Peeping Hot 

Make your own Peeps in a variety of shapes.

It's like Fear Factor for eco-foodies. Every Easter, friends present me with boxes of Peeps so they can watch, aghast, as I actually eat them. I'm not the only fan -- each spring a rainbow of marshmallow bunnies and chicks overflows from Walgreens shelves, and dozens of Web sites prove that the hoi polloi feels the same mix of love and horror that I do toward my favorite childhood treat.

Someone at Emeryville's own Wham-O must have been watching Martha Stewart's show the same day I saw her pipe out homemade marshmallow chicks, because this spring the folks who gave us the Hula Hoop and the SUPERBALL teamed with Just Born, the folks who invented poultry-shaped marshmallows, to bring out a make-your-own Peeps kit for kids.

The day -- the very day! -- I first learned about Wham-O's Peeps Maker I drove all over creation looking for one, finally plucking the last box from the shelf at Target in San Lorenzo.

The Peeps Maker ($14.99) is basically a combination mixing bowl and "extruder," which comes with lots of gratuitous packaging and two packets of white powder that you mix together with warm water until they foam up into shaving cream. You squeeze the fluff through the extruder into Peeps-shaped molds and then let it set. Each maker includes enough mix to whip up two batches of six marshmallows, as well as packets of nuclear-waste pink and yellow sugar to roll them in. Refills, priced at $5 for a dozen more chicks, expand your palette to nontraditional white, purple, and orange.

At those prices, and for that amount of work -- if you think mixing up the Peeps is tricky, try peeling them out of the molds -- why would you want to attempt to reproduce culinary genius? Then I noticed that the orange sugar was only a few hues away from Crayola's old "flesh"-color crayon. Phone calls were made.

Unfortunately, Good Vibrations doesn't stock any adult novelty ice-cube molds, but the counterwoman at Annapurna Books in Berkeley said her store did ("You mean penises? Oh, sure"). By the time I drove over, though, she'd discovered that they were sold out. "It's bachelorette party season," she apologized.

So, on to plan B: Making Peeps for the not-very-kosher Passover seder I was attending that night.

I arrived at my friend Jennifer's house clutching my Peeps Maker, along with star-of-David chocolate molds and turquoise sugar from Spun Sugar, the Berkeley candymaking supply store. Post-brisket expectations were as high as some of the guests. But when I handed out the finished concoctions -- which tasted nothing like the real thing -- the tasters' reactions ranged from bemused to disgusted. Besides, Easter iconography never stopped Jennifer from trying the originals. "Oh, please. Jews eat Peeps," she said. "I come from a liberal family."

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