One of my most awaited festivals, when I headed the Bakery Pastry in my earlier job role as an Executive Pastry Chef. While we made a gamut of festive specialties,this time of the year, I always made it a point to share with my team the details and reasons of baking these specialties. Some which have always been synonymous with Easter while others which have slowly started being.
Easter Sunday is the most important day of the year for Christians. It is when they celebrate resurrection of the Christ post three days after crucifixion and defeating evil forever
A lot of Churches start the Easter Sunday celebrations at midnight on Easter Eve. Candles are used in churches all over the world to start the Easter Day Midnight celebrations. Candles help Christians to remember that Jesus is the light of the world and that when he rose to life on Easter Day he got rid of the darkness of evil.
In some churches, the service starts in darkness. Then twelve candles are lit and these are taken round the rest of the church lighting the other candles. When a candle is lit the Priest says ‘Christis Risen!’ and the congregation respond ‘He is Risen Indeed!’
Lots of Christians also go to Sunrise services to celebrate the start of Easter Day Churches are filled with flowers on Easter Day. These represent new life. Priests wear their best, brightest robes in celebration. If a Church has a model of a tomb in it from Good Friday it will be empty with the stone rolled away, as it was on the first Easter Day.
In Greece,, fireworks are sometimes used to start the service. In Italy, the Pope holds a very large Communion service in St Peter’s Square in the Vatican City. Thousands of people from all over the world go to it to celebrate Easter Day.
Easter Day is the end of Lent and means the end of some people’s fasting.
There are some special foods eaten at Easter time, one of the most famous are Hot Cross Buns. These are often eaten on Good Friday. These are yeast dough buns with currants and raisins in them. They were eaten all year round in pagan, pre-Christian times; the bun represented the moon and the four quarters, the four seasons. Christians took over this yummy tradition and changed the meaning so the cross represented the cross that Jesus died on
Pancakes are eaten on Shrove Tuesday, traditionally to use up all the fatty foods before Lent. In Denmark they eat ‘Shrovetide Buns’.
In Italy, salty Pretzels are traditionally eaten at Easter time. In Russia, little pancakes called ‘Blinis’ topped with anchovies and a mixture of cream, soft cream, dried fruit and orange peel called ‘Paska’ are eaten. A traditional Greek Easter cake is made with oranges and almonds in it. It is eaten with a spicy orange sauce poured over it.
And, of course, there are Easter Eggs!!!
Another specialty at Easter time is Simnel Cake. This is a rich fruit cake covered with a layer of Marzipan. There are 12 marzipan balls put around the top of the cake that represent the 11 faithful disciples, apostles, of Jesus; Sometimes, just 11 excluding Judas, for reasons best known. The cake also has a layer of Marzipan in the middle of it! It is traditionally eaten on Mothering Sunday in the U.K. which is always on the middle Sunday of Lent. Simnel Cakes were first made by servant girls and maids to take home to their mothers on Mothering Sunday but today are made exclusively on Easter Sunday.
Allow me to share one of my most perfected recipes. One, because it is my favourite and two, because I love the simplicity of this festive cake.
225g butter, softened, plus extra to grease
225g self-raising flour
2tsp ground mixed spice
400g mixed dried fruit
150g light muscovado sugar
50g golden syrup
Finely grated zest of 2 lemons
4 medium eggs, lightly beaten to decorate too
Icing sugar, to dust
2tbsp apricot jam
Preheat oven to 170°C. Grease two, 4 inch round cake tins with butter and line with baking parchment.
In a large bowl, stir together flour, mixed spice and dried fruit until combined. Put the butter, muscovado sugar, syrup and lemon zest into a separate large bowl and beat together using a handheld electric whisk until pale and fluffy, about 3min. Gradually beat in eggs, whisking well after each addition. Add flour mixture and fold everything together.
Empty mixture into prepared tin and bake, covering with foil after 1hr of cooking, for 1hr 25min, or until cake is risen and springy to the touch.
Skewer inserted into the centre should come out clean, but don’t be tempted to test too early or the cake may sink.
Leave to cool completely in tin. Take cake out of tin, peel off parchment and transfer to a serving plate. To decorate, dust the work surface with icing sugar and roll out two-thirds of the marzipan until large enough for 5 inch circle Heat jam with 1tsp water in a small pan over a medium heat until runny. Brush the top of the cake with some jam, then lay the marzipan circle on top and gently press down to stick. Crimp the edge of the marzipan using the thumb and forefinger of one hand, and the index finger of the other.
Roll remaining marzipan into 11 or 12 button sized balls. Brush the underside of each with a little jam or water and stick to the top of the cake. If you like, use a blowtorch to lightly brown the marzipan. Serve in slices.