For some cooks, seasonality means shopping at the farmers market for the freshest local produce. For me, it means checking out the new candy in aisle 5 at the Sag Harbor Variety Store. Just as farm-to-table fans celebrate in late August when heirloom tomatoes are ready to harvest, I rejoice when chocolate Easter eggs appear on the shelves.
While Christmas beckons the baker with candy canes (great for cake decorating when crushed), and Valentine's Day beguiles with conversation hearts (to press into Rice Krispies Treats or fudge), Easter charms with the most colorful variety of treats. Many of them are fun additions to favorite recipes:
Marshmallow Peeps One of my daughters has a late-March birthday. When she was in preschool, I used to frost her cupcakes with blue buttercream and top each one with a yellow Marshmallow Peep duck. Now that she is older, she prefers the ducks as decorations atop a chocolate layer cake.
Jelly beans I once made the mistake at this time of year of substituting jelly beans for raisins in my granola bars. Now my children will only eat granola bars in March and April. I'm sure jelly beans also would be good in oatmeal cookie dough, but I'm reluctant to try.
Hershey's Chocolate Bunnies Perfect for Easter Bark. Microwave 8 ounces of pastel-colored candy melts, spread over the bottom of a foil-lined, 8-inch-square baking pan, and scatter these cute little bunnies and some Easter-hued M&M's on top. Let cool and break into pieces.
Reese's Peanut Butter Eggs After you scrape your brownie batter into a baking pan, press peanut butter eggs into the batter at even intervals, partially submerging them. Cut the cooled brownies so that each one contains a peanut butter surprise.
BIRD'S NEST COOKIES FOR EASTER
When incorporating candy into baked goods, remember that looks aren't everything. It's important to use candy with a compatible flavor. Fruit-flavored Skittles on gingerbread would be an abomination. Spicy gumdrops or red hots make much more sense. The following recipe calls for milk chocolate eggs with sugar shells. Not only do Cadbury Mini Eggs look beautiful sitting inside their coconut nests, but they also make sense in combination with the coconut.
1 1/4 cups sweetened flaked coconut
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon coconut extract
About 60 small milk chocolate eggs with sugar shells, such as Cadbury Mini Eggs
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spread coconut in an even layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Toast until pale golden, stirring once or twice, 6 to 8 minutes. Let cool completely on the baking sheet.
2. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt in a medium-size bowl.
3. Cream the butter and sugar together in a large bowl with an electric mixer until fluffy, about 3 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl once or twice as necessary. Add the egg, vanilla and coconut extract and beat until smooth. Mix in the flour mixture on low until just incorporated.
4. Shape the dough into 11/4-inch balls. Roll the balls in the toasted coconut to coat. Place the balls 2 inches apart on the prepared baking sheet. With your thumb, make an indentation in the center of each ball large enough to hold 2 to 3 chocolate eggs. Shape the sides of the cookies with your thumb and index finger so they stand up and have nice bird's nest shapes.
5. Bake in two batches until golden, about 10 minutes. Let the cookies cool completely on the baking sheets. Just before serving, place 2 or 3 chocolate eggs in the indentation of each cookie. Makes about 24 cookies.