BETHLEHEM, Pa. — Those little marshmallow chicks and bunnies — Peeps — have been showing up in Easter baskets for 60 years.
On their anniversary, Ross Born, third-generation operator of Just Born Inc., which hatches 5 million Peeps a day at its plant 60 miles north of Philadelphia, talks about the company founded by his grandfather, Russian immigrant Sam Born, in a Brooklyn storefront 90 years ago. Born advertised the freshness of his product with a sign that said "Just Born." The name stuck.
The burgeoning business moved to Bethlehem and acquired the Peeps brand with its 1953 purchase of Rodda Candy Co. of Lancaster. Best known for its jelly beans, Rodda had also introduced a small line of marshmallow chicks and bunnies, employing dozens of women who hand-squeezed them out of pastry bags. "It was really very difficult, and these women were strong," said David Shaffer, Sam Born's nephew and co-chief executive officer along with Ross Born.
Ross Born's father, Bob — a physicist and engineer by training — automated the process in the mid 1950s, and a version of the machine he invented is still in use today, extruding millions of those familiar shapes on peak-Peep production days.
The company, whose other brands are Hot Tamales, Mike and Ike, and Goldenberg's Peanut Chews, has never suffered an unprofitable year. But its growth has always been relatively slow, steady and controlled, and a few years ago, Born and Shaffer decided they wanted to accelerate it.
The longtime partners brought in a new management team, spent heavily on marketing and broke back into the chocolate business, introducing chocolate-dipped Peeps as well as Peepsters, small chocolate candies filled with marshmallow-flavored cream. (New for this year is a yellow chick nestled in a hollow chocolate egg.) They also focused on holiday seasons other than Easter, particularly Christmas.
The result: The company had its best year ever in 2012. While Just Born is privately held and does not disclose revenue, he says it posted double-digit growth across all brands. And Shaffer sees more growth potential as the confectioner works to position its products in warehouse clubs and convenience stores.
Homemade Marshmallow Candies
This recipe requires the use of a candy thermometer
and a piping bag.
2 packages gelatin
¾ cup water, divided
2 cups sugar
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups colored sugar
Butter for greasing a baking sheet, if cutting out shapes
½ cup chocolate chips
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, sprinkle the gelatin over ¼ cup of water and let stand until the gelatin is softened. Fit a piping bag with a large, round tip (preferably ½ inch) and place the colored sugar in a bowl.
In a large saucepan, combine the remaining water with the sugar and corn syrup, and cook until the sugar reaches 245 degrees using a candy thermometer. Remove from heat.
With the mixer running on low speed, slowly pour the sugar syrup down the side of the mixer so it doesn't splash against the whisk. Slowly increase the mixer speed to high and beat until the marshmallow lightens in color, about 6 minutes, then beat in the vanilla. Continue beating on high speed until the marshmallow firms and stiffens in texture (similar to a stiff meringue); the marshmallow should not be overly stringy and will have lost some of its sheen, and the marshmallow should break off as the beater is removed, 10 to 16 minutes.
Start by piping the body: Hold the piping bag over the colored sugar and begin piping the marshmallow out onto the sugar so it is about 1-inch in diameter and approximately one-half-inch thick. Continue piping the body so it is about 2 ½ inches in length, then slowly release the tip from the marshmallow, pushing the marshmallow up to form a tail. To form the chest and head, pipe on top of the body, starting from the front of the body and piping over half of the back. Continue piping, but reversing direction, to form the head, slowly releasing the tip to form the beak. Spoon the colored sugar over the formed marshmallow to coat completely. Remove the marshmallow to a parchment-lined baking sheet.
Form the eyes: Place the chocolate chips in a glass measuring cup or bowl and microwave in 10-second increments, stirring occasionally, until melted. Use a toothpick to dot the melted chocolate over the marshmallow candies to form eyes (and noses, for marshmallow bunnies).
Makes about 3 dozen candies, depending on size.
Source: Los Angeles Times