Easter is on April 21 (April 28 for the Greeks), which means you’ve only got a handful of days left to make some important decisions for you and your family. Will you dress up with seasonal flair? Will you brave the brunch crowds out roving the streets of your city? And most importantly: What will be waiting inside your family’s Easter baskets to surprise and delight all who receive one?
Easter baskets are like floral arrangements or charcuterie boards: wonderful no matter what, but extra special when they’ve been thoughtfully arranged. Making sure all the elements are present and harmonizing with one another will heighten the experience. Also like charcuterie, it’s a matter of quality over quantity. You don’t expect to get massive slabs of Iberico ham on your serving board, and you don’t want an entire bag of pastel-wrapped Hershey’s miniatures upended carelessly atop a tuft of plastic grass, either.
So, while you can’t go too wrong, here’s a list for the high-achievers: the elements that comprise the ideal Easter basket.
The crown jewel of any basket is going to be the bunny, and it should indeed be included, but it doesn’t have to overwhelm the other treats with its size or density. Dove makes a show-stopping, gold-foil-wrapped solid chocolate bunny that sits beautifully in a basket but is ultimately more trouble than it’s worth. Even at room temperature, it takes a lot to get a chef’s knife (much less a juvenile set of teeth) through its jugular, and any slice that comes off cleanly is too big a commitment for the human jaw. Freezing the bulk of the bunny for later is even worse, and it requires some thawing even to get a Santoku through it again.
Instead, I prefer the Palmer suite of Easter bunnies. There’s a nice variety of different bunny “characters” to choose from, so each basket recipient gets something unique. They’re hollow, so you can polish off the whole thing in one sitting without feeling hospitalizeable. And they’re cheap, so you can buy extras to freeze for your post-Easter sweet tooth. Palmer’s creative edge has always been its multicolored moldings, which add nice vibrancy to an otherwise monochromatic product. (If anyone wants further Palmer recommendations, I can’t say enough about their variety bags of Halloween, Christmas, and Valentine’s Day miniatures.)
A controversial opinion: I do not think Easter is the time for dark chocolate. That’s more of a sultry, Valentinesy thing. It’s too sophisticated a flavor for this springy, technicolor holiday, and its complex, raisiny aromas—while delightful—would overwhelm the other basket contents. Dark chocolate purists can shut the door on their way out.
But that still leaves plenty of variety, and it’s that variety that I find crucial in curating your Easter bounty. Aim to include a couple of each:
- Marshmallow-filled rabbits: Brach’s and Russell Stover each make a nice individually wrapped option; the marshmallow provides a springy textural element that’s fun to eat, and just small enough that you don’t have to share.
- Bunny Munny Double Crisp Chocolate Coins: Also produced by Palmer (hey, it’s not my fault it’s the king of spring), these foil-wrapped coins combine a satisfying crunch with the satisfaction of cold hard cash. I wish our legal tender was half as beautiful as these duckling-adorned delicacies.
- White chocolate: This is less essential, but certainly adds variety. And yes, I know it’s not technically chocolate, thank you, I don’t care. If M&Ms are your ride-or-die, buying some white chocolate Easter ones are a great way to incorporate them into the basket with minimal redundancy. White Chocolate Marshmallow sounds interesting too, if veering a little bit into sickly-sweet territory.
Easter isn’t just about bunnies; it’s about the multitude of colorful eggs that they evidently lay for children, biological inaccuracies be damned. Confectioners have long realized that an egg is the ideal shape to cram an inadvisable amount of filling into, and you’d do well to include one of each varietal in your Easter basket:
- Robin Eggs: A clever seasonal disguise for malted milk balls, Robin Eggs are a much more colorful rendition of the classic Whopper product, and a lighter offering to break up the rich density of the other basket treats. They don’t go stale outside their bag, so they can be playfully scattered amongst the fake grasses or other filler, replicating a tiny Easter egg hunt right there in the basket.
- Reese’s Egg: Although they’ve branched out in recent years to include a three-dimensional Peanut Butter Crème Egg, the flatter original egg is, in my view, the superior product. The comparably thinner, more pliable layer of chocolate (which enrobes the peanut butter, rather than having the peanut butter injected into it) hugs the center more, creating a soft pairing for your teeth to sink into. As savvy readers are quick to point out, the chocolate-to-peanut-butter ratio within a Reese’s vary considerably by product—Original, Big Cup, Miniatures, Eggs, Hearts, Christmas Trees, the dreaded Thins, etc.—and I consider this the apex.
- Cadbury Creme Egg: Include one, but no more than one. This treat hovers at a level of indulgence to be enjoyed precisely once a year. Otherwise, like antibiotics, you build up a resistance to its powers. The Cadbury egg is a specialty item in every sense of the word, with a liquidy fondant center that its Wikipedia page is not shy about describing as “mimic[ing] the albumen and yolk of a chicken egg.” With an inside twice as sweet as its chocolate outside, too much of a good thing is less than wonderful. If you’ve spent the previous 40 days chocolateless for Lent, these are enough to induce a sugar-shock headache.
Chocolate, by now, has been covered. In and amongst it ought to be something that breaks up the delicious monotony. Jelly beans have my vote in this regard, since Easter is the non-elderly’s one excuse to eat them each year. The Starburst ones have a much brighter flavor than the syrupy generics on the market, as well as including grape as the suspicious dark-colored beans, rather than black licorice flavor, and green apple instead of lime.
This is a piece of the puzzle I’ve come to appreciate more as an adult, because it combines generosity with creativity. Credit for this idea goes to my husband, who surprised me last year with an Easter basket of mini Frank’s Red Hot and Nando’s Peri-Peri sauces. These, combined with some fun packets of egg seasoning, are a great complement to any hard-boiled eggs you might have left over from dyeing. Other ideas include small foodstuffs that can be enjoyed year-round, like dip mixes, a baby jar of bacon jam, or an interesting olive oil. Just make sure that fake grass is providing enough cushion for any glass bottles.
This is the element that really drives the whole basket to the next level, and makes Easter morning feel like Christmas morning. It certainly doesn’t have to be big, just something that might momentarily distract from that mountain range of sugar beckoning children and adults alike. For kids, it might be an accessory to a toy they already have—an American Girl Doll outfit; an expansion pack to whatever card games they’re playing now—and for adults, it might be an EP or a mini Moleskine journal. Just something delightful to discover behind all that chocolate.
This list is for high-achievers, but not necessarily big spenders. Carefully selecting each element of this recommended spread won’t run you any more than, say, the pre-packaged baskets at CVS and Kroger. It aims for variety over volume, and its tactics have been both adopted by me and exercised upon me, leading to some very memorable Easter mornings indeed. If you read this far, you’re probably not the type who’s asking why a full-grown adult is still indulging in Easter baskets, which is great. Watch this space next year, when I’ll finally attempt the loftiest Easter basket goal of all: replacing the fake grass entirely with Sour S’ghetti.