Easter Monday Sunshine

I hope you’ve spent today in a happy, chocolate-filled daze, maybe with the odd slice of cake.

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This little fella, who was stitched in a few hours, is a Mouseloft kit called “April Showers”, which fortunately is only half correct for today. We’ve had glorious sunshine; the rain (or rather drizzle) was yesterday.

Not quite sure what I’ll do with this quick-stitch, probably stash him away somewhere for when I get around to making a quilt. Which will probably happen around about when I finish that knitted patchwork blanket. Or maybe he’ll become a card at some point.

(Almost) According to Delia: Simnel Cake

So. This being Easter weekend, and us celebrating everything with a good cake, this time of year we get Simnel cake. Although, saying that, my researches indicate that we’re a few weeks late. Apparently Simnel cakes were originally eaten on Mothering Sunday. Oops! But, better late than never, right?

Anyway. No one knows how or why or even when – we have some mediaeval references – about the beginning of Simnel cake traditions, but really? Who needs a reason? Cake is surely reason enough!

Now, traditionally, Simnel cake is made with lots of marzipan, and not just layered on top, but baked throughout as well. But, if, like me, you know people who weirdly don’t like marzipan, just stick it on top and tell them to peel it off and give it to you. So much easier than having to dig it out of the cake! Or, of course, have more cake yourself.

Because what else should be on an Easter cake, but a dinosaur?

Because what else should be on an Easter cake, but a dinosaur?

As with before, I made some changes to the recipe. I shall list the actual ingredients, with my substitutions in brackets, so you can pick and choose.

Ingredients:

225g marzipan (I skipped this altogether; see above re: people not liking it)

225g plain flour

1 tsp baking powder (I used 3, following instructions on the packet)

1 tsp mixed spice

175g butter, softened (solid coconut milk)

175g golden caster sugar

3 large eggs (3 large tbsp apple sauce)

3 tbsps milk (liquid coconut milk)

500g preferred dried fruit (I used lots of candied peel and freeze-dried strawberries. And chocolate chips)

50g chopped almonds

zest of 1 orange and 1 lemon (I just splashed in some juice)

To decorate:

More marzipan (about 300g)

Mini eggs/Easter chicks/sugared flowers

How to Bake:

Preheat your oven to 150C/Gas Mark 2 and line a baking tin. Ideally it should be a 20cm one, but I’ve used a 23cm one, so something about that size.

If you’re using marzipan, you get a choice. You can either cut it into chunks, or you can roll it into a baking-tin-sized layer.

Sieve the flour, baking powder and mixed spice into a large mixing bowl. Beat in the butter, sugar and eggs, then whisk in the milk.

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Carefully fold in the dried fruits and almonds and add in the lemon and orange zest. It’s at this point that you add in marzipan chunks. Hold your horses if you went with the layer-option.

Tip into tin. If you went with the layer-option for the marzipan, tip half of the mixture into the tin, spread it out, place the marzipan on top, and then pour the other half on top.

Bake for about two and a half hours, until firm and springy and a knife come out clean, etc.

Decorating’s probably quite straightforward, given the items at hand. Roll the marzipan into a circle; place carefully on top. It shouldn’t cover the sides. Decorate as desired.

Good Friday: Eggs and Buns

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I’ve been spending quite a bit of time in the kitchen this week, with all the Easter goodies to make, starting with family-sized Easter eggs.

I still remember when the extra treats that came with an Easter egg were found inside the egg; it’s more fun that way, I think. So before I glue the two halves together, I fill it with mini eggs and any other sweets or treats I like.

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And because it’s Good Friday, I’ve made hot cross buns. I don’t approve of all this eating of hot cross buns all year ’round: they’re for Good Friday. And nothing tastes better than freshly baked hot cross buns with melting butter and home-made jam.

However, I did have to make a slight alteration to proper hot cross buns, because of Mark’s aversion to dried grapes, so ours have candied peel instead. Our Simnel cake will be like that too.

An Exercise in Self-Control

“I can resist all things,” said Oscar Wilde, “except temptation.”  Or something like that.

Anyway, it doesn’t really matter, since the end of temptations are nigh. Or, in the case of Catholics, already at an end. The Vatican apparently allows for Lent to end at sundown on Maundy Thursday.

There’s something about a Christian festival, in previously Christian countries, to get all the anti-Church people leaping up and down about the non-Christian nature of said festival. Now, I’m not going to deny that the early Church had a habit of appropriating local festivals to win over the people. The birth of Jesus, for instance, probably wasn’t in December. To be honest, though, cheer and party in September (when we/early Christians are all busy with harvests) or in the middle of winter when it’s cold and dark and there’s not much else to do? Which would you prefer?

