The holidays of Easter and Passover occur close to each other every year, giving most of the world something to celebrate in March or April. Whether this is a time for religious reflection or a tribute to the Easter Bunny, it is always wonderful when family and friends gather together. The noisy laughter and crowds at the tables always make for fun times and memories long remembered. If you are hosting an event this year, take a few minutes to think about how you can create something that will thrill all of your guests.
When I am hosting, I usually start planning about a month in advance – if I have that luxury. I start with the attendees and date. Then I work through any dietary restrictions, lifestyle choices (vegetarian, etc.), and then personal preferences. If I know someone’s favorite dessert is Lemon Meringue Pie, chances are good that it will show up on the menu. When the invitations go out, I always ask for any requests and allergies. You can’t believe how many people are thrilled that I think to ask them ahead of time. I can’t imagine not having that information before finalizing the menu.
The springtime gives us all the ingredients for a stunning tablescape. Start with small potted flowers, in a variety of colors, or keep everything the in the same shade. It would be fun to have a flower for everyone to take home. Look through your cabinets and see if you can find a variety of bowls that are deep enough to hold the pots. Make sure they are watertight so you can keep the plants moist. Set them in the bowls and top each with a little dry moss that you can find at any craft store. Set these in a row down the center of the table and fill in the spaces in between with an assortment of candles, Easter candies, colored eggs, or whatever traditions your family enjoys. Make sure you leave room for salt and pepper shakers, a butter dish, etc.
I always set my table at least two days ahead, turning the plates upside down and labeling all serving dishes with what they will hold. Then on the day of the party I turn the plates upright, add the glasswear, and finishing touches. Then when my food is ready to go, the table will be all set and beautiful!
Today’s Walnut Cake is one of my favorites. I have made a few modifications so that it fulfills the dietary rules of Passover, but it can be enjoyed by anyone, anytime of the year! It is a refreshing change from the chocolate desserts so prevalent, and you can change the type of fruit you use for the filling and sauce to anything you like and whatever is in season. I like the fact that you can use frozen fruits to make the sauce, keeping it brightly flavored even in the middle of winter.
When you are working with the cake layers, be very careful with them. Because there is no flour to bind them, they are very fragile. I use cardboard rounds when inverting them to give them extra support. This makes a fairly thin cake, but if you want a more eye-catching presentation, make the recipe twice and create a four-layer cake. Don’t double the recipe. You can leave it simple or decorate it as you like. Coconut would a fun addition for its flavor and chewiness. That would make it taste a bit like an Anzac cookie, another of my favorite desserts.
As good as this is on the day it is made, I like it equally as well the day after. If timing is an issue for you, or you need to transport this cake, you can make it a day ahead. Take extra sauce with you to cover up any boo-boos that may happen while you are getting it from your house to the party.
The Hot Cross Buns are fairly quick rising rolls and can be made the day of your event. You want to start them first thing in the morning so you won’t be worried about getting them done on time. If you want them to be hot from the oven, work your way backwards from serving time, allowing an extra half hour or so of leeway in case you need it. A little extra rising time never hurts. You can bake these while your main course is resting after coming out of the oven.
The recipe calls for golden raisins which are much moister than regular dark raisins. If you don’t have them on hand, you can use dark raisins, but you should plump them in hot water for about 5 minutes first to rehydrate them. It also calls for candied citron and oranges. King Arthur sells a wonderful blend of candied fruits called European Mixed Peel that contains sweetened orange, lemon, and citron. It would be perfect for these rolls as well as the Italian bread Panettone. Slightly sweet with a light sugar glaze, these buns will bring smiles to everyone’s faces.
I hope your holiday celebrations are joyous and full of laughter. Happy Passover, Happy Easter, Happy Spring!!
Jane’s Tips and Hints:
If you regularly bake and take cakes and pies to other people’s houses, it is worth investing in a carrier. There are many on the market, some with specialty inserts for cupcakes and pies. The one I own has kept many of my baked goods safe and sound on road trips. You can buy it from Amazon here. My only caution is to never trust the handle that comes with it – unless it is on perfectly, it can come unattached and your goodies will wind up on the floor … yes, this is the voice of experience talking, LOL.
Kitchen Skill: Making Superfine Sugar
Some recipes call for superfine, Baker’s, or caster sugar. This is regular white sugar that has been ground extra fine. It dissolves much more easily, particularly in cold liquids. You can spend the extra money and buy a branded version, or save the money and make your own. Put regular granulated white sugar in a food processor and let it run until the grains are extremely finely ground. Then measure and use as directed in your recipes.
