Lisa's Hoppin' Chocolate

Most of us in the South have heard of Hoppin' John, a savory rice and pea dish, but Lisa Moore, who is working as an apprentice for me, has a recipe for introducing Hoppin' Chocolate, an easy and delicious chocolate bunny dessert, perfect for spring. Actually, it doesn't have to be bunnies — it can be butterflies, ladybugs, cats or what have you, made with molds or without.

Lisa remembers standing on a stepstool at the kitchen counter of her family's home and making these chocolate candies with her mom for many holidays and special occasions. As a child, the hardest part of making Hoppin' Chocolate was having the patience to let each layer of chocolate harden before sampling the adorable sweets.

Any chocolate morsels can be used. Craft stores carry assorted colors of candymaking chocolate, or food coloring can be added to white chocolate morsels. Grocery store chocolates morsels usually have a better taste but are slightly trickier. Craft store chocolates are not as tasty, but are easier to work with.

Chocolate morsels have been pretempered, so if you switch to another kind of chocolate, make sure it is pretempered to avoid tempering it while trying to make it an easy experience for a child.

Keep in mind that moisture and excessive heat are the two main things to avoid when working with chocolate, which is why I prefer using the microwave and not a double broiler when melting chocolate. —Nathalie Dupree

Nathalie Dupree is the author of 13 cookbooks, most recently “Mastering the Art of Southern Cooking.” She lives in Charleston and may be reached through Nathalie@dupree.com.

Ingredients and equipment

1 package chocolate morsels (semisweet, milk or white chocolate; see cook's note)

Cookie sheet

Parchment or wax paper

Candy molds (food-safe silicone or plastic molds are found at craft and cooking stores or online)

Food-safe pastry or paintbrush

Plastic food storage bag (for piping)

Directions

Cook's note: The size of the package of chocolate morsels depends on the quantity of finished molds or bunnies desired. Several smaller bags would be better than 1 larger bag to avoid waste.

Heat a half-cup of the chocolate morsels for only 20 seconds at a time in the microwave. Stir and repeat this step until chocolate is melted, but don't overcook.

Meanwhile, line a cookie sheet with parchment or wax paper. Set mold on top of the sheet pan. Use a small spoon to fill each mold with chocolate. It is better to over-fill than under-fill. Once all molds are filled, level the candies in the mold by scraping the extra chocolate from the top using the back of a butter knife or an offset spatula. Tap the mold on the cookie sheet to ensure there are no air bubbles and to even the chocolate. Place the mold in the refrigerator or freezer to harden, usually half an hour or more if the molds are large.

Chocolate contracts when it is cooled, so the candies should pop out easily once fully chilled. If you are feeling really fancy, heat a different color of chocolate using the method above. Take your paintbrush and draw pretty designs on your chocolates to give them character and added pizazz.

If you do not have candy molds, do not fear! In fact, our bunny molds grew legs and hopped off, too, so we had to get especially creative to make these next bunnies. Simply go online and search for bunny outlines. Once you find a design that you like, print it.

Set up another cookie sheet with parchment or wax paper. Trace your bunny picture onto the parchment or wax paper using a permanent marker. Flip the drawing over so you are not decorating directly on the side with the marker.

Take a plastic storage bag and fill it with only a couple of tablespoons of melted chocolate. Squeeze the chocolate to one tip of the bag, then snip that end with scissors. Trace the bunny outline with the chocolate from the plastic bag, fill in with more from the bag or a spoon and freeze. Once chilled, the bunny should be removed easily from the paper. If the bunny is too thin, it will melt quickly upon being handled, so make sure it is at least half an inch or more thick.

Once a set of molds or the free-form bunnies are made, repeat with the remaining chocolate as desired.