Not A Peep

The Easter Bunny has been here...

The Easter Bunny has been here...

I have to admit I love the kitsch aspect of any holiday. Paper honeycomb fold-out turkeys on Thanksgiving? Please put mine front and center. American flag toothpicks on Fourth of July? Can’t have enough. But for true kitsch lovers I think the real competition is between Christmas and Easter, although admittedly, Christmas wins by the sheer volume of electrically-driven things that light up, flash, and spin. Easter is slightly more analog.

Surely you can’t not smile at all the carrot-clutching stuffed Easter Bunnies currently lining store shelves? After a winter like we’ve had in the Northeast, I almost feel like I could get a tan from the jelly beans and yellow and pink Marshmallow Peeps smiling at me in the drug store. If their shiny pastel colors can’t cut through the gloomy weather, then the sugar buzz they deliver will.

My cousin Hope has invited me to her Easter egg hunt. She’s been arranging these hunts for her boss’ kids every year for a long time and I think she invites me because she has always thought of me as her “little cousin.” (We grew up a couple of doors away from each other, and she’s a decade older, so I think she’ll always think of me that way.)

I’ve always looked up to Hope for her artistic ability – there’s a strong artistic strain that runs through our family – and for her ability to marry a great business mind and entrepreneurial spirit with that ability. (She’s a catalogue merchant and jewelry designer.)

She’s also an excellent cook, although I suspect that what she really enjoys is supervising while her husband and I do the actual cooking.

This is my way of explaining that I find the thought of bringing her something from my kitchen a little intimidating. She is never less than supportive and complimentary of my baking, but in the past I have always copped out and brought candy. This year, there’s the blog you’re currently reading, evidence of my kitchen skills, and therefore an implied obligation to do more than just supply the elusive Avatar-blue Peeps.

I decided that a routine research trip down the Easter candy aisle at Duane Reade was the best way to start. While cruising this sugary Amazon, perusing the M&M’s bagged to look like carrots, the glowing jelly beans, and the foil-wrapped chocolate eggs, I realized that what I really wanted was to make something that included all of the above.

“Is there a way to bake an Easter basket?” I wondered. Hmmm. Why not?

Shredded coconut was my first thought – it would imitate the fake grass that people use in real Easter baskets. From that my mind went to the sticky, old-fashioned coconut cake I used to see protected by a plastic dome at Howard Johnson’s. That seemed ideal, except in scale. When the discussion centers on cake, scale is easily remedied by breaking out the trusty old cupcake or muffin tin. A cottony white cupcake, fluffy white frosting, the coconut, and just a few pieces of Easter candy on top. Each Easter egg hunter would have their very own, very edible, Easter basket, and that seemed just right to me. (And no chocolate mess.) (Well, from the cupcakes.)

White cake recipes usually try to dress up the end result with almond extract, but for my purposes the cake was merely there as a pedestal for other things, so no almond extract here. And to keep the coconut firmly attached to its pedestal I decided to use enough über-fluffy Italian Meringue to make the clouds in the sky jealous.

Obviously you’re free to use whatever Easter candy you prefer as the ingredients of each “basket,” but my choices were distinguished little gold-foil wrapped Lindt Milk Chocolate bunnies, a few Dove Milk Chocolate eggs, and a smattering of jelly beans. Enough sugar to sink a battleship. I skipped my original idea which was to tie licorice whips to each cupcake to simulate a basket handle; in theory it was cute, but in practice it set off the kitsch alarms.

If you’ve never made Italian Meringue, yes, it’s a bit convoluted. But don’t confuse convoluted with difficult;  with a Kitchen Aid mixer, a candy thermometer, and a little bit of patience, in short order you’ll be spooning little clouds of the stuff on top of cupcakes. (Meringue is also fat-free, not a bad trade off for all the sugar.)

The end result of my trial run was placed before a panel of experts pre-Easter to make sure kids would like the cupcakes. The panel (my brother, a rather large kid) declared that they were “…all about the meringue on top.”

Lavish praise indeed. Wait until the Easter Bunny tastes them.

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Click here for my recipe for Easter Basket Cupcakes.

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