Posts Tagged ‘Easter’

Cheesy Easter

Vermont Triple Cheese Bread

Vermont Triple Cheese Bread

If you invite me for Easter dinner I promise to bring the bread. How much bread depends entirely on what you are cooking for the main course. If you’re cooking a Ham (or buying the spiral-cut kind) I’ll bring a loaf or two and some nice rolls. Lamb or mutton will mean I’ll need to rent a U-haul and make two trips. You’re serving mutton just like your Grandmother used to make? My Grandmother used to make Pickled Tongue but you don’t see me serving that for dinner. Easter dinner tip #1: stick with a main course you don’t have to explain.

In the past I’ve written that I consider a good bread basket to be the lifeboat that can rescue me from a bad meal. Talking mutton and lifeboats conjures images of a culinary Titanic.

Better yet, here’s a novel new idea: The First Annual Easter pot luck. The menu will be comprised solely of the items everyone in attendance gave up for Lent. With my friends in attendance there may be an oversupply of martinis and red wine, but that’s okay because there will also be an oversupply of cake, cookies, and ice cream. It’s called balance, people.

And yes, the point is moot for yours truly. Giving up things for Lent is literally not in my religion, but I can’t resist an occasion marked by a big meal.

How can Easter not be on my mind? Easter candy has been on the shelves of every drug store for what seems like months, the squishy, mellow neon of the Peeps calling my name like a Stay-Puft siren.

This is a good place to mention one of the landmarks of my kitchen: my recipe files. These could perhaps be mistaken for a paper recycling bin. I have a tendency to keep empty flour bags because a recipe printed on the side caught my eye. They tend to sit on the shelf for a while, waiting for an occasion when I will smooth out the wrinkles and bring them to life.

So it was that a long expired bag of King Arthur flour was reincarnated because of the words, “Triple Cheese Bread” printed on the side.

(I am not a paid spokesman for King Arthur flour and did not receive so much as a dusting of flour for this endorsement.)

I’m not sure why I felt like I needed an excuse to bake Triple Cheese bread. This is one of those recipes that deserves the reverse: a day of its own. I imagine that I’ll wake up one morning with the exhortation, “It’s Triple Cheese Bread Day!” on my lips.

In the meantime there’s Easter Dinner. Easter Dinner always holds an interesting allure for me. As much as I love winter, April always seems full of the warm promise of good things to come. (I was Bar Mitzvah-ed in April. Maybe that’s why I like April?)

Depending on the year, April can be both the last gasp of winter and the first whiff of spring, so it is time to celebrate with sun, flowers, and happy food. I think Triple Cheese bread is happy food because it makes me smile.

I repeat this often: if you have a Kitchen Aid stand mixer then baking bread is really no harder than knowing how to set a timer. As this is someone else’s recipe I can only tell you my tips to success.

First: because all of the ingredients in bread can blunt the flavor of cheese, find the sharpest cheddar you can find. This can be tricky. I happened to find a Vermont cheddar by Cabot that they labeled “Seriously Sharp.” Its brininess turned out to be just right. (I’m not a spokesman for Cabot either. But I like this cheese and the implied harmony of pairing Vermont flour with Vermont cheese.)

Even though it may be counterintuitive, I avoided top shelf Parmesan, hoping that the modestly priced domestic version I used would lend enough saltiness and nuttiness to the bread—using the good stuff in a loaf of bread seems like a waste.

The third cheese seems like a cheat. Cottage Cheese? The name aside, I never think of this as cheese, but baking chemistry hints that this is a really good baking ingredient, tenderizing the dough into a pillowy soft foam.

Finally, here’s your choice: I used a loaf pan that is slightly oversized so my bread rose with flat top; use a standard load pan for the old-fashioned dome shaped loaf.

Triple Cheese Loaf isn’t just for dinner. The legendary Schrafft’s restaurants used it famous cheese bread in sandwiches, often pairing it with, what else—grilled, sliced ham.

