Maple Cream Easter Eggs

Maple Cream Easter EggsEvery year when I was a kid, I could count on two things in my Easter basket – marshmallow eggs and maple cream eggs. Each served different purposes. The maple cream Easter eggs were my favorites and what I squealed over even more than finding plastic hidden eggs that held a dollar bill or a tiny toy. The marshmallow eggs were nothing I ever fancied and always found their way into the freezer for my parents to eat instead, transformed into cold little disks to snap between their teeth once I was out of sight. It was more a familial basket in that way.

Maple Cream Easter EggsBut maple cream Easter eggs aren’t always easy to find now, even at Easter. Russel Stover’s makes some yummy ones with a whipped center, but the ones of my childhood were filled with a dense maple filling that resembled a kind of almost nougat. Searches for recipes that might replicate these candies all included nuts in the filling, which sounds delicious, of course, but wasn’t what I was seeking. After getting some inspiration from recipes for what’s known as butter cream eggs and which are, apparently, a really big thing at Easter, I thought I’d try a modified maple variety – and they did not disappoint!

Maple Cream Easter EggsThese maple cream Easter eggs combine some of the very best things in life – sweetened condensed milk, butter, maple extract – along with confectioner’s sugar and a little bit of corn syrup to get a soft, pliable dough that can be easily shaped into eggs, balls, or rolled and cut out with a cookie cutter. I recommend going small on these. I made rather large eggs, I think, because I had Reese’s peanut butter eggs in mind and they’re about 2-3″. The filling in these is much sweeter, so when I make these again, I’ll probably halve the size of each egg because they can overwhelm you quickly. Keeping a small bowl or shaker of powdered sugar around as you handle the dough is essential to keep the dough from sticking to you and everything in its immediate vicinity.

Maple Cream Easter EggsWhen the eggs have had a chance to chill and firm up in the refrigerator, they get submerged in a bath of melted bittersweet chocolate and then garnished with whatever you can dream up. Bear and I decorated these together, which was a comedy of sorts because we’re both pretty messy cooks. We used toasted, chopped pecans, some tinted, unsweetened coconut, and a host of pastel sprinkles I had lying around from the Coconut Chocolate Peeps I made two years back. Needless to say that these toppings were all over the kitchen by the time we were done and I can’t begin to recount all of the weird places we found melted chocolate after. These maple cream Easter eggs came out pretty as a picture though and, more importantly, are a delicious Easter treat to share – or not!

Maple Cream Easter Eggs

Maple Cream Easter Eggs

Maple Cream Easter Eggs
Yields approximately 24 2-inch eggs; modified slightly from here.

Ingredients
1-1/2 lbs of confectioner’s sugar, plus more for dusting your hands as you roll
1/4 lb of butter, melted
7 ounces of sweetened condensed milk (half a regular sized can)
2 tablespoons of corn syrup
2 tablespoons of maple extract
1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract
1-1/2 cups of bittersweet chocolate chips
2 tablespoons of vegetable shortening, butter, or vegetable oil
Toppings of various kinds: sprinkles, chopped nuts, coconut, candies, etc.

Directions
In a mixing bowl, combine the first six ingredients and mix thoroughly. Chill the dough for a half hour then remove from fridge, scoop, and shape into eggs, placing them on a parchment-lined baking sheet. You can decide how big you’d like the eggs to be. Mine are about 2 inches long here, but moving forward I’d make them about half the size because of how sweet they are. Be sure to dust your hands with confectioner’s sugar as you roll to prevent the eggs from melting into your hands. When your eggs are rolled into shape, chill for an hour. You can roll your eggs 3-4 days in advance if need be and then dip once you’re ready.

Fit a cooling rack inside of a baking sheet and lightly spritz the rack with cooking spray or grease it lightly with a little vegetable oil on a paper towel. When ready to coat your eggs, add 1 tablespoon of shortening, butter, or vegetable oil to the bottom of a small, microwave-safe mixing bowl and then add 1-1/2 cups of chocolate chips, followed by the remaining tablespoon of fat. Microwave for 10 second intervals, stirring after each, until the chips are completely melted and smooth. Submerge each egg in the chocolate and then lift out gently with a fork. Tap the fork on the side of the bowl gently until excess chocolate drizzles off of your egg. Place egg on the greased cooling rack and immediately sprinkle with your desired topping. Repeat with remaining eggs.

