Do-it-yourself Easter candy: Fill a basket with delicious, homemade treats

ANDREA WEIGL
McClatchy Tribune News Service
Modified: March 26, 2013 at 5:30 pm •  Published: March 26, 2013
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For many children, Easter is all about the hunt. They love searching for hidden eggs and snooping for the ultimate Easter jackpot: a basket filled with jelly beans, marshmallow Peeps and chocolate rabbits so large that they make a child’s eyes go wide.

My mother used to make homemade Easter candy. She would make chocolate lollipops in the shape of eggs, bunnies and chicks and my favorite, chocolate-dipped peanut butter eggs.

Now that I’m a mother, I wanted to do the same for my daughter. As a toddler, she doesn’t understand the holiday’s religious meaning, let alone know about the Easter bunny. But I figured it wasn’t too early to continue my family’s tradition of making homemade Easter treats.

My mother is an excellent cook, but she’s no Martha Stewart. I figured if she could do it, it couldn’t be that hard. My mother used the candy melts sold at local craft stores, such as Michael’s and A.C. Moore. The candy melts don’t require tempering, a method to stabilize chocolate for candy-making by heating and cooling it. Candy melts can be melted in a double boiler or easier still, a microwave. Her peanut butter eggs were just a variation on an easy Midwestern treat called a buckeye — a chocolate-covered peanut butter ball.

I thought this would be easy, but my problems started when I decided to be more ambitious than my mother. I would make homemade marshmallow Peeps, create fruit gelees as a stand-in for jelly beans, and would temper the chocolate for the lollipops and massive Easter bunnies.

My first round of candy making left me humbled. The raspberry fruit gelees didn’t set. I burned the first batch of marshmallows. And I soon learned how infuriating it is to temper chocolate, heating and cooling it to exact temperatures to create shiny, crisp candies.

The only recipe that worked on the first try was chocolate peanut butter eggs.

My kitchen failures led me to reach out to some candy-making experts: Beth Somers, head of the test kitchen for Wilton, the Illinois-based maker of cake and candy molds and supplies, and Casey Barber, author of “Classic Snacks Made From Scratch.”

Somers explained why those candy melts are easier to use than tempering chocolate and offered a few tips on how to more easily fill the molds. Barber explained how to make homemade marshmallows, the basis for Peeps.

Back in the kitchen, I found more success. My mango gelees set. I didn’t burn the marshmallows. I used candy melts instead of trying to temper the chocolate. Instead of piping the marshmallows into the standard Peep-shaped chicks, I used chick- and bunny-shaped cookie cutters. Much easier.

And I learned a valuable lesson: My mother’s methods may not make her Martha Stewart, but she knows best.

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PEANUT BUTTER EASTER EGGS

This recipe comes from Dorette Snover, owner of C’est si Bon! Cooking School in Chapel Hill. She wrote: “Growing up in Berks County, Pennsylvania Dutch Country, meant making these delicious — and synonymous with springtime — Easter treats. Many old-time recipes are a bit sketchy as to exact amounts of each ingredient, so let your palate be your guide.”

1 cup peanut butter, smooth or crunchy

1 ½ sticks butter, softened

1 pound powdered sugar

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

12 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, chopped (not chocolate chips)

¼ cup toasted chopped peanuts

Mix peanut butter and softened butter in a medium mixing bowl using a hand mixer or in a standing mixer. Cream until smooth. Add powdered sugar and vanilla. It should come together to form a stiff dough. Knead if necessary to achieve a firmer consistency.

Use hands to mold dough into egg shapes and place on waxed paper-lined baking sheets. Refrigerate overnight uncovered, allowing to dry slightly.

Melt chocolate in the top of a double boiler over simmering water and stir until melted. (If you don’t have a double boiler, place the chocolate in a small glass or metal bowl and set on top of a small pan of simmering water.)

Dip peanut butter eggs in the chocolate using two forks, return to wax paper-lined cookie sheets. Sprinkle dipped eggs with chopped peanuts. Let harden and then wrap in brightly colored foil or place in festive cupcake liners.

Yield: 16-18 eggs

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MANGO GELEES

The original recipe calls for 1 cup unsweetened fruit puree. Author Hedy Goldsmith likes to use passion fruit, mango and guava. One note: I had no luck with making this with raspberry puree. Raspberries have little natural pectin, so I would stick with Goldsmith’s fruit suggestions. Adapted From “Baking Out Loud: Fun Desserts with Big Flavors,” by Hedy Goldsmith (Clarkson Potter, 2012).

2 mangos

2 ½ cups sugar, plus more for dusting and serving

2 (3-ounce) pouches liquid pectin

Line bottom of an 8-inch-square baking dish with parchment paper or plastic wrap.

Peel mangos and cut away fruit. Puree the fruit in a food mill or a food processor. You will need 1 cup of fruit puree.

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