Sugar-free, Allergy-free Easter Candy: Choco-Coco Nests and Fudge Sunny Bunnies (dairy free, gluten free, ACD, vegan)

A couple weeks ago I woke up dreaming about Easter candy.  

You know you spend too much time in the kitchen when you dream about food.

To be perfectly honest, I've never been huge for candy.  Jelly beans? Meh (except the black ones). Hard candy? No thanks (except root beer barrels). Licorice? Sorry, no (except real black licorice). Gummy candy? I'll pass (except for sour patch kids...and those sour gummy worms).  

Hmn. Maybe I like candy more than I thought.

But chocolate? No question. I LOVE CHOCOLATE.  And for that reason, I loved Easter.

My childhood Easter baskets certainly contained Cadbury eggs and jelly beans, but the real stars of the basket came from a little chocolate shop in my hometown of Oshkosh, Wisconsin called Hughes Home Maid Chocolates.  Every year their handmade milk coconut nests, chocolate pudding eggs, and chocolate rabbits graced our beautifully decorated baskets. My brother and I were very lucky children, and we each received multiple baskets every year that the Easter Bunny hid all over the house and garage. Our bunny was a very sneaky bunny, and we often had to ask for hints.  

Hughes Chocolates is a cottage industry in the true sense of the word.  In business since 1940, all the chocolates are still made in small batches in the basement of the original family house, by what is now the third generation of chocolate makers!  Customers go right to the house to buy the chocolates, and during busy times of year - Easter especially - a line actually forms outside the door.  When I was young, of course, and the Easter bunny was bringing these chocolate delights, so I never went to Hughes myself. Once I reached that age where the Easter bunny stopped visiting and my parents took over, I actually went along to get the candy. Yes, even at that age, I still got (ahem, get) Easter baskets from my parents - why not, right?  It's fun!  

Anyway, I remember waiting in line on the basement stairs with my mom, shoved up against the cold concrete wall. Customers laden with boxes of fresh chocolate climbed up from the depths of the basement, brushing past me. My anticipation for a chocolate pudding egg grew exponentially with each stair.  The sweet, sticky smell of chocolate. The sound of the back screen door opening and closing. The murmur of voices. 


The Milk Coconut Nests were haunting my dreams on that fateful night a couple weeks ago.  Upon waking,  I remembered the excitement of being a kid and finding the delicious Nest tucked lovingly in a basket full of Easter grass.  I thought of their smooth milky chocolate and the chewy, sweet coconut. I remembered how I picked off all the jelly beans (except the black ones).  I'm sure that a bite of one now wouldn't do it for me in quite the same way - I remember them being almost sickeningly sweet.  But I wanted the nostalgia back. I wanted a coconut nest, darn it!  Then I started thinking about chocolate bunnies.  I like to nibble off their ears, and then bite off their heads in one big bite.  I wanted a chocolate bunny.  A while back, a loyal reader, Lynette, told me she thought my black bean fudge could make great Easter bunnies if cut with a cookie cutter. That idea got me brainstorming, and I've been waiting patiently for Easter ever since.

I decided I needed to make Easter candy. 

What kind of candy? Choco-Coco Nests, inspired by Milk Coconut Nests, and tasty Fudge Sunny Bunnies (dairy-free chocolate rabbits). The Choco-Coco Nests have become a new favorite of some of my friends.   And the Fudge Sunny Bunnies are very similar to my delicious Black Bean Fudge.  I found cute rabbit-shaped cookie cutters at Target in the Easter seasonal section, as part of a 9-piece spring-themed cookie cutter assortment set. So cute!  

What other Easter candy tricks do I have my sleeve?  Well, darlings, I'm working on making a dairy-free, sugar-free Cadbury Cream Egg.  WHAT!?  Yes, you read correctly.  I loved them as a child, and as an adult, I would allow myself one or two each Easter season.  They are so grossly sweet, but I could never pass up the nostalgia, so I would relish in them, then be happy not eating one again for another year.  Spring just isn't complete without them, and the last two years have been remiss of Cadbury eggs.  At this point, I've figured out how to make the filling.  Now I just need to figure out the perfect chocolate "egg" shell.  So, stay tuned, I want to figure this thing out before Easter!!!!!  In the meantime, here are two tasty treats to fulfill all of your - and your children's - Easter candy desires.

As a side note, the other chocolate shop in Oshkosh, Oak's Fine Chocolates, makes what are, quite possibly, my favorite chocolate indulgence on the planet: Chocolate Meltaways. I'll probably never eat one again, but I love them dearly. Look them up. Drool. These also made an occasional appearance in the EAster basket, were often on my grandmother's kitchen counter, and were always at fancy family functions. I think I may have had a large tray of them at my high school graduation party. If I could ever figure out how to make a dairy free, soy-free, sugar-free Meltaways, I would be the happiest woman on earth.