Did I mention that it is amazing toasted?

No, I didn’t, because you’ll eat the whole loaf that way.


Here’s the Triple Cheese Bread recipe.


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Marshmallow Tweets?

Makes a good brooch too…

Flower Cookie Centerpiece

Flower Cookie Centerpiece

Mr. Maple Tree, a certain gentleman who resides outside of my living room window, has finally started to sprout leaves. I noticed this development about a week ago when one tiny little green bud appeared at the end of a branch. This week he is displaying what looks like green pom-poms. Soon those will grow into full-fledged clusters of green leaves. Tree hugger? Me?

I love winter, but will happily admit that this year’s snow fest was a bit of overkill on the part of Mother Nature. My winter boots asked for disaster pay. (Rim shot, please.)

Bottom line: finally, spring is here.

In the Big Apple this is school vacation week. I live near a middle school that normally clangs with the screeches of hundreds of teens. But the quiet this morning reminded me of a western town in a John Wayne movie just before the Dalton gang arrives. The only thing missing was the tumbleweeds.

I am an unapologetic Peeps addict, so I tend to think of Easter as Christmas with marshmallow. Oh, and instead of poinsettias, tulips and daffodils are on display. While I’d love to have a garden—and a gardener to maintain it—alas, it seems as a dweller of the big city the only crop I seem to be able to grow with any abundance is dust. (There’s a joke there, somewhere. Something about dust bunnies and Easter bunnies, but I haven’t quite figured it out yet.)

I enjoy watching Ina Garten, TV’s Barefoot Contessa walk outside her kitchen door to snip something from her garden and arrange it simply in a water glass and use it as a centerpiece. I could try the same thing, but there’s no rosemary growing in the hallway. (My landlord would frown on that.)

You do what you can with what you’ve got. I can’t grow flowers but I can bake them. So try this on for size: a little Martha Stewart-style crafts project I call the Butter Flour Eggs Cookie Centerpiece.  I started using cookies as cake decoration a while ago, so it is not a stretch for me to try to find other venues in which to display their beauty. (My first thought was to use them as Christmas tree decoration. But living in a New York apartment, there are a few disincentives to leaving food sitting around.)

At heart the cookies are made from basic shortbread dough—my same easy to roll recipe that I used on Valentine’s Day. To my eye these sugary flowers always look like they were drawn with a sparkly crayon, which makes them perfect for occasions where children will be among the celebrants. Using a bit of royal icing (a/k/a edible Elmer’s Glue) I attached a bamboo skewer to each one and grounded that firmly in a cupcake. Two or three plates of those down the center of a long table will be my centerpiece at Easter dinner.

The color palette is your choice; you can see I gravitated towards groovy ‘60’s yellow and pink. I won’t be insulted if you find my choice a bit loud and decide to go with something a bit more subtle (zzzzzzz). Your choices are as wide as the colors of sanding sugar you can find. For these cookies I recommend rolling the dough to a hefty ¼” thick. Paint a bit of egg wash on the unbaked cookies and sprinkle with the sanding sugar before baking. Cool thoroughly before gluing the skewers with Royal icing and allow a few hours for the Royal icing to harden and dry.

Don’t feel confined by a vanilla cookie or the flower cookie cutter. A couple of Christmases ago I made little chocolate wreaths with Royal icing that looked like brown Wedgewood.

If your kids are home from school this week, the cookie centerpiece is a great project for you to supervise. And if you’re not feeling ambitious don’t worry about the royal icing and skewers: just stick the cookie right into the frosting.

This reminds me of a friend who used to have a country house. No slouch in the kitchen, if you visited him during the winter chances are you would be served a steaming plate of Cincinnati Chili. During warmer months the chili was retired but you could look forward to hand churned ice cream or “Dirt Cake” which was (I think) chocolate pudding and cake served in a real (sterilized)clay pot, topped with chocolate cookie crumbs (the dirt) and a real flower. It was pretty convincing until he started spooning it onto plates.

