You could get a sugar headache just by walking into the London branch of Dominique Ansel’s bakery. Creator of the Cronut, cookie shots, and, most recently, an avocado-shaped easter egg, Ansel is no stranger to innovative pastries and patisseries. But the Peep-a-Boo might be his weirdest creation to date.
Unleashed just in time for the Easter Instagram rush, the Peep-a-Boo is a bright yellow marshmallow chick bursting out of an actual egg shell. It’s an IRL hatching chick emoji, fashioned from caramel, chocolate, and copious amounts of sugar. Suffice to say, I am excited to both make and eat it.
Wandering around Ansel’s shop, I find rows and rows of brightly coloured pastries, cakes, patisseries, and desserts. There are macaroons, mousses, cheesecakes, and tarts of every flavour. The colours are overwhelming. I am dizzy from the sheen of the icing glaze. A sugar crash feels imminent.
Happily, James Clarke, the executive pastry chef, soon comes to save me. We head upstairs away from the cakes to the kitchen, where chefs roll pastry and caramelise sugar in a relaxed fashion. I’m later told that no shouting is allowed in the kitchen, which makes it the perfect environment for me to try my hand at making a marshmallow chick for the first time.
“There are no raised voices, there's no swearing in the kitchen, it's a very calm environment,” Clarke explains. “It's great. It just promotes a happy and fun working environment where no one's afraid to come to you with any problems, and no one's afraid to say they've made a mistake.”
Clarke begins by making the caramel that goes inside the chicks as a surprise gooey centre. He then demonstrates the tricky technique of piping sticky marshmallow into a hollow egg shell brushed with chocolate to form the body of the chick. To this he adds caramel and then finishes off the marshmallow to resemble a baby bird’s head poking out of the shell. Finally, he dips the marshmallow in yellow sugar and adds two chocolate eyes. Thus, the chick is born.
Watching the dessert come to life, I ask Clarke what he thinks about the sweet flavour combination of caramel, chocolate, and marshmallow.
“I think it works brilliantly,” he explains, as I try and not cover everything I am wearing with marshmallow. “I think the combination of the bitterness from the dark chocolate, the sweetness from the marshmallow, and the slight bitterness from the caramel works perfectly.”
However, Clarke isn’t entirely responsible for the creation, so I turn to Ansel himself, who is out of the country when I visit the bakery but answers my questions over email. I start by asking how he came up with the idea for the Peep-a-Boos.
“Growing up in France, I always knew Easter was coming up when the chocolate shop windows would be lined with beautiful chocolate eggs,” he explains. “When I came to America, I learned that people’s childhood Easter memories reminded them of marshmallow chicks. So we created these Peep-a-Boo marshmallow chicks.”
Despite the creation being almost entirely made of, and covered in, sugar, Ansel doesn’t seem to think that the dessert might be too sweet.
“It’s not a lot of sugar,” he says. I wonder if he has ever watched someone make marshmallow (sugar), filled with caramel (sugar), and dipped in sugar (sugar) before. “We add a bit of honey into our marshmallow recipe to help balance and tone down the sugar levels, and it also gives the marshmallow a nice floral flavour. There’s a sprinkle of fleur de sel in the caramel as well, and the combination with the dark chocolate egg work really well together.”
Does he think about the Instagram-value of a product when he creates it?
“No. At the end of the day, it’s about creating something that has a story behind it, something delicious that connects with people. If it’s created purely for a photo and it tastes horrible, then what’s the point?”
Back in the kitchen, it’s my turn to have a go at this definitely-not-just-for-Instagram treat. Taking the piping bag in my hand, I attempt to tame the unruly substance into a form that somewhat resembles a small animal. I squeeze the bag, willing the marshmallow to turn into something vaguely bird-like. Zero years of patisserie school, unsurprisingly, result in a far less polished dessert. This has not gone well.
My version is a deformed, almost unethical creation. I gaze upon Clarke’s professional eggs, then to my attempt, then back to Clarke’s again. It is a depressing sight to behold. Mine look like sad, yellow seals melting into themselves, escaping the painful reality of their existence. Like something I should kill out of compassion.
This seems like the kindest option, so I take my lil’ Peep-a-Boo and begin to crush the shell in my bare hands. I peel off the inedible egg casing to reveal chocolate beneath and take a bite. It’s not quite as sickly sweet as I anticipated, but eating an entire chick seems like a £40 dentist appointment waiting to happen.
Looking at the remains of the chick, I can’t help but feel sad. As I leave the kitchen, I pick up the marshmallow carcass and bring it close to my mouth. I’m sorry, I whisper. I’m sorry for bringing you into this world, and that I must now take you out.