March 24, 2008
An Easter Egg Feast
In case you hadn't noticed, Easter is all about eggs. This may sound trite but for me this year it really was. Maybe because I am working as a baker right now and have learned a lot of fun things about the art of pastry, or maybe because my mom always did a lot of baking for holidays... either way I did an almost all-pastry Easter brunch this year. The only thing that was not made of pastry was the salumi and tomino cheese plate, which of course I bought at work.
Eggs are beautiful as well as symbolic. They are synonymous with Easter, not because of any Christian import, but because of the pagan ritual of Springtime celebrations that focus on Nature. Eggs symbolize rebirth and renewal, as well as fertility. They also happen to be the number one ingredient in baking.
The first thing I made, two days ahead, was this "Torta di Pasqua" (Italian Easter tart). It came from a magazine, La Cucina Italiana, which has recently been published in here. I learned from them that this is a traditional thing to make on Easter because it holds up for a few days, is even better on the second and third day, and travels well to the Easter Monday picnic I spoke of in my previous post.
It starts with a basic pate brisé, or non-sweet pastry dough, similar to pie dough. The filling is made with ricotta cheese, diced ham (I used Boar's Head Black Forest), fresh marjoram or thyme, salt and pepper and lots and lots of eggs (12-14 depending on the size of your cake pan). An 11-inch springform was called for, but not owning one that large, I used a 9 inch round cake pan instead. In the future I will use the springform as it makes for a much prettier presentation. The cool thing about this tart was that is is like a quiche, but also like a cheesecake, but one with a pastry top and whole eggs baked in the middle! You roll your chilled pastry out, lay it in the pan, pour in the filling, then make indentations with the back of a large spoon and crack a whole egg in each one, like so...
Then you lay your second rolled out disk on top, pinch the edges together, sprinkle the top with coarse salt and cumin (I used flax) or dark sesame seeds, and bake for about an hour or until the top is puffed and golden.
Next up, I had to counter the savory tart with something sweet so I made something else I've never made before: a Swiss Easter rice tart that I had seen in NYTimes Dining & Wine last week.
I made it on Sat. night. It was a simple tart, with a custardy filling made of white rice, milk, sugar, eggs, lemon zest and almond meal (or ground almonds mixed with a little flour). It was very easy to make. I love making tarts and my 10-inch removable tart pan is probably the most used pan in my baking arsenal. Everyone raved about the lemony, nutty, not too sweet tart. Who knew the Swiss could bake?
And, as if I hadn't used enough eggs or butter, I whipped up some Hot Cross Buns on Sunday morning just for fun. I'd never made them (or even eaten them) before, as they were not in our family's Italian repertoire. I learned to make them at work on Friday and it was easy enough to duplicate at home. You make a brioche dough first (c'mon, I know you all know how to do that), then add golden raisins and nutmeg and mix into the eggy, buttery dough, mix with the dough hook for a while, then chill overnight if you want. I find that working with yeasty things that need to rise, breaking it up into stages makes it a lot less overwhelming.
On Sunday morning I woke up, took out my dough, shaped them into little 3-oz balls, laid them aside to rise just like Jesus, and popped them in the oven after making the requisite little crosses on top with a knife. They baked in less than 20 min. and came out smelling divine just in time for my guests to arrive. I let them cool a bit, iced the crosses and handed them out with coffee for a little warming goodness before the main dishes.
(Long post, I know, lots of baking. Can't say I didn't warn you).
We sipped mimosas, nibbled on deviled eggs and egg-shaped cookies--as I said, I used a few eggs, but who's counting?-- and enjoyed my pastry labors in good company. I must look insane to some of you with all this work for one meal, but for me it's a labor of love. There is nothing I like more than making something from scratch that transforms into a beautiful and edible thing, to be shared with the people I love. My mom, whose favorite season was Spring and who loved baking as much as I do, would be proud.