Easter is upon us! For just about any pastry chef, Easter is one of the three biggest holidays of the year (Christmas and Valentine’s being the other two, at least in my humble opinion) where our services are in greatest demand. Let’s be real here, Easter is just as much about chocolate as it is religion – no offense – and I have some great childhood memories of Easter baskets overflowing with foil wrapped candy and jewel toned jellybeans. In fact, I’m going to shake some things up here and say I think Easter is a greater candy holiday than Halloween. You heard me. Consider sh*t shaken.
As an adult human with an adult life that doesn’t (always) revolve around candy, I still love Easter and I absolutely love making chocolate Easter eggs. I couldn’t tell you why, but of all the chocolate and sugar showpiece holidays, Easter just really gets me amped. For the past several years I’ve done a collection of chocolate Easter eggs. I was pretty happy with my creations this year, and I thought it would be a fun post to give you some behind the scenes commentary on my design process and choices on a few of this year’s eggs. I’m picking two of my personal favorites to dive into.
My Dragonfly egg was ultimately inspired by the art nouveau movement, which hopefully comes across just by looking at it. I wanted to create a balance of the major themes of the style; a connection and sometimes literal intertwining of organic forms and nature, a rich, dramatic, and slightly romantic color palette, and the embrace of craft – particularly glass and metal work. Most obviously the dragonfly represens the aspect of the natural world, but I chose the rock forms of the base to help reinforce that theme in a more subtle way. The color palette I chose was intended to mimic some of the glazes and finishes of ceramics, glass work and even metal finishing that was common of the art movement.
The components of the egg were fairly simple, and overall this piece was one of the fastest for me to create of this year’s collection (maybe 6 hours start to finish). The egg and the stones it sits on were made using molds; the stones were cast in two halves using various mixing bowls to create shallow spheres. The wings I created by casting a thin sheet of chocolate on acetate, cutting out the shape of each wing and securing it over a curved form to set. The rest of the components I molded and shaped by hand, using the technique I love so much of blending chocolate in a food processor until it forms a clay-like paste. That includes the 3D curls surrounding the egg. I rolled the paste out by hand, tapering the ends, and then draped it over the egg, securing it in place with tempered chocolate.
To start coloring the egg, I sprayed it in two green tones of cocoa butter. The darkest green was a translucent pigment and very thin in consistency which created a glaze effect. I intentionally over-sprayed the piece in a few areas which created a build up of color that pooled and beaded, again as a glaze might appear on a ceramic piece. The second green had titanium dioxide in it (an opaque, bright white pigment) that I sprayed over areas of the dark green and then as a light base coat over the egg. I then added a deep crimson red, building the color to be solid in some areas and then a wash over some of the green to create a mottled, organic transition of colors over the entire egg. As I sprayed, I added metallic dust here and there around the egg in shades of green and then highlights of gold. I continued the metallic or luster application to the dragonfly itself to try and mimic the iridescent, dichromatic coloring that makes them so beautiful.
The original sketch I worked up featured the dragonfly clutching the side of the egg with its wings wrapped around it. Once I mocked up the dragonfly and had it next to the egg I realized it didn’t do much to create a dynamic silhouette. Placing it over the egg instead gave more contrast and made the dragonfly appear alive and active. I also shrank the wings substantially purely for the sake of the structural integrity of them. A chocolate piece that long hovering into the air and connected from one small point is bound to break, especially with a slight variation in temperature.
The Drakon egg was one of my favorites of the year because it was an instance where what I saw in my mind’s eye and what I sketched on paper translated perfectly to the finished piece in three dimensions. Even as master craftsman that is a rare enough occasion that when it happens you have to sit back and allow yourself some pride in a job well done. I also really love dragonflies.
Although far from the most popular egg according to the general public, my favorite egg this season is “Chinook.” This was a project I’ve had in mind to do for a few years now and I was really happy I had a chance to finally do it.
I have to come clean and say that in truth, as far as I can recall, my Chinook egg is a rip off of a sculpture I saw at the Chicago SOFA show a year or two ago. An artist created an egg with Pacific Northwest Native American totem carvings in it and it was straight up stunning. As soon as I saw it I knew I wanted to make one out of chocolate. I lost the picture I took of it shortly after attending the show so I only vaguely remember the forms or palette and also don’t remember the artist who created it (Help me internet-kenobi, you’re my only hope! A shiny penny to anyone out there who can find the egg and artist in question. I believe it was the 2015 or 2016 SOFA show.)*. Anyway, So it’s not like I ripped it off 100%, maybe just like 95% (sincerest form of flattery…)? And the egg that artist made makes mine look like a clay ashtray I clumsily “crafted” for my non-smoking parents in 2nd grade.
*Editors update: We have found the artist! None other than my own brother, a veritable catalog of contemporary artist and the owner of a shiny new penny, has informed me the artist is Preston Singletary. Amazing stuff, Mr. Singletary, thank you for the inspiration!
What was most important to me in creating this egg was honoring the amazing graphic quality of this style of art, both in form and palette. I will say without shame (but also without intending offense) that I didn’t research the cultural significance of the imagery, forms or colors that I recreated. Not to get into a big art debate here, but I’ll preemptively defend my decision by saying that any art form, once created and shared with the world, is open to any interpretation and inspiration by someone that sees it and for me, my interpretation was solely about the artistic merits of the style.
When sketching this egg out I immediately envisioned the head of a bird on one half of the egg with a thick, carved line defining the halves next to it. All of the other forms grew from that first step. For a piece like this, I carefully plan the full 360 degrees of the design on paper and then transfer that idea to the surface of the piece, as opposed to a project like my Versaille egg (see below), which started with a loose concept of the design and then turned into improvisation when I was creating it.
This egg was really straightforward in terms of techniques applied; carve the egg and paint it. That being said, it took more hours of work than any other, somewhere in the 50+ range. The entire piece is hand carved with traditional wood chisels including the base, which I cast as a solid piece and then hacked at maniaclly to create the jagged texture. I lightly outlined the forms I wanted to create on the surface of the egg using a paring knife and then got to work.
Once the egg was carved, I gave it several coats of black cocoa butter and let it set and crystallize for a few days. Giving the cocoa butter that time to fully set will make it easier to handle and to mask off without the cocoa butter coming off of the egg. I masked the egg to spray the areas of white and I have to tell you, that sh*t took forever. Blue painter’s tape is about the only tape you can use on cocoa butter that will stick without taking material off when you remove it, but it BARELY sticks. Using thin pin striping tape was out of the question because it wouldn’t hold so I had to resort to cutting hundreds and hundreds of small squares of painter’s tape that I layered around the edges of the spray area. So much fun. After the white was applied and all of the masking was removed I spent the remainder of the working time with a detail brush cleaning up the edges and applying the gold, teal and red sections.
Again, nothing complicated, but man did it take some patience. I worked through a heavy chunk of spotify’s zen playlist offerings during those days tucked away in my office carving and painting. Nothing like some pan flute and running water noises to help you get in the zone.
Well, there you have it! A little insight to the method and thought process I use to create not just my Easter eggs, but really everything that comes out of my kitchen. Have a wonderful holiday and I’ll see you next week with a killer recipe!
Cheers – Chef Scott