Irish easter eggs
Grown-up Irish Chocs
The biggest choc-fest in the Irish calendar isn’t Thanksgiving, which we don’t do as a dedicated feastday incidentally, nor Christmas, which we celebrate in much the same spirit as Thanksgiving – the gifts exchanged then are to show our gratitude and appreciation of our loved ones.
No, the biggest chocolate frenzy in Ireland is Easter. For the second spring festival in our year (St Patrick’s don’t you know) we look forward to it for months that seem like years: it’s the first Bank Holiday with two whole days off from work and dizzying plans to head over to Galway or up to Donegal or down to the sunny southeast bounce around our Dublin brains with zinging excitement for the whole of February and March.
A recent survey acknowledged our place as almost the greatest chocolate-eating nation in the world. We eat our way through 9.9kg (about 22lbs) of chocolate every year, second only to the Swiss.
So it’s no surprise then that we have become top notch chocolate makers in recent years too. Some would have it that our greatest success story is a company from the evocatively-named town of Summerhill* in the royal county of Meath. For almost 20 years now Celtic Chocolates has gradually built a loyal following of ‘after-dinner mint’ fans to become number two to After Eights.
At the other end of the scale are small artisan chocolate makers that make divine drinking versions that can turn a 10-minute time out into a special treat for elevenses, (or afternoonsies, or a prelude to bedtime. Ooh la la, as they say in Kerry.) The bestseller in winter is a concoction of spicy cardamom, chili and ginger mixture, while in summer there’s a floral chocolate that’s relaxing and calming made up of rose, toasted lavender, orange blossom and honey.
But for our big chocfest at Easter we treat our loved ones to a variety of chocolate eggs. Tiny, tinsel-covered ones you’ve to hunt for; big moulded, hollow ones to snap and eat in chunks, after you’ve shaken them to hear what if anything is inside. There’s an alchemist’s alternative with sweet eggs for kids who can’t have sugar, (maltitol’s the magic ingredient here).
There’s a lot to be said for the treasure hunt on Easter Sunday morning. First of all there’s the mother’s delight in the fact that Dad can take the kids out of the house for a couple of hours while mum finds spots to hide all the eggs that can be found later by the kids.
If it’s a freak year and is dry, bright and sunny on Easter morning you can hide them in the garden or your favourite local park – yes, you risk them being found by kids who haven’t been invited to your egg-hunt with the park option – but the keyed-up excitement of the kids before and during the treasure hunt makes the effort worthwhile.
Where to buy:
If you're thinking of surprising someone with hand-delivered sweetness this easter, you won't go wrong by contacting any of these tried and tested delights.
Not to be confused with the de Butléir who was the David Attenborough to a whole generation of Irish TV viewers, these Butlers combined the excellence of very fine chocolate with great tastes in coffee, confectionary and sensible salads and sangers in a series of cafés throughout the country, (so you don’t have to suffer it out amuigh faoin spéir, unless it’s sunny TG). For the current generation, Butlers is probably one of the most recognisable Irish brands of good quality chocolate. See www.butlerschocolates.com
Melt in your mouth whiskey truffles that are rich and delicious from a company in our sunny southeast rather than the west’s Galway as you could be forgiven for thinking. They’ve long-established links with France, which to my mind, is always a good thing. The link here also lets you have a preview of Gallwey's Chocolate Cafe and the seaside resort it lives in.
The legend of Lir will be familiar to the Irish diaspora as it’s a tragic tale of a wonderful girl who took care of her brothers throughout eons under a black magic spell that transformed them to swans. The corollary here, is not that there’s another brand of choccies actually called Black Magic, but that Lir chocolate has become legendary to us. www.lircafe.com
Skelligs Chocolate is another artisan chocolatier based in some spectacularly dramatic scenery in St Finian’s Bay, Co. Kerry. This year it's offering a solid chocolate range for about $20 or £13 in flavors like hazelnut praline, strawberry or vanilla laced with hints of champagne, or there's one packed with marshmallow on one side and honeycomb on the other.
Ferdia's Fine Foods make a not-very-Irish sounding chocolate brand called Danucci, which are expensive but orgasmically memorable. They can be little artworks with gold leaf abstract designs painted onto each little mouthful of well-made fillings (fruit creams or nut ganaches will taste of a fruit or ingredient you recognize).
* Summerhill in Ireland is pretty much our equivalent of America’s Springfield. There’s a Summerhill in Dublin city, and another one in Tipperary. Imagined sunny meadows covered in kneehigh buttercups, daisies, poppies and salvia spires aren’t quite true. But they could be. I haven’t been to the ones outside Dublin yet.
Can't eat chocolate? Crafty Easter eggs to make at home
Another successful way to make a game of the treats of Easter eggs is to get children to help you make some of them. You can buy plastic moulds online from www.cakecraftshop.co.uk.
But back to the homemade Irish Easter Eggs: if you are going to play with chocolate there are culinary tricks you can employ. Chatting to the experts at Celtic Chocolates I was given these these words of wisdom:
1. Keep the chocolate at body temperature and don’t let it get to a point that it’s hotter than your ‘testing’ fingers.
2. While professionals let the chocolate cool slowly, impatient or eager kids can cool it faster in the fridge.
3. With bigger moulds, pour the chocolate into the mould, swirl it around for coverage and pour the excess out. Moulds with grooves in them – like cross-hatching or the ruts left on stiff moulds from cleaning them with steel wool – will ‘de-mould’ better without breaking the new chocolate shell.
4. When you’ve lots of kids to cater for, give them all a chance by layering up the chocolate to make a thick shell. While cooling, sit the mould down on the open end so the chocolate pools at the edges rather than in the ‘bowl’.
5. Set the oven on low, heat a metal baking tray to about body temperature so that it’s warm to the touch rather than hot. Sit your two halves of an egg onto the warm baking tray, which will melt the edges and you can stick them together easily to make your whole egg.