Thursday, April 1, 2010
Special pastel outfits. Suspenseful Easter egg hunts. Grandmother’s bunny cake. Wicker baskets full of grass and goodies.
Yes. Easter is here, in all its unique interpretations. But with it come fluorescent Peep chicks, the M&M “spring mix,” Dove Dark Chocolates wrapped in pastel foil and Cadbury Crème eggs. Treats, to be sure, but not nearly as unique as the coconut tie on Grandma’s bunny cake.
Fortunately local chocolate and pastry chefs offer carefully crafted, charming and creative alternatives: hand painted chocolates, Rice Krispie bird nests, spring petit fours, sea salt caramels, bordeau crème eggs. With so many artists in town specializing in gourmet sweets, no Easter basket should simply have mass-produced mediocrity.
A hunt for these treats led to some tantalizing finds:
“In France, the Easter holiday revolves around chocolate,” says Yann Lusseau. “Its shape does not matter.” And so, at Parker-Lusseau Pastries you will find rainbow and clown fish, a wandering tortoise and a dashing hare. (Traditionalists, fear not – they have a rabbit too – complete with a white tail, curious and alert pink ears, a yellow scarf and brown basket.) Stuffed with goodies, these hand painted chocolate statues, which range from $6 to $24 are meant to be broken: delicate chocolate seashells and miniature foiled eggs hide inside.
Lusseau turns the chocolate mold into something extraordinary by finger-painting on tinted white chocolate and cocoa butter. The end result is a layered, whimsical effect, with vivid color variations one would expect to see on canvas or in the wild.
PARKER-LUSSEAU PASTRIES 539 Hartnell, 641-9188 • 731 Munras Ave., 643-0300 • 40 Ragsdale Drive, Suite 100, 655-3030. (All locations in Monterey.)
The eggs have been laid, in all sizes (some almost as big as footballs), kinds and colors: peanut butter, chocolate fudge, chocolate walnut fudge, coconut joy, marzipan, bordeau, vanilla and orange cream, with a crisp chocolate shell ($1.75-$14.95). They are also delicious evidence that after 20 years in business, Bob and Peggy Whitted at Pieces of Heaven love Easter as much as ever.
More evidence: pastel candy corn and Holland mints, plush chicks and bunnies in baskets, chocolate bunnies on a stick (sealed with a yellow bow), even a chocolate Rice Krispie bird’s nest garnished with speckled malt ball eggs. These two understand everyone has a favorite chocolate, so every sucker, egg, bird nest and rabbit comes in either milk or dark.
PIECES OF HEAVEN 3686 The Barnyard (Monterey Barn), Carmel, 625-3368
POETRY IN PASTRY
Gerard Bechler brings flour and egg whites to Easter, no dippers and bows involved. He has a passion for “ephemere” – temporary, transient art that adorns sweet sensations such as marquise (chocolate cake with chocolate truffle cream) cakes and sacher (chocolate cake with chocolate mousse) petit fours ($.95/each; $11.40/dozen).
Chocolate trumpet-like flowers, sharp angles, and dustings of powdered sugar bring a Dr. Seuss-like spark to his craft. Hand-made roses look like they were plucked from the garden that morning, with a dewy freshness from iridescent gold paint. Variegated petals enjoy fringed edges and curled leaves are crossed by prominent veins. Bird nests adorn the unforgettable cakes ($17.50-$29), and are as fragile as those found in the trees outside, with dark chocolate pieces placed in a criss-cross pattern, while white chocolate with a pinch of cocoa powder on top is used to make oh-so-delicate speckled eggs.
These artistic details warrant an admiring glance before sliding a fork into, say, the cool, rich mousse below – and the imagination behind them inspires everyone to transform the basic Easter basket with similar creativity.
PATTISERIE BECHLER 1225 Forest Ave., Pacific Grove, 375-0846
The leadership at Lula’s Chocolates suggests an Easter box instead of a basket, which makes sense, because their signature items are the slender brown boxes tied with a rainbow of satin ribbons ($12.95-$23.95).
There are several seductive boxed assortments to choose from: truffles, nut clusters, crèmes, and toffee, and a treat that isn’t found elsewhere: caramels dipped in dark chocolate that enjoy just the right amount of chewiness, that are then crowned with salts like Himalayan pink, vintage Merlot, chile verde, and lime fresco. The nine-piece box is a crowd pleaser, in part because everyone’s tastebuds get to travel to exotic places like the Hawaiian Islands, France, and the Himalayas without a massive spring break budget.
The homemade marshmallow ($5.95) is also well worth springing for. Cut in the figure of a crouching bunny, it is then dunked in chocolate and given a small, bushy tail, white trimmed ears, an attentive eye, and a patch of grass. Inspired by the campfire favorite – s’mores – it’s a cool critter.