Sunday, April 04, 2010

The Kid-friendly Easter Candy Recipes, by request

I made these up as I went, so I didn't actually measure most of the amounts. The ones given here are pretty close, though.

This is an incredibly, unbelievably child-friendly activity. In fact, even small children can practically do it themselves. The only tools you need are the microwave, a microwaveable dish, a spoon, a ziploc bag, and a pair of scissors (child safety scissors would even work). The chocolate gets a little hot at first, but cools so quickly that by the time I crossed the kitchen, it was safe for kids to use (although you MUST be a responsible adult and touch it first before you hand it to your kids!). It's fast, and gives nearly instant results, and it involves messes, playing with dough, and sweets. What could be better? And the result is fancy enough that you can give it to your visiting teachers when they come by.

The Chocolate:

1/2-1 tsp shortening (don't use margarine--it has too much water in it)
1/2 c chocolate chips (we used milk chocolate, but that's not important)

Melt these in the microwave, stirring every 30 seconds until the chocolate is smooth. If you add more shortening, the finished product will be soft and melt in your mouth, but also all over your fingers. Less shortening leads to a firmer product. For chocolate bunnies, we preferred the firmer chocolate. For peanut butter filled eggs, the softer had a more pleasing "eat". You can make more than this at a time, but it ends up firming up before you use it all. We had to repeat this recipe several times to make our 7 bunnies, 3 dozen peanut butter eggs, and 3 dozen marshmallow eggs.

To make chocolate bunnies:

Draw a bunny shape on paper, or print one off the internet (a coloring page would work great). Put the drawing UNDER a sheet of wax paper on a cookie sheet or plate (something you can pop into the freezer easily). Spoon the melted chocolate into a ziploc bag and snip a TINY snip off the corner. Squeeze the chocolate out the hole to "draw" an outline of the bunny on the wax paper, tracing the drawing underneath. Then either spoon chocolate or squeeze more in to the shape to fill the outline as thick as you like (we found the kids don't care much about how thick they really are, so we did thin).  You can decorate these before they set up with snipped up mini marshmallows (for eyes and tails), melted dark or white chocolate, mini ribbons, raisins, chopped nuts, or whatever you like to make it look festive. We let each child decorate their own chocolate bunny, which ended up being WAY more fun than unwrapping one they got from the store. Once it's decorated, pop it into the freezer for 5 minutes to overnight (however long you need to keep the little fingers off them!). They peel easily from the wax paper when they are still frozen.

Filled candies:

Peanut butter filled eggs (or disks or bunnies or hearts or pumpkins or whatever you like)
  1/4 c margarine
   1/2 c creamy peanut butter
  1/2-1 c powdered sugar.
Stir together the margarine and peanut butter. Then stir and knead in the powdered sugar until you have a nice playdough consistency.

Marshmallow filled eggs (this is so easy it's almost embarrassing)
   Using scissors, snip large marshmallows into thirds or fourths the short way (making 3 or 4 egg-shaped or round disks).  Snipping them compresses one side, and if you don't mess with them much after you cut them, they retain this egg-like shape, which is what you want for Easter. If you want marshmallow pumpkins, handle the disks a little and they bounce back to round. If you want another shape, cut the marshmallow disks into whatever "parts" you might need--strips, triangles, etc--to form the finished shape you want.

Assembling the candies:

Prepare your filling. If it's marshmallow, snip them and set them aside. If you are using peanut butter, make the dough and then shape it into the shapes you want--we did eggs. The kids helped with this and had a GREAT time. It's best if you make the bottoms flat and the tops as round as you like. Set these aside. (If the dough is made, you can do the forming part after you make the chocolate bases if you want). The peanut butter recipe made 37 large eggs, plus enough for everyone to snitch now and then (because what's the fun of cooking if you can't taste the dough?!).

Using the melted chocolate in the ziploc bag as described above, squirt little egg-shaped or disk-shaped (or whatever shape you want, actually) "bases" onto wax paper. Fill them in with chocolate--they don't have to be completely filled because when you put the filling in, it squooshes the chocolate and fills the gaps. You can also spoon plops of chocolate onto wax paper, but you have less control over the shape this way, and you end up with a lot thicker chocolate bottom than is necessary--it tends to spread and ruin your shape. Don't worry if your egg shapes are wobbly and uneven, or different sizes. The filling is what really gives shape to the candy. I found this is so flexible that the kids made the fillings totally different than the bottoms, and put them on upside down (narrow end to fat end) and it all came out fine in the end anyway.

Before the bottoms set up completely, gently press one filling onto each. The fillings should nearly or completely cover the chocolate bottoms--the less chocolate overhang you have, the nicer it looks in the end (if the chocolate sticks out too much, the finished product looks like you accidentally set a marshmallow in a puddle) (of course, you can trim it before you serve it to make it look prettier). This is easier than it sounds because the liquid chocolate tends to expand just to the size of the filling, and the fillings can be squashed, snipped, slid around, etc. to make them match the bottoms. It's very much an art and not so much a science, which makes it perfect for kids to do.

Once all the fillings are in place, reheat the chocolate if you need to and then spoon, brush, or squirt chocolate onto the tops of the fillings, and smooth it down the sides until it touches the chocolate of the base. This is easiest when the chocolate is melted and cooled but not stiffened yet--when it's melted and still warm, it's really quite runny and makes a nice little puddle around the candy. If the chocolate gets too stiff and wants to be spread instead of smoothed, just pop it back in the microwave for 5-10 seconds to soften it back up.

Put them in the freezer until they set up. We used too much shortening in most of them, so they stayed really soft. This ended up being messy for handling them except when they were frozen, but ideal for eating them, when the whole confection just melted in your mouth.

When they were frozen, I wrapped them in tinfoil because the kids wanted foil-covered eggs like they saw in the store. If you had markers, you could color the foil, too. We didn't, and it turned out the kids were more interested in eating them than looking at them after all.

This, I think, will be a new Easter Tradition for us. Not only was it fun, child-friendly, and yummy, but it was dirt cheap. You can get a bag of chocolate chips for $1-$2 on sale (it took us about 1 1/4 bags to make all these candies). Less than half a cup of shortening costs mere pennies (since a huge tub is about $2).  Marshmallows are $1 a bag, and we didn't use the whole bag (only about 1/3 of it). And 1/2 stick butter, 1/2 c peanut butter and 1 c powdered sugar also cost pennies each--and they're likely things you have around the house anyway.  I figure I spent less than $4 for ALL that candy. In contrast, wax-filled, preservative laden storebought easter candies (of the cheapest variety we could have bought) would have cost us $3 for that many marshmallow eggs, at least $3 for the peanut butter-filled kind (and closer to $10 for the EDIBLE peanut butter filled kind for that many), and $7 for the cheapest, waxiest chocolate bunnies we could find!

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