You can do the same thing with the cookie centerpiece, although for my money the cartoon-y quality of the cookies matches cupcakes better. Don’t go crazy with the cupcakes here—you can even use store bought. I made very simple white cupcakes and placed everything on simple white plates.

No surprise here: as usual for me the cookies are the star of the show.


Use this recipe for the cookie dough: I Heart Shortbread Cookies.

And it’s not too late to bake for Good Friday or Easter. Click here for my recipe for Hot Cross Buns.


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Thank you, Oz

Hot Cross Buns

Hot Cross Buns

The last stop before Grand Central Station on the Metro-North commuter train is 125th Street. Once passed, there is a sense of relief and anticipation that you’re almost “there” (that’s the relief)—but that “there” is our jumping, jiving city (that’s the anticipation).

In the case of the Easter and Good Friday holidays, the relief and anticipation are all about spring and summer and nice weather – an all too important consideration after the rough winter we’ve had this year.

Of course, at this time of year it is easy to get over confident about the weather, but Mother Nature tends to be a tricky, moody, old biddy, so we really don’t know what she has in store, but the days are just that much longer, and even the coldest mornings are just that much warmer.

Alongside seasonal weather changes are seasonal supermarket changes, for the spring heralds the arrival of the Passover food on your grocer’s doily-lined shelves, and Hot Cross Buns in the bakery section. The latter were always a curiosity to me. I had tried them and found that their spiced- icky, sticky bun-candied fruit allures held no sway over me. They always struck me as sticky buns gone wrong; bread that wanted to be fruitcake, but realized it had arrived four or five months too late and missed Christmas; dough that took the wrong path. (Has this gotten a bit film noir? Sorry.)

Purely out of a sense of duty then, I felt compelled to make Hot Cross Buns for this blog. My conscience was bothering me: can one write a baking-centric blog and ignore Hot Cross Buns? I think not.

So with that great burden weighing on me (heavy sigh), I started researching them. The great thing about the internet is that if you think it, someone, somewhere, has, at some point in time, written about it. I had an art professor in college – a tough cookie—who liked to say, “There truly is nothing new under the sun.” Surely he was talking about the internet too.

What the internet revealed to me filled me with a great deal of relief. I had expected the basic flavors and ingredients of Hot Cross Buns to be as tightly proscribed as the placement of medals on a military uniform. Turns out I was wrong. The only constants I found amongst all the variations were 1.) duh: there’s always a cross on the top (although not always sweet) and 2.) Hot Cross Buns are sweet.

While Hot Cross Buns may traditionally have been a Good Friday treat, in recent years they have broken off from their niche purpose and become a year-round bakery staple. If I ever needed an excuse to make the long trip down under to Australia (I didn’t), the revelation that the Aussies add chocolate chips to their Hot Cross Buns could certainly have been one. Bravo, Aussies, for that was the inspiration I needed to bring some enthusiasm to the project.

While the Aussies add more than just chocolate chips to their Hot Cross Buns, the allure of chocolate cannot be overstated. After reading this blog each week, my sister-in-law will often write me a short email consisting solely of the words, “Can I put chocolate on that?” I could write about sauerkraut and she would likely ask the same question, for, like me, chocolate is her cure-all. (I even crave it when I have, uh…digestive distress.) This week, the answer is a happy, “Yes, but there’s already chocolate there.”

The internet also revealed a bit of discussion about the texture of the buns. Should they be hearty and dense, or light and puffy? I have come down clearly on the side of light and puffy, and this dictated a lot of technical issues about the recipe. Light and puffy means two rises, and, because we want something just slightly sweet, a little richness in the ingredients is called for. While some bread doughs get by with only water and oil or butter, a whole egg plus a little milk and butter will give our Hot Cross Buns a supple richness that will support the sugar without making the gentle sweetness seem “thin.”

