Chow Town

Playing with Peeps: Five sweet recipes that use Easter candy

Every spring, Culinary Center of Kansas City instructor Shannon Hartnett teaches a kid-friendly class on homemade Easter treats.

At this year’s sold-out class on Saturday, Hartnett will show young chefs how to make cupcakes look like Easter baskets by topping them with shredded coconut “grass” and jelly bean “eggs.” The kids will also assemble “bunny mobiles” by wedging rabbit-shaped marshmallow Peeps into cars fashioned out of Twinkies with pretzels for steering wheels.

“Kids love jelly beans and Peeps because they can actually get away with playing with their food,” Hartnett says.

Not all adults outgrow the urge to play with Easter candy: Pastry chefs at several local bakeries are serving up sweets adorned with pastel M&Ms, sugar-dusted Peeps and chocolatey Cadbury Creme Eggs just in time for the spring holiday.

Sasha’s Baking Co., 105 W. Ninth St., has been experimenting with free-form coconut nests laden with jelly beans, rocky road brownies dotted with pillowy pieces of Peeps, and flaky croissants that cocoon Cadbury Creme Eggs.

“I really like the croissants,” says pastry chef Carter Holton, “because they make the Cadbury eggs less sweet.”

Sasha’s also sells house-made Easter candy, such as peanut butter eggs and 24-inch chocolate bunnies.

At Cami’s Cakes and Coffee, 800 Main St. in Eudora, Kan., customers can purchase brown paper bags of white chocolate popcorn mixed with malted milk balls and pastel sprinkles, as well as white chocolate-almond bark speckled with crushed spring-themed Oreo cookies and M&Ms.

In previous years, owner Cami San Romani baked chocolate cupcakes with Cadbury Creme Eggs inside.

“We would freeze the egg first so it wouldn’t melt so fast,” she says.

San Romani is skipping those this year in favor of strawberries dipped in orange-colored chocolate, which resemble juicy carrots.

Decadent — A Coffee and Dessert Bar, at 5601 W. 135th St., Suite 2220, in Overland Park, lives up to its name with Cadbury Creme Egg cupcakes and milkshakes. The shakes are made by blending dark chocolate ice cream with a handful of egg candies, then topping the super-sweet concoction with whipped cream.

“They’re amazing, but by no means are they healthy,” says owner Jeff Martin, who also owns the Smallcakes Cupcakery and Creamery chain.

Decadent also serves cupcakes that are made and topped with Peeps. The marshmallow candies melt as they bake in the batter, which makes for a sweet and sticky cupcake.

If you prefer your Peeps cold, head to Saturday’s pop-up shop at Natasha’s Mulberry & Mott’s commercial kitchen, 216 W. 73rd St. During the sale from 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., the bakery will sell house-made Peeps ice cream while supplies last.

Owner Natasha Goellner uses several colors of Peeps — not just classic yellow — for a dazzling rainbow effect. She pulls them into pieces before adding them to the ice cream’s vanilla-lemon base.

Goellner says her favorite Easter candies are the malted milk eggs that resemble robins’ eggs, which inspired the blue-speckled appearance of her bakery’s chocolate-flavored French macarons. She also likes Cadbury Creme Eggs but can’t bring herself to bake with them.

“I don’t think those should be messed with,” she says. “They’re really good on their own.”

Easter Monster Cookies

Erin Brown, owner of Dolce Bakery in Prairie Village, says her favorite way to use leftover Easter candy is in her mom, Teri Reynolds’, tried and true recipe for Monster Cookies. The recipe yields an amazing 8 dozen, so Brown said her mom “ had to mix it in a basin because it is such a huge batch and it wouldn’t fit in our mixer.”

Makes about 8 dozen cookies

1 42-ounce container quick oatmeal (or 18 cups)

2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons baking soda

4 cups granulated sugar

1 2-pound bag dark brown sugar

1 pound unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 3-pound jar smooth peanut butter

12 large eggs

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

24 ounces leftover chocolate Easter candy, such as M&Ms, chopped Kit Kat bars, Reese’s peanut butter cups and Rolo chocolate-covered caramels

Combine oatmeal and baking soda in a large bowl, then set aside.

Combine sugars, butter and peanut butter in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. (Alternatively, if the bowl of your electric mixer is too small, mix the dough by hand in a large bowl or basin.) Cream until smooth and fluffy. Add eggs 1 or 2 at a time, then add vanilla.

Scrape down the bowl and mix (or stir) again until the mixture is smooth and combined. If necessary, transfer to a larger bowl or basin, then stir in the oats and baking soda in 4 or 5 additions. Stir in chocolate candy, then refrigerate for at least 3 hours.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Using a 1-ounce spoon, scoop cold dough a few inches apart onto a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Bake for 12-14 minutes.