Allow chocolate coating to cure for an hour or two or until the chocolate is no longer tacky. Store in an airtight container with layers of wax paper or parchment between layers of eggs and keep in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

DIY Sparrow Place Cards

DIY Sparrow Place CardsI mentioned in my recent Coconut Chocolate Dipped Peeps post that, for me, Easter is a celebration of friends, family, and spring rather than anything religious. So while I’ve made these place cards for my Easter table, they would be a welcome addition to any springtime, or even summer, event that calls for some table flair.

DIY Sparrow Place Cards, SuppliesLook, the reality is that I’m only having 6 people over for Easter dinner – finding a seat is not going to be a real Olympics of the mind situation. That being said, though, I think a beautiful table is as important as the food you put on it when making a memorable day. In this case, that means having adorable sparrow-shaped place cards adorning everyone’s spot. My goal any time I host a meal or a party for friends, whether it be a small brunch with a bestie or a larger gathering to welcome a friend in from out of town, is to create the feeling that this day is special and that the people attending are cared for.

DIY Sparrow Place CardsEspecially for the queer folks among us whose family situations may be tenuous at best, gathering around a table with others specifically on a holiday can bring up a lot of conflicting feelings – including sadness and even relief. Surely, it’s all a process, but if taking the time and effort to make the day beautiful and the atmosphere warm gives someone a sense of home in the meantime, creating that is important to me. How could anyone see this pretty little thing perched atop their plate and not feel welcomed?

DIY Sparrow Place Cards

What’s nice about these place cards is that while they’re festive and, in many ways, seemingly elaborate, they require little skill and once the parts that involve tracing and cutting are done, they come together quickly. My dear friend, Katie – my co-host for our Easter/Springtime Celebration of Friends – and I knocked these out in about an hour after everything was cut out and ready to go. Another fun fact: they cost only about $1.50 each to make!

We chose sheets of scrapbook paper that coordinated with our color scheme in a variety of patterns – floral, polka dots, and plaid – so that regardless of gender or personal taste, everyone will have a place setting that appeals to them along those lines. Not that I expect the gents among us to really hold on to their tiny bird place cards afterward, but you know, thoughtfulness is next to godliness or something.

DIY Sparrow Place CardsWe really saved here in creating our own nests out of tiny vine wreaths that were about 50 cents at our local craft store, as opposed to pre-made nests of similar materials which were upwards of $3 each. For added realness, we added Spanish moss and tiny eggs to our DIY bird nests, which we would have used to decorate the $3 nests too, so we really did save quite a bit without sacrificing the look we were after or a bunch of extra time.

DIY Sparrow Place CardsWith several days left before Easter and many more days of spring and summer ahead of us, there’s plenty of time to add these sparrow place cards to your dining decor. Whether you’re a table of two, 12, or even 100, these are the perfect way to welcome guests and, simultaneously, tell them where to park it. Two birds, one stone.

DIY Sparrow Place Cards
Yields one place setting

Supplies
1 sparrow template, re-sized, printed, & cut out; I used this.
1-2 sheets of sturdy scrapbook paper; 1 sheet if you don’t mind the back having the same pattern as the front, 2 sheets if you want to combine patterns
Glue gun & glue sticks
Craft glue or Elmer’s glue
Small vine wreath
Spanish moss
One sheet of plain, white printer paper
Sharpie or other thin marker, color of your choice (you can also use the printer for writing names if you’re not great with handwriting; more on that below)
Scissors
Small, plastic bird eggs
Pencil

Directions

Step 1: Plug in your glue gun and allow it to heat up on the high setting.

Step 2: Using a pencil, trace the outline of your sparrow template onto your scrapbook paper so that you have a front and back with the pattern(s) facing outwards. The two cut-outs should be facing the same direction so that when glued together, they match up giving the bird weight and stability to stay upright in the nest.

Step 3: When you have both pieces cut out, use the Elmer’s or craft glue to adhere the front and the back together, but leave the beaks unglued for adding the name banner later. Set aside to dry.

