IT IS strawberry-creme-filled chocolate egg season again, time to savor the Easter offerings from Reese's, Russel Stover, Barton's and Kron Chocolatier. Shall it be Stover's chocolate and butter bon bons or a Fanny May chocolate rabbit or maybe a Godiva bunny? The better the chocolate, the more you will pay -- and depending on what you buy, chocolate will vary in price this year by as much as $1.50 per ounce.
If you like quality, but can't afford to be a purist, there is a penny-wise alternative to consider: Making those chocolate bunnies and eggs and bons bons at home. All you need for starters is a double boiler, some candy chips and a couple of plastic molds. A $4 investment in milk-chocolate candy chips and a rabbit mold will yield you three 5-ounce rabbits like the kind available at Safeway for $1.79 each. That's a 20 percent savings -- and the mold is reuseable year after year.
Chips and molds are sold at candy supply stores like The Litte Bits shop in Wheaton and The Heritage Shop in Annandale. These stores carry Merckens chips, a mix of cocoa or vanillin, sugar, palm oil, non-fat and whole milk, fatty acid esters, lecithin, salt and food colorings. The chips come already colored but require additional flavoring if you want a taste other than vanilla creme. Oil-based flavorings are used. They sell for under a dollar a bottle. The chips cost from $2.15 to $2.50 a pound. Molds, all reuseable heavy plastic, sell for $2 a piece and there are hundreds to choose from. For Easter there are rabbit molds, chicks, ducks, eggs, lambs and various flowers. There are dozens of others for other holidays and for general use. For instance, there are greeting cards (Thank You, Happy Birthday, I Love You, Get Well Soon), cake decorations and party favors. b
The basic candy-making process involves melting down the wafers and reshaping the candy in molds. It is easy -- and if you need convincing, Margie Bittenger, owner of Little Bitts, will show you. To sweeten the efforts of people who are curious but unsure, she gives free demonstrations Saturdays at her shop where she makes everything from fudge to marshmallows, with generous samples for tasting.
"It's simple to do, it's good and if the candy doesn't suit you, just melt it down and start over again," Margie says.
There are two secrets to good candy: Not melting it over boiling water and not allowing any moisture to mix with it. Candy wafers should be melted in the top of a double boiler that has been removed from the stove. When the chips have melted, the candy may be flavored from the stove. When the chips have melted, the candy may be flavored and then spooned into molds. After a brief setting period, just minutes if placed in the freezer, the candy is ready to unmold and eat.
The most difficult part of the process may be deciding what flavors to use with what colors in what molds. The mix'n match possibilities are endless and you can get fancy if you wish. Margie sells ready-made fillings like coconut creme and maple walnut, or you can use peanut butter or marshmallow creme straight from the grocery jar. At her demonstrations she shows how to brush candy into a mold, put in filling and then seal the filling and then seal the filling with candy. She also shows how to brush several colors of candy into a single mold.
Margie experiments frequently with flavorings and fillings, and she shares her recipes. This season's favorites are her Pina Colada combinations. You might try Pina Colada-filled eggs for Easter.
Easter is an appropriate occasion to use candy for coating fresh fruits. Slices of apple, orange and pineapple are good, but what better way to celebrate spring than with fat, juicy stawberries, chocolate-dipped? Elegant, delicious, and $7.50 a pound if you buy them from Kron's or from Jo-Ann's Nut House. For the price of the berries and a pound of milk chocolate wafers, it makes cents to do up your own. MARGIE'S PINA COLADA FILLING (Makes 20 ounces) 1 pound ready-made coconut creme filling 1/2 cup crushed (not drained) pineapple 1 envelope Pina Colada drink mix
Mix well. Spoon into candy-coated molds of your choice. PEANUT BUTTER BALLS (Makes 2 to 3 dozen) 8 ounces peanut butter, smooth 6 tablespoons margarine 1 3/4 cups powdered sugar 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
Mix ingredients. Pinch off small amount and form ball. Either dip into melted milk chocolate candy or press into candy-coated mold of your choice. MARGIE'S PINA COLADA FUDGE (Makes one 9-by-13 inch pan) 2 pounds melted Merckens yellow wafers 2 tablespoons melted paramount crystals 1 dram Lorann rumm butter oil 1 dram Lorann pineapple oil 1 1/2 cups marshmallow creme 1 1/2 cups finely chopped nuts, your choice 1/2 pound coconut 1 can sweetened condensed milk
Mix well. Pour into foil lined plastic cold cut keeper. Let set overnight, remove and peel off foil, cut and store in cold cut keeper.