The Easter Bunny's Production Line

COMMENT

March 27, 1994|By MIKE BURNS

The Easter Bunny is hard at work these days, producing the super-sweet array of rainbow-colored jelly beans, yellow-frosted marshmallow chicks and all manner of chocolate eggs and rabbits to fill the baskets of youngsters and the not so young.

Richard Rudell is definitely not the Easter Bunny, but he is a dedicated assistant of that vernal rabbit in making this season a sweeter one for those with a taste for chocolate.

Mr. Rudell's Log Cabin Candies on Bel Air Road (U.S. 1) in Fallston is in its peak sales and production period, when candy sales nationwide reach their height.

Americans will spend nearly $900 million on store-bought candies around Easter time, according to a national trade group.

"Candy is for Easter, like no other time of year," says the 38-year-old chocolatier, whose father began in the candy business seven decades ago.

Christmas and Valentine's Day can't match the Easter bon-bon binge that Mr. Rudell attributes to a long-standing childhood tradition.

Children get Easter baskets of candy, and as they grow up they associate candy with the season.

Lots of grownups without children continue to buy a chocolate rabbit or a basket of cream-filled eggs for a spouse or parent, Mr. Rudell said. Even people with adult children continue to buy Easter baskets for them as a token of their affection, he noted.

Best-sellers among Log Cabin's assortment of nearly 100 chocolate items are two different chocolate bunnies standing less then a foot tall. A trademark of the shop is their 18-inch cousin, a copy of the first chocolate bunnies made by Mr. Rudell's father, Bernard, in Baltimore in the 1920s.

The senior Mr. Rudell worked for a candy-maker, then began making Easter bunnies to sell on his own from street corners and door to door.

He later bought the Log Cabin name from a candy-maker and had shops in Baltimore before acquiring land in Fallston to build a candy factory and retail store, which opened in 1962.

With a single retail outlet, Log Cabin's widespread reputation among customers is not primarily based on its walk-in trade.

But its assortments of delectable chocolates are well known to hundreds of schools, social and service organizations, churches and other groups that sell the Log Cabin brand in annual fund-raisers.

Word of mouth advertising keeps this part of the business expanding, Mr. Rudell said, and that has led to development of a corporate gift program.

Springtime is the favored period for the fund-raisers, which are also pegged to the Easter candy craze. Log Cabin prepares the brochures, sets the prices and fills the orders of these volunteer sales forces.

"Making chocolates is an art," Mr. Rudell says, a loving process that demands careful tempering of the sensitive chocolate, melting and blending and crystallizing at specific temperatures, then quick molding and controlled cooling.

Perfect timing and uniform temperatures are major requirements for producing those irresistible, fragrant, silky smooth chocolates that are the hallmark of a master.

So is choosing the best raw material. Mr. Rudell prefers the 50-pound blocks of chocolate -- cocoa butter, chocolate liquor, sugar and milk -- made by Wilbur Chocolate Co. in Pennsylvania.

Mr. Rudell blends three different varieties of these chocolate blocks to make the distinctive Log Cabin chocolate taste. Each candy-maker has its own blend to establish a hallmark of taste, he noted.

While this real-life Willie Wonka turns out a beautiful batch of bite-sized creams, nut clusters and nougats for year-round delectation (and summertime fudge for the oceanside resorts), the Eastertide chocolate bunnies are its trademark. Not just one bunny, but bunnies in all sizes and poses.

And not just bunnies, but fish and frogs and snails and squirrels and birds and other creatures crafted from the fragrant vats of warm liquid chocolate.

Those who want to make their own chocolate bonbons should be patient and prepared to experiment to find the best results, Mr. Rudell advises. An accurate candy thermometer and a reliable double boiler are essential tools.

At Log Cabin, about 1,000 pounds of solid chocolate is heated to between 95 and 120 degrees, then cooled to 89 degrees, constantly stirred to maintain a uniform temperature.

Solid chocolate bits are added to the mixture, providing the catalyst for the melted chocolate to begin crystallizing, an essential part of the tempering process.

Warm chocolate is added to the mixture to replace the tempered chocolate that is poured into molds, which are tumbled to ensure complete coating. The molds are removed to a cooling cabinet for the proper finish. Chocolate hardens properly around 55 degrees.

(Don't put chocolate in a refrigerator, Mr. Rudell advises. It's best kept on a pantry shelf away from heat, and can retain its flavor for up to five years. But be careful of odors that can easily penetrate even tightly wrapped chocolate, he warns.)

Chocolate making is an art that may be simply explained but difficult to master.

But just how the Easter Bunny gets his paws on Log Cabin's toothsome confections is something that even Mr. Rudell will not venture to explain.

Mike Burns is The Baltimore Sun's editorial writer in Harford County.

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