With Easter just around the corner, families are no doubt planning get-togethers for the long weekend. The two bank holidays make it the perfect time to plan some quality time with loved ones, and no Easter would be complete without a feast to celebrate the end of Lent.
Our guest chef, Mark David of The Cooking Experience, has put together some delectable recipes to add to your Easter weekend menu and the mouths of you and your guests watering in anticipation.
PECAN, PARMESAN AND OREGANO FOCACCIA
- 1 kg Strong white flour
- 2 sachets Easy Bake Yeast
- 5 tablespoons approx Olive Oil
- 2 teaspoons Salt
- 2 teaspoons Sugar
- 700ml Warm Water
- 2 tablespoons roughly chopped pecan nuts
- 2 tablespoons freshly grated parmesan cheese
- 1 tablespoon dried oregano
- 8 cloves Garlic, finely chopped
- Combine flour, sugar, salt and yeast together and stir well. Then add the liquids, and stir with a wooden spoon until dough ball is formed.
- Remove the dough ball from the bowl and scrape any debris out of the bowl, adding to the dough. Work the dough with your hands until a clean ball is formed. Knead for 8 minutes.
- Place the kneaded dough ball back in the bowl and prove in a warm place until it has doubled in size – this usually takes about 1 hour.
- Once proved, knock the dough back by kneading again for a couple of minutes, until the air is knocked out of it.
- Add the nuts, cheese and oregano and knead again until these ingredients are incorporated.
- Roll or stretch dough to fit a normal roasting tin. Line the tin with greased Bakewell parchment or Bacoglide. Place dough in tin making sure the dough reaches the sides. With your index finger poke holes about 2 inches apart all over the dough. Pour in some olive oil until the holes are full and sprinkle the garlic over. If you like also add some rock salt over the top
- Prove again for about ¾ hour until doubled in size. Then bake at 180°C (top oven AGA on the floor, with grid shelf) for about 20 minutes. Once baked, turn the focaccia out onto a rack. Test by tapping the bread; if it sounds hollow it’s ready. If it gives and is still squashy, return to the oven.
For ordinary bread, follow the same steps as above but leave out the added flavours.
A traditional lamb roast dinner is the go-to for many hosts at Easter, featuring as the main course on many a table. But what about a starter or something to accompany the roasted centrepiece?
Although we get what we want all the year round in the UK, it’s nice to celebrate seasonal vegetables and fruit – they’re often much more tasty when in season and more affordable too. April is the time to get really good cauliflowers, of a very firm, good size – just steam and drizzle with garlic butter!! Asparagus starts late April, and lasts until late June. English Asparagus is second to none and the less you mess about with it the better. Poach it for four minutes and pour melted butter over the stems if having it with a main course, or alternatively make it the star as starter and partner with Mark’s easy but delicious Hollandaise sauce (recipe below). Finally rhubarb arrives. There’s nothing better than poached rhubarb and custard; just add a teaspoon of grated ginger and the juice and zest of 1 orange when poaching it to give it a really nice, fresh flavour – perfect for spring.
- 4 egg yolks
- 2 tablespoon each of white wine vinegar and white wine
- 250g/8oz butter, melted.
- Whisk the egg yolks with the vinegar over steam in a bain marie for about three minutes – make sure that you don’t stop whisking, otherwise eggs yolks with scramble
- When the bubbles subside and the mixture thickens, take it off the heat and wait two minutes for it to cool. Add the butter slowly, whisking fast as you do so.
- If you’re feeling adventurous, add your favourite fresh herb. Making sure that you chop it well beforehand. Basil, oregano or sage or tarragon all work well.
- This sauce will keep at room temperature for about 30 minutes – for best results make no more than an hour before serving. If there are any leftovers, keep refrigerated and use within a couple of days.
What Easter would be complete without chocolate? If you have room after dinner, this a fabulous cake to round off your meal. Alternatively, enjoy as part of an Easter afternoon tea, or even better, whilst the kids are outside hunting Easter eggs, so you don’t have to share.
MALTESER CHOCOLATE CAKE (SERVES ABOUT 10)
For the sponge:
- 150g/5oz really soft butter, plus a little extra for greasing
- 250g/9oz caster sugar
- 150g/5oz self-raising flour
- 125ml/4½ fl oz sour cream
- 4 medium eggs (at room temperature)
- 50g/2oz cocoa powder
- 1 tsp baking powder
- pinch of salt
- ½ vanilla pod (or few drops of vanilla extract to taste)
For the buttercream:
- 100g/3½ oz dark chocolate (minimum 70 per cent cocoa solids)
- 550g/1¼ lb icing sugar
- 250g/9oz really soft butter
- 2 tbsp milk (or water)
- 4 x 135g packets of brown or white Maltesers
- Preheat the oven to 180°C (fan 160°C) / 350°F, gas mark 4, with the middle shelf at the ready
- Grease 2 x 20cm/8in loose-bottomed sandwich cake tins with a little butter, line the bottoms with discs of baking parchment and sit them on a large baking sheet.
- Put the butter, sugar, flour, sour cream, eggs, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt in a large bowl or in a freestanding electric mixer or a food processor. Split the vanilla pod open, scrape out the seeds and add them as well (or the vanilla extract). Then mix or blend to give a smooth, soft mixture.
- Divide evenly between the cake tins, smooth the tops and place in the oven for 25-30 minutes.
- To check the cakes are baked, insert a skewer into the middle of each cake and if it comes out clean, then they are ready to come out. Remove them from the oven and leave to cool in the tins for a few minutes before carefully removing by sliding a knife around the edge of the tin to loosen the sponges and popping the bottoms out of the tins. Remove the bottom of the tin and leave to cool completely on a wire rack (about 25 minutes).
- When the cakes are almost cool, start making the buttercream. Break the dark chocolate into a medium bowl and melt it in the microwave in 30-second blasts, stirring in between to prevent burning. Otherwise, sit the bowl of chocolate on a medium pan of simmering water, making sure that the water does not touch the bottom of the bowl, as this may make the chocolate grainy, and stir as it melts.
- Sift the icing sugar into the electric mixer or processor bowl (or large bowl if doing by hand). Useful tip: if using a food mixer or processor for this, don’t worry about sifting it as the blade will do a good job of blending any lumps.
- Add the butter and milk (or water) to the icing sugar and beat until it is really light and fluffy. You will need to do this like mad if blending by hand. Then pour in the melted chocolate, stirring all the time.
- Sit one of the cakes on a serving plate or cake stand. A little dollop of buttercream underneath the sponge is a good idea to make sure that the cake doesn’t move around. Then put about a third of the buttercream on top of the sponge and spread it around.
- Sit the other sponge on top of the buttercream layer and spread the remaining buttercream all over so it is completely covered. It doesn’t need to be perfect; doing this is a great excuse to get nice and messy!
- Once you have covered the cake, and of course yourself, suitably in chocolate, take the Maltesers and stick them all over the cake. I am pedantic about this as I want the balls to be in strict rows, so I start at the base of the cake and then go in a line, up the sides, over the top and down the other side. I am not ashamed to say that rulers have been used in the decorating of this cake for a super-sharp line! However, there are no rules – decorate however your heart desires.
- Once covered, carry to the table and serve.