Around the world, Easter is a time when traditional treats take pride of place on the menu.
Dried fruits and nuts feature in numerous Easter bakes. Hot Cross Buns, generally considered an English custom, combine spices with currants, peel and raisins. They were originally made to honour an Anglo-Saxon goddess 'Eastre'. With the advent of Christianity, goddesses went out of favour, but the bun remained and was decorated with a cross.
Lamb — a symbol of spring in the northern hemisphere — is considered the traditional Easter meat. In villages throughout Greece, a whole lamb is spit-roasted to mark the end of fasting. In certain regions of Italy, cooks boil lamb and serve it with salami. In Sicily a cake is prepared in the shape of a lamb.
The rabbit as an Easter symbol appears to have its origins in Germany where it was first mentioned in writings in the 1500s. Chocolate bunnies are the modern version of the first pastry-and-sugar Easter bunnies produced in Germany during the early 1800s.
The decorated ‘Easter’ egg predates Christianity. Ancient Egyptians often dyed eggs in spring colours to give as gifts to friends. Eggs — mainly of the yummy chocolate variety — still play an important part in Easter celebrations.
EASTER CHOCOLATE RING CAKE
An easy treat topped with chocolate eggs.
1 1/2 cups self-raising flour
3 tablespoons dark cocoa powder
1 1/4 cups sugar
1/2 cup milk
125g butter, melted
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
Topping: 100g dark chocolate, chopped
5-6 half marshmallow Easter eggs
mini eggs to decorate
Preheat the oven to 180°C. Lightly grease a 20cm (6 cup) ring cake pan and line the base with baking paper.
Sift the flour and cocoa into a bowl. Add the remaining ingredients and mix well. Pour into the prepared cake pan and smooth the top.
Bake for 35-45 minutes until the sides of the cake come away from the pan and a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean. Stand on a board for 10 minutes then turn out onto a cake rack. Cool.
Melt the chocolate in bursts in the microwave and stir well. Spread a little over the top of the cake. Arrange the chocolate (half) eggs on top. Drizzle with the remaining melted chocolate and top with the mini eggs. Allow to set. Serves about 8.
GREEK EASTER LAMB SOUP
Soul food. Serve with hot crusty rolls.
1.25kg lamb neck chops
1/4 cup olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 bay leaves
5 cups water
200g spinach, washed and trimmed
1/2 cup chopped parsley
1 tablespoon dried dill leaves
salt and pepper to taste
3 eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 cup lemon juice
Trim any excess fat from the neck chops.
Heat the oil in a large heavy saucepan. Brown the chops all over a few at a time to prevent stewing. Add the onions and sauté for 1-2 minutes. Add the bay leaves and water. Bring to a simmer, then cover and cook for 1 hour. Cool. Refrigerate so the fat solidifies and is more easily removed. (This can be done a day ahead.)
Remove the meat from the bones and cut into 2-3cm pieces. Discard the bones. Return the meat to the saucepan.
Thinly slice the spinach and add to the saucepan with the parsley, dill and seasonings. Simmer for 20 minutes.
Whisk the eggs and lemon juice together in a bowl. While still whisking, add 2 ladles of the hot stock to the egg mixture.
Remove the saucepan from the heat and whisk the egg combo in. Serve immediately. Serves 6.
SLICED EASTER BUN, FRENCH TOASTED
Use plain hot cross buns — not flavoured
4 hot cross buns
2 large eggs
1/4 cup cream
1 teaspoon vanilla paste
25g butter or table spread
Cut each bun into 4 slices from the top to the base.
Whisk the eggs, cream and vanilla paste in a bowl.
Dip the bun slices in the egg mixture and place on a plate to soak.
Melt the butter in a frying pan on medium. Pan-fry the slices for about 1 minute each side until golden. Great served with fresh fruit and lemon wedges. Serves 4.