Chocolate for Easter: It’s not just bunnies | food and cooking

It is a fact universally acknowledged that chocolate Easter bunnies taste best when you start by eating their ears.

It’s part of the whole chocolate-for-Easter thing, a longstanding tradition that no one seems to know how it began. My own personal guess, based on no specialized knowledge of the subject whatsoever, is that people eat chocolate for Easter because chocolate tastes good.

It’s as fine a reason as any, and better than most. Pretty much any reasoning involving chocolate is better than most.

This Easter, I resolved to make four types of chocolate candies to give as Easter gifts to family, friends and loved ones, or just to serve at your own home. And I also made caramels, because some people actually prefer caramels to chocolate.

I know. I don’t understand it, either. And I can’t figure out how I married one.

I began with chocolate-covered orange peels. Whenever I have chocolate-covered candied orange peels, which isn’t nearly often enough, I think of my friend Skip.

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Skip is a real-estate agent who showed me around Toledo, Ohio, when I first moved there. Before taking me to available houses, he stopped off at a local confectionary and bought a bag of chocolate-covered orange peels.

I knew then that we were going to be friends.

Chocolate-covered orange peels have always struck me as sophisticated and elegant, the kind of treat that only appeals to a refined palate. That is not what they are like at all in actuality — you should see Skip and me — but it is a pleasant thought when you are cramming them indelicately into your mouth.

What makes them so appealing is the intriguing contrast between the sweet chocolate and the faintly bitter peel. But you have to get the bitterness just right; you don’t want it overwhelming the chocolate.


Candied Orange Peels (Thick Version)

If you cut a thin slice of peel, cutting shallow with a vegetable peeler to avoid any of the white pith, it is an easy matter. Just blanch the skin, boil it in sugar water and dry it in a bed of sugar. But some, including me, prefer a thicker piece of peel that includes the pith. In that case, you merely have to blanch it three times before continuing with the other steps.

I made it both ways, and with the peels of other citrus fruit, too: grapefruit, tangerines, lemons and limes. All were simply superb, and worthy of an Easter gift.

My most ambitious was next, malted crisp tart. This is a malted-milk tart that I wanted to make because I am particularly fond of those little malted milk ball eggs at Easter.


Malted Crisp Tart

It has a lot of steps. Each one is easy, but you need to know going in that you are going to use every bowl you have in the house.

Step one is a brown sugar crust, an unusually delectable crust that also involves flour, malted milk powder (such as Ovaltine or Carnation), vanilla and a great deal of butter. Step two is caramelized Rice Krispies, which is both easier and more time consuming than you would expect. Even so, it only takes about 10 minutes.

Step three is a rich milk chocolate ganache made all the most delicious by a little more malted milk powder. And step four is a malted diplomat cream, a delicate pastry cream with, yes, a little more malted milk powder.

You might think, with all the malted milk powder, that this tart would be like a malted milk in a crust, but it is really much more subtle and multifaceted than that — even with crunchy malted milk balls strewn across the top.

My next treat was fussier, but sublime: chocolate orange truffles.


Chocolate Orange Truffles

The chocolate part is actually white chocolate; you could use regular chocolate if you want to, but why would you want to? The orange part comes from both candied orange peel and a splash of orange liqueur, such as Cointreau or Grand Marnier (or triple sec, come to think of it, which would have been cheaper). And the truffle part comes from heavy cream and more white chocolate.

Like all chocolate truffles, they melt in your mouth. When making them, unfortunately, they also melt in your hands, so they take longer to set than you might expect. I put mine in the refrigerator overnight, and that did the trick.

Once you try one, and you taste that luxurious truffle wrapped in white chocolate with the graceful notes of orange, any memories of sticky chocolate on your fingers will fly away forever.

The next treat I made was the very simplest: chocolate-dipped strawberries. Yes, they’re easy, but there is a trick to making them so that the chocolate does not break off when you bite it.

Chocolate-Dipped Strawberries

Vegetable shortening. That’s the secret. It’s really not much of a secret, as secrets go, but it makes all the difference. A couple of tablespoons of vegetable shortening makes the chocolate smooth and pliable, so it clings deliciously to the strawberries.

My final Easter treat was the caramels, for the weirdos who prefer them to chocolate.


Soft Candy Caramels

There is nothing quite like a homemade caramel, and the store-bought kind are certainly nothing like them.

These homemade caramels are soft and chewy, smooth and buttery and rich. They are satisfyingly nostalgic, like the best parts of your childhood all wrapped up in a waxed paper wrapper.

But they still aren’t as good as chocolate.

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