If you've eaten chocolate eggs from your Easter basket for breakfast and snacked on jelly beans for lunch, you might wonder if it's necessary to make a dessert for Easter dinner. Necessary? Not really. But if you settle for some leftover Peeps, you are missing an opportunity to fully celebrate one of the sweetest holidays of the year.
Americans buy almost as much candy for Easter as they do for Halloween, about 120 million pounds annually. The exchange of chocolates and other sweets to celebrate the holiday began in the 19th century, when advances in mass production made these treats affordable. But the tradition of marking the holiday with sugar goes back to the 12th century, when European monks began to distribute hot cross buns to the poor on Good Friday. So something handmade is even more time-honored than something from a factory in Hershey, Pa.
My favorite Easter desserts contain the fresh flavors of spring: carrot, honey, coconut, lemon. They're also quick and easy to make. A frozen honey mousse comes together in less than 30 minutes, and can be made up to three days in advance. Oatmeal-carrot squares take no more work than a pan of brownies. And marshmallow pops are so simple that I can delegate them to the children while I fuss with the ham or leg of lamb.
FROZEN HONEY MOUSSE WITH APRICOT COMPOTE
For the mousse:
4 large egg yolks
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons honey
1 1/3 cups heavy cream
1 cup whole almonds, chopped
For the compote:
1/2 cup dried apricots, sliced
1/2 cup water
1 tablespoon honey
1. Make mousse Put 2 inches of water into a small saucepan and bring to a bare simmer. Combine yolks and honey in a stainless-steel bowl and place on top of water, making sure the bowl doesn't touch water. Heat, whisking constantly, until slightly thickened and lighter in color, 6 to 8 minutes. Remove from heat and whip with whisk attachment of an electric mixer until completely cool, 7 to 10 minutes.
2. In another bowl, whip cream until soft peaks form. In three separate additions, gently fold whipped cream into honey mixture, taking care not to deflate cream. Fold in almonds. Spoon mousse into 6 dessert goblets and freeze until firm, at least 2 hours and up to 3 days.
3. Make compote Combine apricots, water and 2 tablespoons honey in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until fruit is soft but not falling apart, 10 to 15 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and cool to room temperature.
4. Remove mousse cups from freezer, spoon some apricot compote over each portion and serve. Makes 6 servings.
6 ounces milk or dark chocolate, finely chopped
Sprinkles, nonpareils and other Easter decorations
1. Push a lollipop stick into each marshmallow. Have ready several tall glasses or a piece of Styrofoam and a rimmed baking sheet.
2. Place chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl and microwave on high until almost melted (do not overheat). Whisk to melt unmelted bits of chocolate.
3. One at a time, dip marshmallows in chocolate, letting excess drip back into bowl. Working over rimmed baking sheet to catch the excess, coat chocolate with sprinkles, nonpareils and other Easter decorations. Stand pops in glasses or stick into Styrofoam and allow chocolate to set about 30 minutes before serving. Makes 12 pops.
Candy melts are available at craft stores such as Michael's and A.C. Moore, as well as online at wilton.com.
3/4 cup sugar
2 1/2 cups unsweetened dried coconut
2 large egg whites
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup each pale pink, yellow and blue Wilton Candy Melts or other confectionary coating
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
2. Combine sugar, coconut, egg whites, vanilla and salt in a large mixing bowl, and stir with a rubber spatula.
3. Drop batter by heaping tablespoonfuls onto prepared baking sheets, leaving 2 inches between each cookie. Shape with your fingers into haystacks.
4. Bake until golden, 10 to 12 minutes. Cool completely on baking sheets.
5. Place candy melts in 3 separate microwave-safe bowls and microwave, one at a time, until just melted, 30 seconds to 1 minute. Dip pointy tops of haystacks in melted candy and let stand on a wire rack until candy coating is set, about 30 minutes. Makes about 24 cookies.
OATMEAL-CARROT SQUARES WITH WHITE CHOCOLATE GLAZE
For the bars:
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1/3 cup milk
1 large egg
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups old-fashioned rolled oats (not instant)
1 cup grated carrot (from about 1 large carrot)
3/4 cup coarsely chopped walnut pieces
For the glaze:
6 ounces white chocolate, finely chopped
1/4 cup heavy cream
1. Make bars: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line an 8-inch-square baking pan with heavy-duty aluminum foil, making sure foil is tucked into all corners and there is at least 1 inch overhanging top of pan on all sides.
2. Combine flour, baking soda and salt in a small bowl.
3. Melt butter in a medium-size saucepan over low heat. Remove from heat and stir in brown sugar until dissolved. Whisk in milk, egg and vanilla. Stir in flour mixture until just incorporated. Stir in oats, carrot and walnuts.
4. Scrape batter into prepared pan and smooth with a spatula. Bake until bars are just set in center, 25 to 30 minutes. Let cool completely on a wire rack.
5. Make glaze: Place white chocolate in a medium-size, heatproof bowl. Bring cream to a boil in a small saucepan. Pour over chocolate, pressing down with a spoon to submerge it. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let stand 5 minutes. Whisk until smooth.
6. Spread glaze over bars, still in pan. Let stand until set, about 1 hour.
7. Grasping overhanging foil on either side of pan, lift out bars and place on a cutting board. Use a sharp chef's knife to cut into 16 squares.
Madeleines are baked in a special pan with shell-shaped indentations. Look for madeleine pans in the baking section of cookware shops. You also can bake the batter in well-buttered mini muffin tins. Your cookies won't have the characteristic shape, but will be memorable, nonetheless.
2 large eggs
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup unbleached, all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Confectioners' sugar, for dusting
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spray a 12-hole madeleine pan with nonstick cooking spray.
2. In a large bowl, whisk together eggs, sugar, vanilla and salt until frothy, about 1 minute.
3. Gently fold flour and baking powder into egg mixture until just incorporated. Fold in cooled butter, zest and juice.
4. Use a large spoon or small ladle to fill holes 2 / 3 full. Bake until golden and well-risen, 10 to 13 minutes. Remove pan from oven and immediately invert pan onto wire rack to release madeleines. Serve warm or at room temperature, dusting with confectioners' sugar just before serving. Makes 12.