The breads of Easter are a celebration of cultures and traditions, of roots and rituals. Some, like hot cross buns from England and babka from Poland, are well known in this country.
But the special breads of Easter also include the towering fruit-studded kulich of orthodox Russia, the colorful egg-cradling folares of Portugal, the cheese-richened crescia of Italy, spice buns from Jamaica — and many more.
I started making tsoureki — a braided wreath from Greece — because it was a great way to showcase my children’s dyed eggs. It became part of our family tradition and is a fun centerpiece for the table even if you don’t have kids to do the messy egg-dying part.
Mahlepi is a granular flavoring made from the inner kernels of a Persian cherry pit. You can find in Greek markets, but in a pinch I think a mixture of ground cardamom and lemon zest approximates its citrus-like flavor.
I thought this cornbread biscotti was incredibly clever and would make a great accompaniment to Easter ham. It’s from Tammy Algood in Sunday Dinner in the South (Thomas Nelson, $26.99). You can skip the jalapeño or use a sweet pepper instead if you don’t like the heat. The biscotti are great with soup as well.
The cookbook is a homage to Southern cooks and after-church feasts and an encouragement to us all to gather family and friends around a home-cooked meal.
Rarely does a cookbook move me as much as Food, Family and Tradition: Hungarian Kosher Family Recipes and Remembrances by Lynn Kirsche Shapiro (The Cherry Press, $35). Treasured family recipes are woven with stories of Jewish life in Eastern Europe before the Holocaust, and the horrific memories of the author’s parents, Sandor and Margit Kirsche, who survived Auschwitz and Buchenwald.
As Shapiro puts it, “the memories ... enrich the recipes with flavor, some sweet, some bittersweet and some bitter.” The voice of one family becomes the voice of many who lived in that time and place.
Margit Kirsche made the flourless chocolate nut cake recipe here for Passover, and in the book it is accompanied by her memory of the last day of Pesach in 1944. Her uncle arrived.
“I was so happy to see him, because I loved my uncle and was always happy when he came over,” she writes. “Then he started to cry. He said that all Jews would have to leave their homes. ... We tried to escape. My uncle’s family and my family each hired a non-Jew with a wagon to take us away separately. We hoped we could hide out until the war was over, but the Nazis caught us. ... That was the last time I saw anyone from my uncle’s family. None of them survived.”
Margit and Sandor immigrated to America and eventually founded Hungarian Kosher Foods in the Chicago area, the largest all-kosher supermarket in the Midwest.
Tried and New
Just discovered the frozen fillo shells Athens makes now, much easier to use than the fragile sheets. They are already baked, so you just pop them out and fill. I had the Key lime tarts here ready in minutes, so they’re a quick and easy addition to the Easter table or spring brunch. Available in most supermarkets in the freezer section near the desserts and pie crusts; about $2 for 15.
Send questions and responses to LindaCiceroCooks@aol.com or Food, The Miami Herald, 3511 NW 91st Ave., Doral, FL 33172.
Easter Egg Wreath
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 sticks butter or margarine
2/3 cup milk
4 to 5 cups all-purpose flour
1 package active dry yeast
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon mahlepi powder, or substitute 1 teaspoon cardamom and zest of 1 lemon
5 hard-cooked eggs, colored, at room temperature
1 egg yolk beaten with 1 tablespoon water
In a microwave-proof bowl, combine salt, sugar, butter and milk and warm for 2 minutes, to about 125 degrees (use a thermometer if possible, or estimate “very warm but not hot”). In the large bowl of an electric mixer, combine 1 cup of the flour with yeast. Add warm milk mixture, eggs, vanilla and mahlepi, or cardamom and lemon peel. Beat at low speed, scraping bowl, until moistened. Then beat at high speed for 3 minutes (or beat by hand 5 minutes). With a wooden spoon, beat in enough of the remaining flour (about 1 1/3 cups) to make a stiff dough. Turn dough out onto a floured board; knead until smooth and satiny, adding flour as needed to prevent sticking. Place dough in a greased bowl; turn over to grease top. Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled (about 45 minutes to 1 1/2 hours).
Punch dough down, knead briefly on lightly floured board to release air, and divide into 3 equal portions. Gently roll each with your hands to make a rope about 28 inches long. Place ropes side by side on a greased 12-by-15-inch baking sheet; pinch tops together. Braid, then curve braid to form a ring, pinching ends together.