Per cookie: 289 calories (43 percent from fat), 14 grams total fat (5 grams saturated), 38 milligrams cholesterol, 36 grams carbohydrates, 7 grams protein, 189 milligrams sodium, 3 grams dietary fiber.

Source: Erin Brown of Dolce Bakery

Peeps Chick Surprise-Inside Cupcakes

Marshmallow chicks make cute and colorful toppers for candy-filled cupcakes.

Makes 24 cupcakes

1 15.25-ounce box Betty Crocker SuperMoist yellow cake mix

1 cup water

1/2 cup vegetable oil

3 eggs

1 cup assorted mini candy-coated chocolate candies or confetti candy sprinkles

1 16-ounce container Betty Crocker frosting, any flavor

Green food color

Green decorating sugar

24 Peeps brand marshmallow chicks

Paper baking cups

Heat oven to 350 degrees, or 325 degrees for dark or nonstick pans. Place a paper baking cup in each of 24 regular-size muffin cups.

Make cake batter as directed on cake mix box. Divide batter evenly among muffin cups, filling each cup about two-thirds full. Bake as directed on box for cupcakes. Cool in pans 10 minutes; remove from pans to cooling rack. Cool completely, about 30 minutes.

Using a melon baller, scoop out the center of each cupcake, about 1 inch deep. Fill each with 1 heaping teaspoonful candies.

Spoon frosting into medium bowl; stir in enough food color until the desired green color is achieved. Frost cupcakes with frosting; sprinkle with colored sugar. Top each cupcake with a Peeps chick. Store loosely covered.

Per cupcake: 267 calories (42 percent from fat), 12 grams total fat (3 grams saturated), 28 milligrams cholesterol, 37 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams protein, 211 milligrams sodium, 1 gram dietary fiber.

Jelly Bean Easter Bark

Jelly beans add a pop of color and rainbow of flavor to white candy bark.

Makes 11 servings

1 12-oz. package (or 2 cups) white baking chips, such as Nestle Tollhouse Premier White Morsels

2 teaspoons vegetable shortening

1/2 cup jelly beans, divided

Wax paper

Line a baking sheet with waxed paper.

Microwave chips and vegetable shortening in medium microwave-safe bowl, uncovered, on medium-high for 1 minute; stir. If necessary, microwave at additional 10- to 15-second intervals, stirring just until chips are melted. Stir in  1/4 cup jelly beans.

Spread mixture to  1/4 -inch thickness on prepared baking sheet. Sprinkle with remaining  1/4 cup jelly beans. Refrigerate for about 15 minutes or until firm. Break into pieces. Store in airtight container at room temperature.

Per serving: 223 calories (40 percent from fat), 10 grams total fat (8 grams saturated), no cholesterol, 30 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams protein, 47 milligrams sodium, no dietary fiber.

Cadbury Creme Egg Brownies

Fans of Cadbury Creme Eggs will flip over these decadent brownies, which are embedded with the gooey British candies.

Makes 16 servings

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

3 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips

1/2 cup butter, at room temperature

1/2 cup brown sugar

1 egg

18-20 mini Cadbury creme eggs, unwrapped

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line an 8-by-8-inch baking pan with parchment paper. Mix flour with baking powder and set aside.

Melt the chocolate chips in a microwave-safe bowl or double boiler. Stir until smooth and combined.

In the mixing bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add the egg and stir well.

With the mixer on low speed, pour in the melted chocolate. Slowly add the flour and baking powder. Spread the batter on the bottom of the prepared pan and press in the Cadbury creme eggs.

Bake for about 30 minutes, or until the top is set and firm to touch. Let cool completely before cutting into bars.

Per serving: 164 calories (51 percent from fat), 10 grams total fat (6 grams saturated), 30 milligrams cholesterol, 19 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams protein, 91 milligrams sodium, 1 gram dietary fiber.

Egg-Ceptional Easter Nests

These sweet treats are adorable to look at and easy to make — no oven required!

Makes 30 nests

1 2/3 to 2 cups (11- to 12-ounce package) butterscotch or semi-sweet chocolate chips

1/4 cup creamy peanut butter

2 5-ounce cans chow mein noodles

30 to 60 egg-shaped chocolate candies

Waxed paper

Line trays with waxed paper. Microwave butterscotch or chocolate chips in large microwave-safe bowl, uncovered, on medium-high power for 1 minute; stir. If necessary, microwave at additional 10- to 15-second intervals, stirring just until chips are melted. Stir in peanut butter until well blended.

Add chow mein noodles to morsel mixture; toss until coated. Using ice cream scoop that measures about 2 rounded tablespoons, scoop and drop onto prepared trays, then immediately shape into nests. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Before serving, place one or two chocolate eggs in each nest. Store prepared nests in covered container for up to 1 day.

Per nest: 153 calories (52 percent from fat), 9 grams total fat (4 grams saturated), 2 milligrams cholesterol, 17 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams protein, 60 milligrams sodium, 1 gram dietary fiber.