Green was the color of the Heidelberg Pastry Shoppe this weekend — green bagels, green bread, shamrock cookies and doughnuts, and green-frosted petit fours.
But even on the day before St. Patrick’s Day, Wolfgang Büechler and his staff had already spent weeks preparing for Easter, and the signs were there, scattered among the shamrocks.
Bakers and confectioners around Arlington are gearing up for the 10 days until Easter, getting chocolates and cakes, rabbits and eggs in order.
"The chocolate bunnies go mostly. We sell about 1,200 pounds of chocolate" in the weeks before Easter, Büechler said. "We sell egg cakes, and Easter breads, but mostly milk chocolate sells."
He and assistant Patrick Dykema were busy making chocolate rabbits on Saturday morning. But Büechler and his bakers would be there into the night, working on Easter breads, hot cross buns, frosted cakes and meringue cakes.
BÜECHLER AND DYKEMA manufacture solid chocolate rabbits above the Heidelberg sales floor, next to two large mixing bowls filled with melted milk and dark chocolate.
Dykema used white chocolate and dark chocolate to highlight rabbit features before filling the mold to the top with milk chocolate.
Büechler pointed to his own blend of Swiss and French chocolate, high in cocoa butter and low in other oils – a sign of quality, he said. "Cheaper chocolates, they don’t use cocoa butter," Dykema said. "They use shortening. They’re not as sweet as ours."
In between steps, he takes the rabbit form to the store’s walk-in cooler, letting the chocolate chill before finishing the process. "There’s a lot of walking in this process," Büechler said.
Easter accounts for a significant portion of Heidelberg’s 20,000 pounds of chocolate a year, he said. "We sell a lot around Christmas and Valentine’s Day, and some for Mother’s Day, but not much," Büechler said. "But Christmas and Easter are the two biggest days."
HE’S EXPERIMENTING, THIS EASTER, with a new mold, a 4-foot-long egg. When set, the chocolate inside weighs 80 pounds. This is the first year he’s used the mold, Büechler said, and he’s still working out the kinks. "The first one was too heavy, it cracked," he said. When he and Dykema have more practice, he will be selling the giant eggs to hotels, but for now, it’s just a display at the shop.
"The fun part about baking is, you can try something new. Every year, I try something different," Büechler said. "Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t."
The 80-pound egg, like many of the chocolates and some of the cakes, is decorated with flowers, rabbit faces and other signs of spring, made out of marzipan and pastiache, a sugar icing.
"It’s a dying art," Büechler said. "I do it by hand. I did it this way in Europe."
Next weekend, he will be enjoying Easter, but he said he misses some of the little differences from his native Germany. "Easter, I think there’s not much difference. You go to church, then you spend the holiday at home," he said. "We don’t eat so much as here. We just eat cake and coffee to celebrate."
AT MOTHER’S MACAROONS, Kay Porter said she was just starting to make Easter baskets in earnest.
The store has stocked up on Easter baskets, mugs, and rabbit toys, and Porter said she would be letting customers build their own baskets for children.
But the centerpiece will be rabbit and egg cookies. "We do butter shortbread cookies, cut out rabbits, eggs and Easter baskets, dip them in chocolate, then decorate them," she said.
"We’re doing filled cookies, with Kahlua cream in the middle," Porter said, "and decorating those. Those are dipped in chocolate too. We pretty much dip everything in chocolate."
Porter will also be making oversize cookies on a stick, shaped as rabbit heads and eggs, and making batches of macaroons.
Easter season also means Passover season, and macaroons would seem to be the cookie of the month. But, Porter cautioned, her version of the coconut cookies are not for the most observant Jewish families.
"Our macaroons have a small amount of flour for leavening, so depending on how strict people are, they may not be good for Passover," she said.
But they are good, she added, for the rest of the year.