Step 4: Free a small handful of Spanish moss from the bag. With the wreath on a flat surface, apply a ring of hot glue to its top edge and, working quickly, gently apply the Spanish moss to edge of the wreath concentrating the bulk of the handful into the center, creating a bit of a well. Be careful not to burn yourself. Once the glue is more warm than cool, press the moss more firmly into the setting glue along the top edge of the wreath. Allow to dry.

Step 5: Place a small bead or two of hot glue into the middle of the well of Spanish moss and place the feet of your sparrow into it, holding the bird part upright until it has dried and can support itself standing.

Step 6: Add some hot glue into the well in front of the bird, as well as behind and fill any holes or spaces with small bunches of the Spanish moss. You’ll want to partially obscure the feet so that it seems they’re nestled in the nest. Trim stray Spanish moss pieces with a scissor, as needed.

Step 7: Use a bead or two of hot glue to secure two eggs onto the rim of the wreath within the Spanish moss and allow to dry.

Step 8: Lastly, create and adhere the name banner. You can do this one of two ways. Initially, I cut out small banners made of white printer paper and hand-wrote the names, but later chose a font and color I preferred more, printed each of the names out on one sheet of paper, and cut out the banners from there. It’s up to you which option you choose. When envisioning your banners be sure to consider that about 1/4″ of one end will be between the the two sides of the beak, so make sure you cut the banners long enough. With the banners printed, apply a small dot of Elmer’s or craft glue between the two sides of the beak and insert the beginning of the banner. Press the two sides of the scrapbook paper together to adhere them together, setting the banner between the beaks. Allow to dry.

Step 9: Trim any stray pieces of Spanish moss or strings from the glue gun and store until ready to use.

Coconut Chocolate Dipped Peeps

Coconut Chocolate Dipped PeepsAt this point in my 30s, every holiday I host feels like the most special of days. I iron tablecloths, set out cloth napkins, plan a menu weeks in advance; all things my early-20s self would have scoffed at. But making home – and holidays always feeling like an important part of that process – means throwing myself into them fully, striving to make it a really special day for those who choose to share it with me.

While Easter has no religious significance to me, it’s still as good an excuse as any to gather with friends and welcome in spring over good food and drinks. What this means for Easter 2014 is a menu set, with a grocery list already growing alongside it, and place cards being prepped this very weekend. It feels extra loving to dedicate these efforts to loved ones even if it winds up being quite a bit of work.

Coconut Chocolate Dipped Peeps

Dipping them in chocolate is yet another step in the right direction, but coconut & chocolate? Divinity! I dipped these little jewels into white or semi-sweet chips that have been melted down with a little dot of coconut oil. The oil thins out the chocolate for easier, smoother dipping and adds the additional flavor of fresh coconut. What’s not to like? A few sprinkles or unsweetened coconut flakes (they were gone before I even got to taking pictures!) and you have a satisfying and festive treat absolutely worthy of spring and a houseful of your favorite peeps.

…See what I did there?

Coconut Chocolate Dipped Peeps
Yields 12 Peeps

Ingredients
12 Peeps
4 ounces of semi-sweet chocolate chips
4 ounces of white chocolate chips
1 Tablespoon of solid coconut oil, divided in half
Sprinkles
Unsweetened coconut flakes

Directions
Line a baking sheet or cutting board with waxed paper or a silicone baking mat. In two separate bowls add the white chips and the semi-sweet chips and half a tablespoon of coconut oil each. Put each bowl in the microwave and cook for 30 second intervals until chocolate is melted. Stir the contents of each bowl really well to thoroughly combine the oil and the chocolate. Dip each Peep halfway  in the chocolate, allow to drip off into the bowl and then place on the lined surface. For the white chocolate, you may want to do a double dip to get a more opaque finish. Immediately after dipping, shake sprinkles onto the chocolate portion of the Peeps or dust with coconut flakes. When finished decorating, pop the Peeps into the refrigerator for about 30 minutes and when time has passed, check to see if the chocolate has hardened. If not, given them another 10 minutes or so. Once the chocolate has solidified, they’re ready to eat or be stored in the refrigerator for about 7-10 days. The Peeps will be a bit firm when they come out of the refrigerator after a few hours or overnight, so you may want to give them a few minutes to soften before consuming.

