Create the ultimate goody basket this Easter, with recipes for brownies, toffee bars, "almost-as-good-as-Mackinaw-Island Fudge," and caramel turtles.
The worst Easter I ever experienced was when my mother hid my Easter basket in the planter. Shaped like a double-measure jigger, my mother's fern sat proudly on top of it and, well, nothing usually sat under the planter—until that Easter Sunday.
After hours of exhaustive searching and frustration, I was in tears as I ran around the house for what seemed like the millionth time, resorting to such desperate measures as looking inside boots. Taking pity on me—a sympathetic gesture, as I fancied myself to be a varsity-level Easter-basket hunter and was quite cocky about the whole matter—my mother played hot and cold until I finally had no other choice than to lift the planter and discover my basket sitting pretty in the lower half.
After spending the better part of the morning near the floor heaters, my chocolate bunny resembled fondue, and the jelly beans had melted into a Technicolor ooze that all but caulked the cracks of the basket's rattan. The only standing survivors of my Three Mile Island basket were the mallow chicks, confections so resilient they could probably survive a full-scale nuclear meltdown. Anyway, we learned two important lessons that Easter: One is never overestimate the frustration level of your child (although I'm sure my mother got a slight kick out of reducing this overly-confident nine-year-old to a foot-stamping, red-eyed teary mess in a dress), and two, never overestimate the quality of store-bought treats when creating the ultimate Easter basket. Granted, most people don't take Easter baskets quite as seriously as we did, but the following recipes are not only refreshing alternatives to the usual splendor in the grass, they're guaranteed to last hours under a planter.
2 cups sugar
7 tablespoons Hershey's cocoa
1 cup butter, melted
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup walnuts, chopped
Preheat the oven to 350°F. In a mixing bowl, combine the sugar, cocoa, and melted butter. Add the eggs, one at a time, and blend after each addition. Add the remaining ingredients and mix just enough to blend completely. Pour into a greased 9" × 13" glass pan and bake for 20 or 25 minutes or until the top is firm. (Do not overbake.) Allow to stand for 30 minutes, then cut into squares. Wrap each brownie in tinted saran wrap and tie with a ribbon. Makes over 24.
(My mom's answer to Heath bars)
1 cup butter
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups flour
10 12-ounce milk-chocolate bars
1 cup walnuts, chopped
Preheat the oven to 300°F. Mix butter, brown sugar, vanilla, and salt. Add flour and mix well. Press dough into ungreased 15 1/2," × 10" jelly-roll cookie-sheet pan. Bake 45 to 55 minutes, until deep, golden brown.
Remove from oven and arrange chocolate bars on top of hot dough. As soon as chocolate has melted, spread it over dough. Sprinkle with nuts and press lightly. Cut into bars. Remove from pan or let cool and refrigerate before removing. Yields 40 bars.
This is definitely a recipe to keep away from the heat, but, since you can't keep it away from the kids, I've included it anyway. Mackinaw Island is just as famous for the Grand Hotel as for its fudge—so much so that the locals dubbed the hordes of summer tourists "fudgies." You'll need a candy thermometer.
2 cups sugar
2 squares unsweetened top-quality chocolate, chopped
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 tablespoon butter
In a deep, heavy saucepan, combine the sugar, chocolate, salt, and heavy cream. Cook over medium heat, stirring only until the sugar is dissolved. Don't stir any of the crystals which hang to the side of the pan back into the mixture. When the mixture boils, attach the candy thermometer, cover the pan, and cook over the lowest heat until the fudge reaches 240°F (soft ball). This usually takes about 15 to 20 minutes. Don't stir the fudge during this time. Remove from heat, add the butter, and place the pot on a bed of ice cubes and cold water. With a wooden spoon—and hopefully a few helpers—beat the fudge until it becomes creamy and loses its gloss. When the shininess disappears from the mixture, you'll know it's done. Pour into a greased 9" × 9" cake pan and cut into 1" squares.
1 1/2 cups pecan halves
7 ounces of vanilla caramels (about 25)
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate pieces
1 teaspoon shortening
Spread pecans into a single layer in a shallow baking pan. Bake at 350°F for about 10 minutes or until they're lightly toasted, stirring them occasionally. Line a baking sheet with foil, grease it, then arrange the pecans in groups of three, flat side down.
In a heavy saucepan, combine caramels and butter. Cook and stir over low heat until the caramel is melted and smooth. Remove from heat. Drop about one teaspoon of melted caramel onto each group of pecans. Let stand for 20 minutes until firm.
In a small saucepan heat chocolate pieces and shortening over low heat, stirring constantly until melted and smooth. With a narrow spatula, spread a small amount of the melted chocolate over the top of each caramel and nut cluster. Let stand until firm. Remove from the baking sheet and store tightly covered. Makes 30 pieces.