The fact that there are multiple online recipes for chocolate cream eggs — the ones with the two-tone gooey filling with ersatz yolks — could be an indication we've reached peak DIY era. Nobody will expect you to bring homemade candy of any kind to your Easter dinner, but it's good to know that from-scratch confections — anything from gumdrops and jelly beans to chocolate peanut butter eggs — are just a few Pinterest clicks away.
Of course, one does not need to spend extra hours in the kitchen tending to finicky creations that can easily be purchased at the convenience store. But (and let's be honest) one wastes a lot of time doing much less productive things.
"We have customers that come into the store and buy some things for their Easter baskets but also make some of their own, too. They just enjoy the process of making it, and now more than ever. people like to be able to know how it's done," says Maureen Walter, co-owner of Lore's Chocolates in Center City. Fun fact: Lore's chocolate-making facility is situated in the old Goldenberg's Peanut Chew factory, which was sold after Goldenberg's was bought by Just Born, which makes the perennial Easter candy favorite Peeps. But more on (the homemade spin on) those later.
Because it's entirely optional, making candy at home should be fun and not stressful. It's good when starting out to keep the bar low and not, for instance, attempt to recreate the whole basket at once.
"Most people are intimidated to make candy at home, whether they worry about needing special equipment or they think it requires a lot of skill, but if you can break down recipes into simplistic steps, it's usually not as difficult as you think," says Katherine Honeyman, pastry chef and instructor at the Restaurant School in Philadelphia.
For Honeyman, homemade Easter candy is a long-held tradition — she started making eggs out of colored white chocolate at age 10. She recently dug out her original molds for a candy-making class.
For less experienced confectioners, she says, molded chocolate bunnies, eggs, or any other shape would be the easiest way to go, requiring the maker to just melt and temper the chocolate (or use premade candy coating, which doesn't require tempering) and then simply pour the liquid goodness into a mold and allow it to set.
The tempering process helps make the chocolate smooth and glossy and also creates the snappy shell needed for satisfying candy texture. Walter recalls making chocolate eggs as a child with paraffin wax as a tempering agent — a memory that as a small-batch chocolatier now gives her chills. If relying on pretempered chocolate, Honeyman recommends avoiding craft store candy melts and opting for Ghiradelli or another good-quality brand of coating chocolate for best-tasting results.
Other easy variations on the melt-and-go approach include throwing a bunch of pastel-coated Easter candy, like crushed malted chocolate eggs, pretzels, Oreos, and/or sprinkles into white chocolate spread over a sheet pan for colorful bark, or adding sticks to the molded chocolate and perhaps decorating them with colored white chocolate to create "lollipops."
Drexel Food Laboratory manager and pastry chef Alexandra Zeitz recalls making chocolates on sticks with her mother and handing them out to friends and family at Easter. "It's very simple to do but people always think it's special if you made it yourself."
From molded chocolate, the next grade up would be hand-dipping chocolate-covered Easter eggs, which require only an additional step or two — making the filling that is to be enrobed in the melted chocolate, rolling it into a slightly flattened egg shape, and dunking it in melted chocolate. The inside could be peanut butter, buttercream, caramel, a Peppermint Patty-esque center, or the traditional coconut filling made from sweetened condensed milk, egg white, coconut, and sugar.
Buttermints are surprisingly low-key, and they make a pretty, pastel-colored gift that doesn't need much dressing up — because if your hosts didn't expect you to bring homemade chocolates they definitely didn't expect you to bring homemade mints. The dough, made from butter, sugar, and pure peppermint oil (peppermint extract can be used instead, but double the amount to get enough flavor), is as easy to manipulate as a sugar cookie. Colored with just enough gel to create a pretty pastel effect, the dough can be rolled into long ropes and cut before air-drying overnight into an after-dinner sweet.
At the more ambitious end of the Easter candy scale would be marshmallow chicks, the home take on Peeps. First, they require preparing colored sugar, which can be store-bought or made in plastic bags with granulated sugar, a drop or two of coloring, and a lot of shaking to achieve the properly vibrant shades of pink, yellow, and eggshell blue. The marshmallow mixture, using gelatin and a sugar syrup, is simple enough to make (though it requires caution to avoid getting burned when the hot syrup is added to a whirring mixer). It's piping the sticky stuff into coherent little bird shapes that could give less-experienced candy makers some serious pre-holiday agita.
A more relaxing alternative is to pour the mixture into an oiled baking pan, allow it to set uncovered at room temperature, and then cut and dredge the square marshmallows into the Technicolor sugars. Or dip them in chocolate or sweetened coconut.
Then, of course, there are those chocolate and cream eggs, which were not attempted for the purposes of this story, and which seem to require next-level patience and hand-eye coordination but which must make a very impressive host gift, indeed.
"Remember that if you're making your own candy, it doesn't have to be perfect — it's not supposed to be exactly like what you'd get in the store," Zeitz says. "The handmade look is what gives it charm, and the nice part is showing that you care to do something nice for your loved ones."