Decorate Your Easter Eggs with Sharpies

I feel like I should start this post off by stating, for the record, that I don’t have a pre-existing relationship with the company that makes Sharpies. It’s merely coincidence that two of my craft tutorials so far on here involve them. What can I say? I’ve never met an office supply store or a back-to-school sale I didn’t like. One of my favorite places to lose time on campus at my Big 10 graduate school was in the three aisles of the bookstore that were dedicated to writing implements. Pens in every shade of ink, mechanical pencils, highlighters, and so many varieties of Sharpies. A girl could lose herself and her meager graduate student earnings in there!

My love affair with brightly colored gel pens and markers has not, it seems, gone unnoticed by my family, either. One of my Christmas presents this year was a pack of 80s-glam-inspired Sharpies. But even for an enthusiast like myself, I didn’t know what, when, or how I’d use 24 of them. Turns out, that problem is easy to solve, as they’ve already decorated fancy cards & envelopes, coffee mugs for some besties, and even upgraded my mani by standing in for those awful nail art pens — thanks for the tip, Beauty Department!

Spying them in my craft bin again last week, I wondered what kind of seasonal project I could use them in and the colorful, intricate designs of pysanka, or Ukrainian Easter eggs, came to mind. Have you ever made pysanka? They are not for the weary! They take hours; drawing in the lines and shapes with melted beeswax, dyeing them layer after layer, and then finally melting and rubbing off the final coating of wax. It can take up a whole day just making one! So, needless to say, trying to re-create the detail of these ornate beauties wound up being more labor-intensive than I had planned, even without the wax and the dye! Thus, my Sharpie Easter eggs (or springtime eggs if you’re more inclined) eventually went in a different direction to capture the whimsy of the coming season.

The cold, bleary Midwest has me dreaming of the firsts of spring – robins, flower buds, and that glorious day of the year when the ground is finally released from the grip of winter and the sweet, soddy smell of dirt and vegetation fill the air. Just the thought of it has me feeling positively poetic! Plus, I’ve had this adorable fake robin (of which Bear is all “OMG, I’m in love with a girl who hoards fake, stuffed birds and saves them for a rainy day?!”) in my possession for far too long without it seeing the light of day. Of course I had to heed the advice of Portlandia and put a bird on it! Also, what better way to market yourself? Who needs business cards or search engine optimization? I’ve got self-designed, hand-drawn eggs, y’all!

I used hard-boiled eggs for this project and the ink never reaches the flesh of the egg itself, keeping them perfectly edible. You could, of course, always empty them first and then decorate them if you continue to have concerns or just don’t like eggs in their hard-boiled form. I might make some more for my Easter table with the requisite bunnies, chicks, and resurrection – kidding on the last one! – but am also wanting to do a small set mimicking different cross-stitch patterns. Basically, I see a lot of egg salad in my future.

Sharpie-Designed Easter/Springtime Eggs
Supplies:
Eggs – quantity determined by you
Cold water
Heavy-bottomed pot w/lid that will accomodate your eggs in a single layer and hold enough water to cover them by at least an inch
Permanent markers – I used these
Ingredients for this, optional

Directions:
Place your eggs in the bottom of a heavy-bottomed pot in a single layer. Fill with cold water, stopping when the eggs are covered by an inch or two. With the lid off, heat the eggs to a full boil, then cover the pot and remove it from the heat. Allow the eggs to sit undisturbed for 17 minutes. Next, drain the eggs and plunge them into a bowl of cold water. Allow the eggs to cool completely. At this point, you can dry them off and prepare them for decorating or refrigerate them until you’re ready for them. Either way, before decorating with the markers, the eggs must be allowed to warm up just enough to take the cold from the fridge off the outer shell, otherwise they will develop condensation from the heat of your hands making the markers run and skip. When decorating, keep some paper towels nearby just in case, dabbing off the moisture as needed. As you go along, it will become clear how the marker’s flow allows you to draw precise lines, follow the curve of the egg, and apply the ink gently, blending it with your finger, to create shading. When finished, immediately return your eggs to the refrigerator. Eat within one week.