It's that time of year when bunnies start to multiply all over Long Island.
Chocolate Easter Bunnies, that is. And the bigger, the better.
They're stocked en masse in the aisles of drugstores and supermarkets, but the go-to places are bakeries and chocolate shops where the bunnies are lovingly molded by hand.
Candy eggs and crosses have their fans, but bunnies are still the best sellers, local shop owners say, whether it's milk chocolate (the No. 1 choice), dark chocolate (gaining popularity, even with kids) or white chocolate (which, technically, isn't chocolate, but it does contain extracted cocoa butter).
Despite the trend toward nonfood items in the Easter basket, 83 percent of kids still get candy and chocolate, according to the National Confectioners Association's annual survey. And the favorite part of the bunny to nibble? The ears, which 89 percent of respondents said they chomp down first. Five percent go for the tail, 6 percent eat the feet.
At Alpine Bakery in Smithtown, there are so many cellophaned bunnies among the chocolate eggs and crosses crowding the counter that employees have to peek through them to help the customers, says owner Peter Cuccia.
"It's an art," says Cuccia, 50. "It has to reach a certain temperature and then you have to cool it down and then mold it at another temperature. Everything has to be perfect."
There, the largest bunny (about 3feet tall) sells for $125, and the smallest, just a wee few inches, for $7.
Like Alpine, Bon Bons in Huntington uses high-grade commercial chocolate for its molded confections. All the bunnies -- from the 10-pound, 36-inch Beauregard ($195) to smaller versions with names like Farmer, Baxter and Belle -- are made by hand. "Each has its own personality," says Mary Alice Meinersman, who owns the cheery shop with her daughter, Susannah Meinersman.
At Itgen's Ice Cream Parlor in Valley Stream, which has been making bunnies and other Easter chocolates by hand for 40 years, planning starts in January, says owner Walter Itgen. Among the tiny molded bunnies ($2.95) are a few 36-inch giants that sell for $180.
Chocolicious in Locust Valley uses about 1,500 pounds of chocolate for its bunnies and other molded candies.
"It's a good business to be in for happiness," says owner Susan Ackerman.
That goes for kids, and maybe for parents, too. NCA says 81 percent of parents nick at least a little of the Easter goodies from their children's baskets.
Making of a giant bunny
1. Bon Bons chocolatier Eric Lobignat, 48, prepares the big 36-inch bunny, Beauregard, by painting the mold with dark and light chocolate to give it depth.
2. Lobignat pours some chocolate into the mold and rotates it to completely cover the inside of the mold, making the first coat of the hollow bunny. He uses a stick to make sure the ears get their fair share of chocolate. The mold goes on a machine that gently vibrates away any bubbles.
3. The bunny goes into a custom refrigerator for just a few minutes to set. It's ready, he says, when it starts to pull away from the plastic mold. Then comes one more coat of warm chocolate and another session in the fridge.
4. A pool of chocolate is poured for the base. The bunny comes out of the mold and Lobignat shaves off the excess chocolate before decorating it. This ones gets a baby bunny in its basket, along with jelly beans and chocolate eggs. If anything goes awry, Lobignat has the fix. "I love my job," he says. "I get to eat my mistakes."