For many reasons this year it will be a very last minute Easter for our family. Then again, life is full of complications and even under some very different-as-planned circumstances, there’s time to appreciate the renewal and hope that Easter brings. And the three items that we will definitely find the time and will to do are, for me, the Easter staples – horseradish, eggs and lamb.
They carry the message of Easter – that after bitterness, that is a part of life as well, come new beginnings that we should be grateful for. As a child I put some horseradish, coloured eggs and a lamb cake, among other food into a decorated basket to bring it to church for the blessing. It was not though until I was a teacher at a Jewish primary school and was invited to take part in the Passover Seder that I realized how much interconnected the traditions were and how the symbols of the Jewish celebration sank into Easter European Easter feast.
Horseradish reminds you of the bitterness in life. Its flavour and smell is so strong that eating it, not to mention preparing it brings tears into your eyes. In my husband’s family they prepared the traditional grated horseradish. It was a man’s job that needed hardware and persistence. Maciek and his father put old pilot or swimming goggles to prevent from crying and gloves to prevent hands from being burnt and grated the root. The mixture is super strong so to soften it a bit you add some cream and hard boiled eggs, yet, still a spoonful makes you gasp for air and your eyes wet. In my family, my mum and me made a bit of a cheat horseradish to cut out the grating part. We took a shop-bought horseradish in the jar, pressed it through the sieve to remove any cream or other additives and to be left with the strong horseradish essence. Then we added some cream, lemon juice, sugar, salt and pepper to taste. This version is very mild and child-friendly, which is probably why I love, and always have, horseradish so much.
Most of my childhood I was blissfully unaware of chocolate eggs yet got as much excited about colouring and painting the hard boiled ones. My grandparents used the old natural method to colour them. You wrap each eggs snugly into the outer layers of the onion and let them boil on a low heat for 15 to 25 minutes. Depending on the type of onion they get an even reddish to brownish tint. I fancy all the pastel colours you can dye your eggs into and for that I use a shop-bought egg dyes dissolved in hot water and a spoon of plain vinegar. One by one you place your already hard-boiled eggs into the solution and keep them there fully covered, for 5 to 10 minutes. Let them dry on on a kitchen paper and turn them gently once drying to avoid spots. To add a glossy finish I sometimes rub them with butter. I cannot think of a greater way to tablescape – just make sure to play the cracking game at your Easter table.
My great grandmother, Anna, had a state-of-art, brass, lamb-shaped mold for Easter baking. Then it was passed to my grandmother, Zosia, who baked not one, not two, but four lamb cakes and would bring them for her brother and sisters and their families. The cake is a gorgeously simple sponge cake recipe of three ingredients – eggs, sugar and flour and makes a great morning start with a cup of coffee or tea. The recipe itself, when I laid my hands on it, was a bit of a puzzle as it read like this:
4 eggs / sugar
3 eggs / flour
It took me a while to get my head around that but once I remembered the old scale in my grandmother’s kitchen all that pieces of the egg riddle came together. The recipe is all about proportions and once you weigh your eggs you know exactly how much sugar and flour you need. So here’s the recipe for a great Easter lamb, bunny or chicken shaped cake that will also be enough for a medium height sponge cake baked in a regular round mold:
the weight of 4 eggs of icing sugar
the weight of 3 eggs of plain flour
Preheat your oven to a 160°C / gas mark 3.
Grease you Easter shape mold or the regular round mold with butter.
Separate the eggs and whisk the yolks with the sugar until smooth and pale.
Spoon by spoon add the flour and mix until well combined.
In a separate bowl beat the eggs whites until stiff.
Combine by slowly adding the beaten foamy whites into the yolk, sugar and flour mixture.
Pour into the baking mold and place on the middle shelf of the oven for 40-45 minutes. After 25 minutes check on the cake and turn 180 degrees. Once golden brown take out of the oven and let to cool. Carefully remove from the mold, especially if using a shaped one.
If baking a lamb cake use 2 pretty cloves for the eyes and decorate with icing sugar, icing or chocolate. Enjoy with your morning coffee or tea on Easter or later on.
Happy Easter everyone.