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Chocolate-dipped almond eggs

Chocolate-dipped almond eggs
Los Angeles Times

Every spring as a kid, I reveled in the same Easter basket filled with store-bought candy that all of the other kids in the neighborhood tore into: plastic eggs stuffed with foil-wrapped, peanut butter-filled chocolates, marshmallows machine-molded into pink bunnies and yellow chicks, and jelly beans nestled with tiny, speckled malted milk eggs in whorls of green plastic grass.

But somewhere along the path to adulthood, I realized my basket could be so much more.

No doubt fueled by the memories of those toothache-inducing mornings, I've since become an avid candy maker. It's no wonder then that Easter -- nearly as synonymous with candy as Halloween -- now signals the time to skip drugstore sweets and celebrate old-fashioned candy making at home.

This year, I've decided to make three of my favorite candies for our Easter baskets: sugar-dusted marshmallows, cream cheese mint straws and hand-dipped chocolate eggs with almond butter centers.

The contents of my basket settled, I bring out the ingredients I'll need to make them, for the most part, pantry staples -- sugar, chocolate chips, peppermint extract and honey among them. Almost instantly, I notice, the kitchen begins to smell like a candy store.

For the marshmallows, I start by boiling sugar, corn syrup, salt and water together until it reaches 245 degrees, candy's firm ball stage, the same temperature to which homemade caramels are cooked.

I whisk the clear, syrupy liquid with the gelatin and water and within minutes it clouds into pillows of milky white marshmallow. While the marshmallow mixture is still warm, I pipe it into the shape of daisies, giving each of them a fat yellow center, and dust them generously with sugar.

While the marshmallows sit in a cool spot on the kitchen table to dry for a few hours, I start on the mint straws.

I'm a pushover for mint candies, and these are my favorites. I make them simply with powdered sugar, softened cream cheese and butter and then add a few drops of lemon juice and peppermint extract to make them brightly flavored and fragrant.

Rolling out these candies is the fun part, a perfect kitchen exercise for tiny hands when there are kids nearby. To shape the mints, I roll the pastel-colored dough into ropes and swirl the colors or press the dough into the palm of my hand to make sweet coins with a faint thumbprint in the center of each. Like the marshmallows, the mints will need time to dry before they're eaten.

Greedily, I decide to bite into a marshmallow daisy. It's too early, and so the fluff sticks to my lips and fingers. But it's plenty tasty even now, magically thick, buttery and airy all at once.

While I wash the last of the gooey stuff from my hands, my mind wanders to the chocolate eggs.

Into a mixing bowl I pile almond butter, powdered sugar, honey and the secret ingredient I learned from my mother to make the chocolate eggs' centers firm: powdered milk. This recipe is an undeniable riff on the no-cook peanut butter balls she used to make to assuage my fidgeting on road trips.

I roll the gently sweet concoction into balls, then taper one end with my fingertips. They're about the size and shape of quail eggs lined up on the tray, and the almond butter smells toasty and rich. After they're frozen a bit to firm up, I dunk the eggs in hot, melted chocolate to coat and rock them in a bed of chopped almonds to make a miniature nest upon which each one sits.

I glance over at tray after tray of candies adorning the kitchen table. I'll load them into woven baskets for my nieces and nephews and scoop the rest into the candy dish to offer friends who wander by this week or to nibble on myself.

Candies like these seem to get more tempting each spring even though I'm not getting any younger. I'll bet the Easter bunny has the same problem.

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Total time: 40 minutes, plus chilling and setting time | Makes about 2 1/2 dozen
Note: The dry milk in these eggs makes for a light, malty crunch. For a grown-up version, use smoked instead of toasted almonds and sprinkle the eggs with a few grains of flaky sea salt.
  • 1 cup smooth almond butter
  • 3/4 cup nonfat dry (powdered) milk
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar (2 ounces)
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 3 cups milk or semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped toasted almonds

Step 1In a medium bowl, mix together the almond butter, dry milk, sugar and honey until combined; you should have a stiff mixture.

Step 2To form each egg, roll a scant tablespoon of the almond butter mixture in your palms to make a ball, then roll one end gently back and forth to taper the ball into an egg shape. Transfer the eggs to a wax- or parchment paper-lined baking sheet when done. Gently insert a toothpick through the center of the egg, at the tip, and push the toothpick through almost the entire length of the egg. Freeze the eggs, uncovered, until firm, about 1 hour.

Step 3Melt the chocolate in a bowl set over simmering water. Transfer the melted chocolate to a small deep bowl (this will make it easier to coat the eggs), and place the chopped toasted almonds in a separate small, deep bowl.

Step 4Working with about 4 almond butter eggs at a time (keep the rest frozen until ready to coat), quickly dip the eggs in the chocolate to coat, firmly tapping the toothpick on the rim of the bowl to shake off excess chocolate. Place the eggs on a wax- or parchment paper-lined sheet for a minute or so to allow any excess chocolate to settle at the bottom of each egg and form a footprint, then lift the egg and dip the base partially into the almonds to form a nest. The chocolate should harden quickly; if it takes awhile to set, place the eggs back in the freezer just until the chocolate is hard.

Step 5Remove and discard the toothpicks from each of the eggs, then add a small dollop of chocolate to seal the holes. Set the eggs aside in a cool, dry place to set completely.

Each egg:
217 calories; 5 grams protein; 19 grams carbohydrates; 1 gram fiber; 15 grams fat; 3 grams saturated fat; 4 mg. cholesterol; 24 mg. sodium.
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