Choco-Coco Nests

yield: 8 3"-inch nests | active time: 20 minutes | total time: 2 hours (includes chilling)

Sweet and rich, these remind me of my childhood favorite: Milk Coconut Nests! Instead of using melted chocolate, I melted coconut butter and added cocoa powder.  All the great chocolate flavor, without any added sugar or soy emulsifiers! The nests can easily be made with carob if you are on an elimination diet or if you are intolerant to chocolate.  I make them with stevia, but feel free to use a natural sweetener of your choice instead.  These are delicious, easy to make, and totally kid friendly.  Sure to be a favorite!

1 1/4 cup shredded unsweetened coconut

1/2 cup coconut butter (Artisana, Tropical Traditions, or make your own à la HEAB) or Go Organic creamed coconut 

2 Tbsp cocoa or carob powder

20 drops stevia or 1-2 Tbsp agave, honey, maple, or brown rice syrup, to taste

"egg" decoration: jelly beans, goji berries, freeze-dried blueberries, snipped apricots, almonds, cashews, etc

Line a baking sheet or tray with wax paper or parchment paper.  Set aside.  Get out your "egg" decoration and have ready to go!

Place coconut cream in a double boiler, or in a large glass bowl placed on top of a small pot of water (the bowl should rest on the rim of the pot, and be above the water).  Bring water to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and let the coconut cream warm until smooth.  Remove from heat.  Add stevia/agave and cocoa/carob, and stir until smooth, then add shredded coconut.

Scoop 2 Tbsp of the mixture onto the lined baking sheet, spreading out into a 3"-wide mound.  Create a small indentation in the middle, and press your "eggs" into the mixture lightly, so that they stick when the mixture cools.  Once you've made all your nests, place baking sheet in the refrigerator to cool completely, about 1-1 1/2 hours.

Can be stored at room temperature, but may soften.  For best freshness, store in a well-sealed jar or container in the refrigerator for up to 10 days (though they won't last that long...).  


Fudge Sunny Bunnies

yield: 8 bunnies and some leftovers | active time: 20 minutes | total time: 2 hours (includes chilling)

If peanut butter cups and chocolate rabbits had allergy-friendly babies, these Fudgy Sunny Bunnies are it.  Fudgy and soft, these are a lot like my black bean fudge, but with the added twist of Sunbutter and crunchy toasted sunflower seeds.  They make a great sugar-free, dairy-free substitution for traditional chocolate rabbits! Like the "nests" above, feel free to use carob powder if chocolate/cocoa poses a problem for you.  If you don't want to make them in to rabbit shapes, use any other cookie cutter you'd like!  Or just spread the batter into a pan, chill, and slice in squares.  Kids may prefer the additional sweetness of agave, maple, or brown rice syrup to the stevia, so feel free to combine sweeteners to fit your needs and taste.

1 15-oz can cooked black beans ( about 1 3/4 cup cooked)

1/4 cup + 1 Tbsp coconut oil

3 Tbsp Sunbutter (or other seed or nut butter - this would be delicious with almond butter!)

1 1/4- 1 1/2 tsp stevia liquid or 2-4 Tbsp agave, maple, honey, or brown rice syrup or 1-2 dates, to taste 

3/4 cup cocoa or carob powder

1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract (alcohol-free)

1/4 cup toasted sunflower seeds (or other seed/nut that corresponds to your butter)

Place all ingredients in a food processor and process on high until totally smooth and well combined, scraping sides as necessary.  Mixture will be kind of dry and crumbly, but should be soft and hold its form when pressed together.  Add toasted seeds and pulse a few times to combine.  

Turn mixture out onto a flat surface that has been lined with plastic wrap.  Pat down into a round, then cover with plastic wrap and roll with a rolling pin so it is about 3/4" thick.  Remove upper layer of plastic wrap, and using a cookie cutter, cut rabbit shapes (or other shapes) as desired.  Place cut out shapes on a lined tray, and roll trimmings into a ball.  Press between sheets of plastic wrap again, roll out, and continue cutting out shapes until you don't have enough dough.  Chill remaining scraps as is, or cut into small cubes.  Chill for 1-1 1/2 hours in refrigerator, until solid.  

If you want to carve in a face, whiskers, or other details, remove from refrigerator after solid. Using a toothpick, gently draw on the details, lightly brushing away any curls of fudge.  You could also make "icing" of some kind and draw on details using a piping kit.

Store in the refrigerator in a well-sealed container for up to 5 days.  They can sit out at room temperature for a few hours (long enough for an Easter basket hunt!) but should be stored in the fridge for longer.  Can also be frozen and thawed at room temperature or in the refrigerator until softened, if you make a big batch and can't eat it all.