The thing that’s annoying me at the moment, and which annoys me every year because it pops up every Easter, is that thing which says that Easter was originally the celebration of an Assyrian/Babylonian goddess of love called Ishtar. As a goddess of love, and therefore probably also fertility, it makes sense for such a goddess to be celebrated in the Spring. The Assyrians and Babylonians weren’t the only ones to think so. The Norse had a sacrifice combined with a market at the end of winter called Dísablót, meaning a sacifice to the ladies, to the goddesses.

There’s another idea that Easter comes from Eostre, a Germanic goddess whom Bede says gave her month to that which became April. There’s not much else about Eostre, and Bede was an 8th century Christian. Since the word Easter is derived from the same roots as Eostre, it would be lovely to say that Easter is Eostre’s festival.

Except that Easter is only Easter in a few languages, notably English and German. In most other languages, the name for the festival is derived from the Latin name: the Paschal Sacrifice, which derives from the Hebrew Pesach. Which is the festival of Passover. 

The reason that Easter is at this time of the year is this: Jesus was crucified at Passover. And Passover is a Spring festival.

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Mark and I (mostly me) decided that this year we’d make us an Easter egg, since I have various egg-moulds.We picked the big one. It’s going to be the better part of a kilo of chocolate. 🙂

Have you noticed how Easter eggs have changed? I remember when I was little (oh so many years ago!) the treats were inside the eggs.

I was thinking earlier that, if the companies really were keen on reducing packaging, then they’d go back to putting sweets or mini eggs or whatever inside. Because that’s just sensible space economy. Reduces waste-packaging and makes the egg more exciting.

So that’s what we’re going to do with our, what you might call, family-sized egg…

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I went to the Chocolate Festival and I bought…

…Not as much, nor tasted as much, as I would have liked. Sadly. I know, it’s my own fault, nobody forced me to give up sugar/added sweeteners for Lent. That and it was frankly far too cold to be standing around for long periods of time. Those poor people at the stalls! Although, at least the chocolate wasn’t melting, I suppose!

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There’s a chocolate festival twice a year at London’s Southbank Centre: one on Palm Sunday weekend (so this one just gone: yes! Only a week left of Lent!) and one at the beginning of Advent. I try to go to both. Not because I really expect it to change so much, but because I like chocolate. I like seeing what other people are doing with it and seeing if there are any new ideas I can take away to test with chocolate myself. I try to experiment with chocolate as much as I can. There’ll be more chocolate experiments after Easter. Promise.

Anyway, I decided that this year I was going to reward myself for managing my Lenten fast (without even any noticeable cravings either! I’m quite impressed!), so I bought an Easter egg. I know, so original of me, an egg at Easter…

This egg was made in Kent, by a company called STAS chocolatier. Quite honestly, I’m looking forward to Easter!

Semlor

Semlor

As promised, a recipe for Gerda’s favourite treat:
To make a dozen semlor, you will need: (a talar measure)
• 25g of yeast
• 75g of margarine or butter
• 200ml of milk
• 2 eggs
• 1 teaspoon of salt
• Half a teaspoon of cardamom
• 500ml of sugar
• 700ml of plain flour
• 2 teaspoons of baking powder
For the filling and topping, you will also need:
• Roughly grated almond paste (or marzipan if you can’t find almond paste)
• Whipping cream
• Milk
• Icing sugar
How to make a semla:
• First, melt the butter or margarine in a saucepan, add the milk and heat until lukewarm.
• Crumble the yeast into a bowl, and add some of the liquid to dissolve the yeast.
• Add the remaining liquid, plus the salt, cardamom, 1 egg, sugar and 600ml of the flour.
• Work the mixture together into a dough.
• Cover with a cloth and leave the dough to rise for around 30 minutes.
• Mix together and work into a dough, a kitchen-machine makes this easy.
• Mix together the baking powder and remaining flour and work into the dough. Knead the dough until it becomes smooth.
• Separate dough into maximum 12 round balls.
• Lightly grease some baking sheets, put the buns onto the sheets and allow them to rise for 35-40 minutes.
• Beat the other egg and use a brush to glaze the tops of the buns.
• Heat the oven to 250 degrees C and bake the semlor in the middle for 10 minutes.
• Cover the buns with a cloth and allow to cool on a wire rack.
• Before eating your semlor:
• Cut a circular “lid” off the top of each bun. Use a spoon to scoop out the inside of the bun.
• Mix together the grated almond paste with the inside of the bun, add milk to make a smooth mixture and use this mixture to fill the hole.
• Whip the cream and spoon the cream on top of the bun filling.
• Replace the lid of the bun and decorate with icing sugar
I’ve just tested this recipe and I feel that there are a few things which you should note. Firstly, it says 700ml of flour…I think it means at least a litre. I found that the 600ml flour didn’t make a very doughy dough. It’s true I’ve never made semlor before so I don’t know what it should look like at the different stages, but I’ve made dough before. Any Swedes out there like to test this and let me know?
Secondly, almond paste can be made by using equal amounts of ground almonds and icing sugar mixed with one egg white. I used 200g of each which worked quite well.
Thirdly, these can be quite sweet and very filling.