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Sweet! Favorite all-time Easter candy

By Amy Abbott, Contributing writer
Published On: Apr 02 2012 01:07:00 PM CDT
Updated On: Apr 06 2012 01:00:00 AM CDT
Chocolate Easter egg candies, candy

Esther Groen/SXC

Easter candy is a great American tradition. A painted Easter egg is fun to hide, find, and even roll across the White House lawn. But biting into a hard-boiled egg doesn't bring you the chocolate or marshmallow goodness of Easter treats.

Billions and billions of pastel and chocolate confections will delight purists Sunday morning after a visit from the Easter Bunny.

According to the National Confectioners Association, Easter is second only to Halloween in generating the most American candy sales. The signal of Christian Holy Week is a sweet message for children of all ages. So, bring on the sugar!

While that wily old Easter Bunny is preparing these treats in his hideaway hutch, let's take a look at traditional holiday favorites and learn something new about them.

jelly beans in a bowl

A sweet treat fit for a president

When President Ronald Reagan was shot on March 31, 1981, thousands of well-wishers gathered outside his hospital in Washington, D.C. When first lady Nancy Reagan arrived, people threw candy.

That's right -- candy.

What they were throwing was jelly beans. Ronald Wilson Reagan adored jelly beans, and his interest not only promoted the gourmet jelly bean industry, but caused the invention of the blueberry jelly bean.

Jelly Belly, a gourmet jelly bean company, wanted to provide the commander-in-chief with red, white, and blue jelly beans for that patriotic flavor (er, fervor) at his inauguration party.

But do you know how traditional and gourmet jelly beans are made? You soon will ...

jelly bean candy closeup

Boiling up some sugary beans

Cook sugars, corn syrup and starch with minor amounts of the emulsifying agent lecithin, edible wax such as paraffin or beeswax, salt and confectioner's glaze and, voila!, you have yourself a jelly bean.

Slice a jelly bean in half, and you'll uncover layers. Traditional jelly beans get their flavor from the hard candy shell, while gourmet jelly beans like Jelly Belly's offer the special sweetness in both the jelly layer and the outer coating.

Ingredients are boiled to make syrup that is poured in molds. After cooling the jelly centers, the infant beans are sprayed with the sugar layer.

While traditional beans take a week to 10 days to make, Jelly Belly boasts that it takes three full weeks to perfect its product. Of course, the tasty final product usually doesn't last nearly that long when once it gets around hungry Easter snackers.

Chocolate Easter bunnies, candy, bunny

Chocolate, chocolate, chocolate, chocolate

Let us say it once again: Chocolate.
It's perhaps the most beloved substance known to humankind, and it's got quite a history behind it.

Two thousand years ago, hungry Meso-Americans stumbled over the bitter seeds of the cacao tree. Spanish conquistadors pillaged their recipe box. Historians didn't record their exact words, but it may have been something like "You got chocolate on my peanut butter ..."

Some genius figured out that adding sugar made a delicious drink, and the next thing we knew we had a chocolate Easter bunny, just begging to have its head bitten off.

The American Industrial Revolution spawned machines that could turn chocolate into different kinds of treats, especially right for the Easter holidays.

Cadbury Creme Egg on tin foil wrapper, Easter candy

Chocolate -- hollow, solid or filled -- makes Easter complete

Hollow bunnies with candy eyes, solid milk chocolate rabbits, Cadbury Creme Eggs and those Reese's Peanut Butter Eggs are just some of our favorite basket-stuffers come Easter morning.

Most chocolate bunnies are made with molds, and the hollow hares are not filled.

Surprisingly, Cadbury's famous chocolate eggs with the yummy creamy whites and yolks can be made at home. In fact, recipes for most Easter candies are available on the Internet, and contain all the usual sugary suspects. Odd items like pectin or lethicin can be purchased at almost any kitchen store or gourmet shop.

The famous Reese's Peanut Butter Eggs are available only in spring, with their "cup" versions always around.

Once you've stuffed yourself with jelly beans and chocolate of all sorts, there's really only one special Easter treat left to tease the palate ...

Peeps

The marshmallow mother of all Easter candies

Yellow Peeps have been crossing American roads to "get to the other side" since 1954, when a Bethlehem, Pa., company developed the lemon-coated marshmallow cream chicks.

Today, Peeps, whether bunny- or chick-shaped, come in all colors and flavors, and in 2010, the company introduced chocolate-covered treats.

You can now indulge your wildest fantasies -- or at least most of those related to cocoa and marshmallows -- in both dark chocolate and milk chocolate Peep flavors.

When you think of marshmallows, perhaps you think of the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man from "Ghostbusters," a Peep, or the gooey center of a s'more from Scout camp. But did you know that the marshmallow is actually the modern version of a medicinal confection made from the sap of Althaea officinalis. The pink-flowered European perennial herb, which years ago was introduced to the eastern United States, is known as the marshmallow plant.

Something to keep in mind while rummaging through your child's Easter basket. Just don't forget to brush and floss!