If you're thinking about putting a hollow chocolate bunny in your Easter basket on Sunday, local chocolatiers are going to stop you right in your milk chocolate tracks.
"We don't do hollow bunnies," said Dar Tavernier-Singer, co-owner of Tavernier Chocolates in Brattleboro, Vt., "We find them quite disappointing."
When asked if the lineup of bunnies at Catherine's Chocolates in Great Barrington, Mass., were hollow or solid, shop owner Kathleen Sinico — daughter of the original Catherine — scoffed and said, "My mother would turn over in her grave if I made a hollow bunny."
Just down the road on Main Street in Great Barrington at Robin's Candy, store owner and candy aficionado Robin Helfand has the bunny of all Easter bunnies — a 27-pound, solid chocolate bunny that lords over a display of Easter favorites like yellow Peeps, creme eggs and specialty British chocolates.
According to the National Confectioners Association, 77 percent of Americans help the Easter bunny and buy or create an Easter basket for their children. Chocolates and classic Easter candies are top picks, with 89 percent picking those as a must have in their Easter basket Sunday morning in a 2016 seasonal survey conducted by the association.
"We recommend some candy and some non-candy items when filling your Easter basket," said Helfand, while standing in the middle of her store next to a wall of jelly bean flavors and rows of containers filled with sweets ranging from gummy sharks to old-time ribbon candy.
The store, which opened in 2008, is a "sugar sandbox" where Helfand encourages her staff to carefully ride the fine line between "chaos and abundance — we choose abundance," she said. It's a real-life Willy Wonka scene, where candies, chocolates and treats from all around the world cover every available surface.
When creating one of the custom-made Easter baskets that customers can order right up through Friday, Helfand said they like "a mix of classics and what we like to call classics in the making." Her baskets are filled with yellow Peeps — a difficult find this year, according to Helfand, who said there was a problem on the Peep production line, making yellow a scarce color for 2016 — chocolate bunnies, delicate sugary panorama eggs, a selection of truffles and an "heirloom piece," like a hand-painted egg from Denmark. She also sells non-edible treats like classic yo-yos, ant farms and harmonicas.
Nostalgia seems to be the most important ingredient in an Easter basket, according to Sinico, whose store is bustling with milk, white and dark chocolate bunnies of every size.
"I have so many people who come in the store and say 'I remember when my mom used to give me these Easter treats and now I'm doing this for my children,'" she said. "This holiday, more so than any other holiday, brings back memories of your childhood. Perhaps because it's spring."
At the family operation, hollowed-out chocolate eggs serve as a vessel for other chocolates and Easter candies and are hand-decorated by Sinico's niece. "Name bunnies" are a personal gift, with the recipient's name piped along the side of the chocolate bunny.
For those thinking of adding the ultimate personal touch to their Easter basket this year and making their own chocolates, Tavernier-Singer suggests thinking outside the basket this year.
"Don't be afraid to try different combinations of flavors," said Tavernier-Singer, who started her hand-made chocolate business with her husband, John Singer, in 2014. "Try interesting things together, sweet and salty things, or things you might not think would normally taste good — you'll be surprised."
Using fresh, high-quality and often local ingredients, Tavernier-Singer and her husband make small batches of chocolates. For the Easter and spring equinox season, they offer a peanut butter and maple-filled chocolate egg — filled with Vermont Peanut Butter Co. goodness and Vermont's own liquid gold — and mini eggs filled with dried fruits or sea salts. They also sell an array of spring-time and Easter shapes like birds, lambs and, of course, bunnies.
If you're using molds at home, Tavernier-Singer recommends taking the time to properly temper your chocolate — or slowly heat or cool melted chocolate while constantly stirring.
"It will make your chocolate shiny and crisp, and it will pop out of the mold easier if you temper it," she said.
Whether you're a traditionalist, or you like your treats on the wild side — you can also get Jelly Bean's newest flavors spoiled milk and dead fish at Robin's Candy, if you'd like — it's all about enjoying traditions and memories when you dig through your Easter basket.
"Everyone has a candy memory," said Helfand. "We like to feed it."
Giving the Easter bunny some last-minute help? (He is a very busy bunny, after all) Visit one of these area shops:
Robin's Candy: 288 Main Street, Great Barrington, Mass. Taking order for Easter baskets, mini Easter cups (decorated cups filled with Rice Crispy treats, Nutella and fluff topped with candies and Peeps) through Friday. For more information, call 413-528-8477.
Tavernier Chocolates: 74 Cotton Mill Hill #A124 Brattleboro, Vt. Factory shop open 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Friday. Also available Saturday at the Brattleboro Winter Farmers Market. www.tavernierchocolates.com
Catherine's Chocolates: 260 Stockbridge Road Great Barrington, Mass. Call 1-800-345-2462, or order online at catherineschocolates.net.
The Village Chocolate Shoppe: 471 Main Street, Bennington, Vt. For more information, call 802-447-3789 or visit www.villagepeddlervt.com.