- 1/2 cup warm milk
- 1 package active dry yeast
- 1/2 tsp plus 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 2 cups plus 3 tbsp all-purpose flour, plus more as needed
- 1/2 tsp ground allspice
- 1/4 tsp cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 5 tbsp unsalted butter, cut into small pieces and softened
- 2 eggs, divided
- 2 tbsp golden raisins (or regular raisins)
- 2 tbsp diced candied citron, or lemon peel
- 2 tbsp diced candied orange peel
- 4 tbsp superfine sugar
- 3 tbsp water
- In the bowl of a stand mixer, stir together the milk, yeast and the 1/2 tsp granulated sugar. Set aside until foamy, about 5 minutes.
- In a medium bowl, mix together the 2 cups flour, allspice, cinnamon, salt, and the 1/4 cup granulated sugar. Add half of the flour mixture to the milk mixture. Using the flat beater, mix until combined. Add the butter and 1 egg and mix to combine. Add the remaining flour mixture and beat until a soft dough forms.
- Fit the mixer with the dough hook and knead until the dough is smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. If needed, add flour, 1 tbsp at a time (up to 1/4 cup), to keep the dough from being sticky. Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled large bowl and turn to coat with the oil. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm, draft-free place until doubled in bulk, about 1-1/2 hours.
- Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Punch down the dough and knead in the raisins, citron and orange peel. Shape the dough into a 12-inch log and cut into 12 equal pieces. A bench scraper is perfect for portioning the dough. Cover with plastic wrap and let rest for 10 minutes. Shape each piece into a ball and place on the prepared baking sheet, spacing the buns 1-1/2 inches apart. Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about 45 minutes.
- Preheat an oven to 400°F.
- In a bowl, mix together the remaining egg with 3 tbsp of the superfine sugar to make a glaze.
- In another bowl, combine the remaining 3 tbsp flour, 1 tbsp superfine sugar and the water to make a paste for the crosses. Transfer the paste to a pastry bag fitted with a small tip.
- Brush the buns with the egg glaze and pipe a cross onto each. Bake until golden, 10 to 12 minutes. Serve warm.
- Yield: 12 buns
- 6 eggs, separated
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 tbsp grated lemon zest
- 3 tbsp lemon juice
- 1 cup finely chopped walnuts or pecans (grind in a food processor)
- 1/4 cup fine dry plain breadcrumbs or matzo meal
- 3 tbsp cornstarch or potato starch
- 1/2 tsp salt
- Raspberry Filling
- 1/2 cup seedless raspberry jam (or other flavor of your choice)
- Raspberry Sauce
- 1 (10 oz) package frozen raspberries in syrup, thawed or 2-1/2 cups fresh raspberries (if using fresh berries, increase sugar to 1/4 cup)
- 2 tbsp sugar, or to taste
- 1 tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice, or to taste.
- Freshly whipped cream
- Fresh mint
- Fresh raspberries
- Grease bottoms of two 9-inch layer pans. Line bottoms with parchment and butter parchment. Preheat oven to 325°F.
- Make the Cake: In a large bowl, at medium speed, beat egg yolks until well blended. Gradually beat in sugar and beat 5 minutes. Color will lighten considerably to a pale yellow. Add lemon zest and juice. At low speed, add nuts, breadcrumbs, cornstarch, and salt.
- In another bowl, beat egg whites to stiff peaks. Gently fold into nut mixture trying not to deflate egg whites any more than necessary. Spoon into prepared pans and smooth surface. Bake 25 minutes or until cake springs back when touched lightly in center.
- While cake is baking make Filling: Heat jam in a small saucepan until liquid. Strain seeds. Push through strainer twice if desired. Cover and chill until ready to use.
- Make the Sauce: Combine the sauce ingredients in a food processor or blender. Puree until smooth. Taste and adjust sugar and lemon juice to taste. Using a very fine wire sieve, press mixture with the back of a spoon, extracting all the liquid and removing all the seeds. If necessary, pour through the sieve twice to get all the seeds. Transfer to a small pitcher or squeeze bottle. Will keep, refrigerated, for up to 3 days.
- Assemble Cake: Very carefully remove cakes from pans (they are delicate). Invert on racks, remove parchment, turn back upright and cool completely. When cooled, place one layer on a cake plate. Spread with raspberry filling. Top with second layer.
- To Serve: Slice, drizzle with the glaze, and serve with a dollop of whipped cream, sprig of mint, and fresh raspberries on each slice. Store, covered, in the refrigerator. Let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes before slicing and serving. This is a rich cake, so start with slender slices and let people come back for seconds.