it.
I’m not saying my Peeps are healthy by any means, but they’re better than the alternative. I’ve swapped out artificial flavor in favor of vanilla bean, the petroleum-derived dye for plant-based colorings, and the likely GMO beet sugar and corn syrup for cane sugar. I generally try to avoid white sugar like the plague, but I think for a once-in-awhile special treat, these are a great alternative.
I experimented a lot with ways to make marshmallow Peeps. After trying dedicated Peeps recipes that either didn’t work consistently or weren’t that tasty, I went with my own: the marshmallow topping I use on my s’mores cookie cups. The result is melt-in-your-mouth fluffy vanilla bean goodness that is superior in every way to regular Peeps. I brought these to a party for the children to eat, but the grown-ups loved them, too.
If you’ve never made marshmallows or are nervous about piping, I’d say to give these a try anyway. This recipe is my tried and true marshmallow recipe, but I still tested it several times for Peeps to make sure it would work consistently, and I’m proud to say that it does. While the recipe is original, I did get the idea to use cocoa for eyes from The Kitchn‘s marshmallow peeps how-to.
Before we get started, let me tell you about the color used in these peeps. India Tree sent me a box of their plant-based food colorings for this recipe, and I was so excited to try them out. I love making colorful kid-friendly food, but I didn’t know how well marshmallows would hold up to the addition of straight-up beet or carrot juice for color. India Tree’s Nature’s Colors Decorating Set comes with a red, yellow, and blue.
The yellow was hands down the most vibrant and similar to conventional petroleum dyes. The red was much softer – a rose sort of color, and the blue was a blue-gray. I needed to use more of these dyes than I would conventional colors, too.
That said, I loved the results. The more natural colors are gorgeous, especially in sanding sugar, and not as jarring as the neon store-bought Peeps. After making a few batches, I decided to just barely tint the marshmallow and use sanding sugar for most of the color pop. You can buy India Tree dyes on amazon, but I’ve seen them for about $5 less at Whole Foods.
If you can’t find these dyes and don’t want to use petroleum food coloring, here some ideas about how to make your own dyes using beets.
So let’s make some marshmallows!
Printable Recipe Here
Makes about 2 dozen marshmallows
Ready in 45 minutes to an hour, plus drying time
Have the following ready: a stand mixer fitted with a balloon whisk, a candy thermometer, a small saucepan, a spoon, and a piping bag fitted with a #12 tip (or other large-mouthed tip). You can use a hand-held mixer, but you’ll be standing over a bowl for 15 minutes.
1/4 c. water
1/3 c. water
1 c. sugar*
1 packet gelatin
a vanilla bean**
natural food coloring
1 tsp. cocoa
1 1/2 tsp. water
about 1/2 cup of sanding sugar in desired color
*While I love organic, less refined cane sugar, it will not work in this recipe. I learned this the hard way. The tasty brown impurities from the cane don’t melt well and result in a crunchy weird marshmallow (batch #1) or a crusty sugary mess in the pan (batch #2). Make sure to only use white cane sugar for the marshallows. To avoid genetically modified ingredients, buy sugar that says “cane sugar” on the bag; otherwise, it might be GMO beet sugar.
**I get my Vanilla beans Amazon – $15 with free shipping for 1/4 pound (about 27 beans).
1. Pour 1/3 c. water in the bowl of a stand-mixer. Sprinkle the gelatin overtop.
2. Pour 1/4 c. water in a saucepan and add 1 c. sugar.
3. Melt the sugar over medium heat, stirring often.
4. Once the sugar is dissolved, increase heat to medium high. The water will be milky looking initially; when it boils and turns clear, pull out your candy thermometer, continuing to stir often.
5. When the temperature registers 4 to 5 degrees above soft ball, immediately remove from heat and pour into the gelatin. All the marshmallow recipes I’ve seen call for removing at soft ball stage, but I think formed marshmallows like these need a little bit more boiling.
6. Whisk for 2 minutes and let the gelatin mixture cool a little bit.
7. Increase speed to high and whip for 14 minutes.
8. During the last minute, add vanilla beans and food coloring.
9. Turn the mixer off and scrape the marshmallow fluff into a piping bag. It’s easier if you put the bag in a tall glass and pull it down over the sides.
10. Pipe your chicks or bunnies (More detailed instructions below) and roll in sanding sugar. *Tip: if piping the marshmallow becomes difficult, microwave the pastry bag (tip removed) for about 7 seconds.
11. Stir cocoa into 1 1/2 tsp. water, and using a toothpick, dot the eyes on each marshmallow.
1. Make a quarter-sized oval, lifting up the tip to make a tail. (pic on left)
2. Fill the oval in. (pic on left)
3. Hold the tip over the bottom end, the “head” end, squeezing but not moving the tip to make the chest/neck/head of the duck. (pic on right)
4. Pull the tip away from the duck’s head to make a beak.
The sanding sugar totally makes the chicks look better – don’t worry about funny looking ones.
The bunnies were hands down easier than the chicks. I tried piping a bunny shape without a mold and didn’t have much luck. I really loved using a silicone mold I found at Michael’s for about $6. Bunnies are more labor intensive than chicks, but if you’re not comfortable with piping, you’ll get more uniform results.
1. Sprinkle colored sugar in the bottom of each bunny shaped cavity.
2. Using the pastry bag (with or without a tip), fill each bunny.
3. If any bunnies have undesired marshmallow peaks, pat them down with damp hands.
4. Sprinkle with more colored sugar.
5. Let the bunnies dry (this took me about an hour).
6. Run a sharp knife around each bunny and gently invert the bunny cavity, pushing the marshmallow through.
7. Pat sugar onto the sides of the bunnies if they feel sticky.