When I shop for seasonal ingredients in a month or two, I’ll be looking for spring onions and early asparagus at Falkowski’s or Betty and Dale’s. This week, however, I browsed the candy aisles at the Variety Store and the IGA. The Peeps and chocolate eggs had arrived and I couldn’t have been more excited if I they had been crates of Sagaponack spinach. Like shelling peas in June, Easter candy makes just a brief appearance before vanishing until next year, so I like to take advantage of its availability when I have a chance.
By taking advantage, I don’t just mean eating jelly beans by the handful. I decorate cupcakes with marshmallow chicks, top frosted carrot cake with shredded coconut and white chocolate eggs, and fill Rice Krispies Treats nests with Jordan almonds.
Excessive, maybe, but not out of the ordinary. In preparation for Easter, Americans purchase about 700 million marshmallow peeps and 16 billion jelly beans. It sounds like a lot, but don’t feel guilty if you like to nibble on chocolate bunny ears before church. Although on average we consume about 100 pounds of sugar each year, only two percent of our caloric intake is in the form of candy. Most of the sugar we consume is added to soda, other sweetened drinks, and prepared and fast foods. In other words, giving up candy would barely make a dent, so what is the point, especially on Easter?
I share the admittedly convenient beliefs of the editors of The Manufacturing Confectioner, who make the case for using candy to teach children to understand moderation, and applaud it for its key role in celebrations including Halloween, Christmas, and Valentine’s Day. The trade publication also points out that countries with the highest per capita candy consumption rank the highest on the Global Happiness Index. So in addition to being a learning tool and the glue that holds our culture together, candy also contributes to the national good mood.
This year I didn’t have a whole day to construct a gingerbread bunny hutch trimmed with Cadbury mini-eggs. Instead, I used the 10 minutes I did have to make some chocolate bark. It was quick and easy. I melted eight ounces of chocolate in the microwave, spread it on the bottom of a foil-lined baking pan, and sprinkled it with those Cadbury eggs plus handfuls of whole almonds and mini marshmallows.
I used items that I hoped would enhance the bark’s flavor as well as decorate it. Pastel-colored candy corn or jelly beans might have look pretty, but I thought they would taste gross. Of course, toppings are a matter of taste. One of my daughters let me know that her perfect chocolate bark would be covered with Skittles and Swedish fish.
Speaking of chocolate, the trickiest thing about this recipe is melting it so that it will re-harden quickly and with a glossy shine. If overheated, the cocoa butter in chocolate will separate from the cocoa solids. It’s difficult for these two to re-combine as they cool, so when separated chocolate sets up it will look cloudy and dull. To avoid “chocolate bloom” (that’s confectionary-speak), don’t melt chocolate in a pot over direct heat, which practically guarantees separation. You can use a double boiler, but since chocolate seizes up when it comes in contact with even a single drop of water, this is risky, too.
The microwave, set on medium, not high, is your best bet. Chop the chocolate coarsely. Having some bigger pieces will give you control over how quickly it melts. Check on it every 30 seconds, and remove it when most, but not all of the chocolate is melted. Then stir it, allowing residual heat to melt the rest.
Dark Chocolate Bark with Cadbury Eggs, Almonds and Marshmallows
Makes about 3/4 pound candy
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup whole almonds
½ cup mini Cadbury Eggs
1/4 cup mini marshmallows
1. Line the bottom and sides of an 8-inch square baking pan with aluminum foil.
2. Place the chocolate in a microwave safe bowl and microwave on low, removing every 30 seconds and stirring with a rubber spatula, until about 2/3 of the chocolate is melted, 2 to 3 minutes depending on the power of your microwave. Remove from microwave and continue to stir until remaining pieces are fully melted.
3. Use a small metal spatula to spread the chocolate in an even layer across the bottom of the pan. Sprinkle with the Cadbury Eggs, almonds, and marshmallows. Let stand until solid, about 45 minutes. Break into pieces before packing in an airtight container.