Press colored eggs upright between ropes of dough. Cover and let rise until almost doubled (about 30 minutes). Press eggs into dough again if necessary. Brush egg yolk mixture evenly over braid, without touching eggs (if it splashes the eggs it will simply make dots in the dye). Bake in a preheated 350-degree oven for 25 to 35 minutes or until richly browned. Let cool on a rack. Makes 1 loaf, 18 servings.
Per serving: 272 calories (36 percent from fat), 10.9 g fat (5.9 g saturated, 3.2 g monounsaturated), 122 mg cholesterol, 6.9 g protein, 36 g carbohydrate, 1 g fiber, 228 mg sodium.
Flourless Chocolate Nut Cake
10 eggs, separated
1 cup sugar
6 ounces dark chocolate, melted and cooled
2 cups walnuts, finely ground
Pinch of salt
Optional raspberry sauce (see note)
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9- or 10-inch springform pan with nonstick cooking spray. Line bottom with parchment paper cut to fit. In the work bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat egg yolks with sugar until thick and light yellow. Using a spatula, fold in the chocolate. Then fold in the nuts.
In a separate large bowl beat egg whites until stiff, adding a pinch of salt when almost done. Carefully fold the whites into the cake mixture. Pour cake batter into prepared pan. Bake cake in the center of the oven for 1 hour, until a cake tester inserted in center comes out clean. Remove pan to a rack to cool. Using a thin spatula loosen sides and remove from pan. Transfer to a serving platter. Slice and serve with fruit sauce on the side, if desired. Makes 12 servings.
Note: To make a fresh raspberry sauce, place 1 pint raspberries in a food processor fitted with the steel blade and purée. Add sugar and continue to purée until almost liquid. If desired, strain sauce to remove the seeds. Refrigerate and cover until needed. Makes about 1 cup.
Per serving: 330 calories (56 percent from fat), 21 g fat (5 g saturated, 4.6 g monounsaturated), 156 mg cholesterol, 9 g protein, 28 g carbohydrate, 2.3 g fiber, 95 mg sodium.
Source: “Food, Family and Tradition” by Lynne Kirsche Shapiro.
Key Lime Tarts
1/2 cup softened cream cheese
1/4 cup sweetened condensed milk
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1/4 teaspoon lime zest
1 package (15 count) mini fillo shells
2 thin slices of lime, cut into eighths, for garnish
In a small bowl, combine cream cheese and milk. Mix until light and fluffy. Add lime juice and lime zest. Mix thoroughly. Chill for 1 hour. Spoon or pipe 2 teaspoons of filling into each fillo shell. Garnish with sliced lime. Serve immediately. Makes 15.
Per serving: 98 calories (49 percent from fat), 5.4 g fat (3.1 g saturated, 0.8 g monounsaturated), 21.9 mg cholesterol, 1.8 g protein, 10.6 g carbohydrate, 0 g fiber, 55 mg sodium.
Jalapeño Cornbread Biscotti
2 (6-ounce) packages buttermilk cornbread mix
1 cup shredded pepper jack cheese, divided
2 large jalapeño peppers, seeded and minced
4 tablespoons butter, cut into pieces
3 large eggs, divided
1/4 cup buttermilk
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and lightly grease. In the bowl of a food processor, combine the cornbread mix, 3/4 cup of the pepper jack and jalapeños. Add the butter and pulse 5 times until crumbly.
In a medium bowl whisk together 2 of the eggs and the buttermilk. With the processor running, gradually add the egg mixture through the chute and process until well moistened. Spread the thick batter onto the prepared baking sheet using lightly greased hands. In a small bowl whisk the remaining egg and brush over the top of the batter. Sprinkle evenly with the remaining 1/4 cup cheese. Bake for 20 minutes or until pale brown. Let cool on the baking sheet on a wire rack for 10 minutes and reduce the oven temperature to 300 degrees.
Slide the loaf onto a cutting board and cut into 1/2-inch diagonal slices with a serrated knife. Place a new piece of parchment on the baking sheet and place the slices flat. Bake 15 to 17 minutes on each side or until golden and crisp. Cool on the baking sheet on a wire rack for 15 minutes. Serve warm. Makes 15.
Note: The prepared biscotti can be frozen up to 2 weeks.
Per serving: 166 calories (49 percent from fat), 9 g fat (4.4 g saturated, 3.4 g monounsaturated), 53 mg cholesterol, 4.8 g protein, 16 g carbohydrate, 1.5 g fiber, 344 mg sodium.
Source: “Sunday Dinner in the South” by Tammy Algood (Reproduced with permission of Nelson Books).