Most countries observing Easter have their own unique traditions but all have one thing in common — food. Maybe this is because in many societies it follows weeks of foregoing treats.
Easter breads, cakes and biscuits are popular especially in predominantly Roman Catholic countries. Traditional breads laden with symbolism — crosses, fish and lamb — are generally not as rich as Christmas bakes although eggs are still freely used.
Simnel Cake is a fruit cake with a layer of marzipan on top, enjoyed at Easter or during Lent. It is a time-honoured bake marking Mothering Sunday, the fourth Sunday in Lent. This was a day when homage was paid to the patron saint of the local church and servant girls were given the day off to visit their mothers, taking with them, a simnel cake.
Hot cross buns, usually eaten on Good Friday, were actually traditional fare before the Christian era. The cross is thought to have represented rain and fire, and was symbolised by a circle bisected by two crossed lines. Both the Greeks and the Romans had special festival cakes and breads with similar symbols.
Later buns sporting crosses were made to honour an Anglo Saxon goddess, 'Eastre'. She went out of fashion when Christianity became more popular, but the buns remained.
A flavoursome combo of the distinctive almond piquancy of Simnel cake and the aromatic mixed spice of hot cross buns.
Dough: 1 cup milk
2 1/4 teaspoons active dried yeast
1 large egg
2 teaspoons almond essence
3 1/4 cups high grade flour
1/4 cup caster sugar
finely grated rind 1 lemon
Filling: 50g butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup lightly packed brown sugar
2 teaspoons mixed spice
1 tablespoon marmalade
Topping: 4 tablespoons marmalade, sieved
1/2 cup icing sugar
1-2 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped pistachio nuts
Heat the milk until just warm – not hot. Sprinkle in the yeast. Stir then leave until frothy and the yeast has dissolved.
Lightly beat the egg and almond essence together. Add to the milk mixture.
Mix the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Stir in the liquid ingredients using a fork. Turn onto a lightly floured board and knead until the dough is smooth and elastic. Place in an oiled bowl and cover with film. Stand until doubled in size.
Line a 30cm x 25cm baking pan with baking paper. Punch the dough down then roll or pat out to a 30cm x 25cm rectangle.
Combine the filling ingredients. Brush over the dough. Roll up tightly from a long side. Cut into 3cm rounds. Place the coils cut-side up in the lined pan leaving about 5mm between each. Cover with oiled film and let rise until doubled in size.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 190°C.
Bake the coils for 20-25 minutes or until cooked. Brush with the sieved marmalade. When cool, combine the icing sugar with enough water to be able to drizzle over the top. Sprinkle with the nuts.
Best served warm with or without table spread. Can be warmed briefly in the microwave. Makes about 12.
FRAGRANT LAMB BAKE
A great ‘prepare ahead’ dish for Easter enjoyment.
6 (1kg) lamb leg steaks
1 tablespoon each: olive oil, ground cumin, paprika
1 cinnamon stick
2 large cloves garlic, crushed
2 sprigs fresh thyme
400g can diced tomatoes
1/2 cup lamb or beef stock
Preheat the oven to 170°C.
Snip the edges of the lamb steaks to prevent curling. Pan-fry in the oil until lightly browned on both sides. Place in a single layer in a large shallow baking dish.
Add the spices, garlic, thyme, tomatoes and stock to the frying pan and bring to the boil. Pour over the lamb. Cover and cook in the oven for 2 hours or until the steaks are tender.
Great served with baked or mashed potatoes. Serves 6.
If the eggs are too large, cut them in half. I used sea salt on top to help tame the sweetness.
2 cups (450g) dark chocolate buttons or similar
3/4 cup white chocolate buttons or similar
1 cup mini Easter eggs
2-4 tablespoons shaped sprinkles eg rabbits, autumn leaves etc
2 tablespoons flaky sea salt, optional
Line a baking tray with baking paper.
Melt the dark chocolate buttons over hot water or in the microwave. Stir well. Pour onto the baking paper and spread to about 5mm thickness.
Melt the white chocolate buttons and pour in a zig zag pattern over the dark chocolate. With the handle of a table knife, swirl the two chocolates together to produce a marbled affect. Top with the eggs, sprinkles and salt — if using — before the chocolate has set. Chill until set, about 2 hours or leave overnight.
Break into pieces. They can be tied in cellophane or presented in large muffin cases.