The result reminds me of the wonderful Parisian-inspired subtly sweet rolls they sell at the extraordinary Silver Moon Bakery on New York’s Upper West Side.

The process of baking bread seems intimidating to some, but the truth is, if you can plug in a Kitchen-Aid stand mixer you can bake bread. (Sounds like a sales pitch, no?) Measure a few ingredients, turn on the mixer, then leave the dough to rise. Yes, it can be three or four hours from plugging in the mixer to taking the Hot Cross Buns out of the oven. But you only work for about a half an hour. The rest of the time the yeast and your oven are doing the work. (Sorry, I shout this every time I bake any form of bread.)

I love a recipe that serves more than one purpose. It is a perverse form of recycling, but next week’s Hot Cross Buns could show up at a special holiday weekend breakfast next fall. (Well, not the same actual rolls. I’ll make a fresh batch.) All I have to do is make a squiggle with the icing instead of a cross.

But even that amount of change isn’t needed.


Click here for my recipe for Hot Cross Buns.

…and don’t miss these great Passover recipes (they’re great any time of the year):

Coconut Macaroons

Passover Honey Cake

Torta di Mandorla per la Pasqua. (A very light Passover chocolate – almond torte)


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Not A Peep

The Easter Bunny has been here...

The Easter Bunny has been here...

I have to admit I love the kitsch aspect of any holiday. Paper honeycomb fold-out turkeys on Thanksgiving? Please put mine front and center. American flag toothpicks on Fourth of July? Can’t have enough. But for true kitsch lovers I think the real competition is between Christmas and Easter, although admittedly, Christmas wins by the sheer volume of electrically-driven things that light up, flash, and spin. Easter is slightly more analog.

Surely you can’t not smile at all the carrot-clutching stuffed Easter Bunnies currently lining store shelves? After a winter like we’ve had in the Northeast, I almost feel like I could get a tan from the jelly beans and yellow and pink Marshmallow Peeps smiling at me in the drug store. If their shiny pastel colors can’t cut through the gloomy weather, then the sugar buzz they deliver will.

My cousin Hope has invited me to her Easter egg hunt. She’s been arranging these hunts for her boss’ kids every year for a long time and I think she invites me because she has always thought of me as her “little cousin.” (We grew up a couple of doors away from each other, and she’s a decade older, so I think she’ll always think of me that way.)

I’ve always looked up to Hope for her artistic ability – there’s a strong artistic strain that runs through our family – and for her ability to marry a great business mind and entrepreneurial spirit with that ability. (She’s a catalogue merchant and jewelry designer.)

She’s also an excellent cook, although I suspect that what she really enjoys is supervising while her husband and I do the actual cooking.

This is my way of explaining that I find the thought of bringing her something from my kitchen a little intimidating. She is never less than supportive and complimentary of my baking, but in the past I have always copped out and brought candy. This year, there’s the blog you’re currently reading, evidence of my kitchen skills, and therefore an implied obligation to do more than just supply the elusive Avatar-blue Peeps.

I decided that a routine research trip down the Easter candy aisle at Duane Reade was the best way to start. While cruising this sugary Amazon, perusing the M&M’s bagged to look like carrots, the glowing jelly beans, and the foil-wrapped chocolate eggs, I realized that what I really wanted was to make something that included all of the above.

“Is there a way to bake an Easter basket?” I wondered. Hmmm. Why not?

Shredded coconut was my first thought – it would imitate the fake grass that people use in real Easter baskets. From that my mind went to the sticky, old-fashioned coconut cake I used to see protected by a plastic dome at Howard Johnson’s. That seemed ideal, except in scale. When the discussion centers on cake, scale is easily remedied by breaking out the trusty old cupcake or muffin tin. A cottony white cupcake, fluffy white frosting, the coconut, and just a few pieces of Easter candy on top. Each Easter egg hunter would have their very own, very edible, Easter basket, and that seemed just right to me. (And no chocolate mess.) (Well, from the cupcakes.)

White cake recipes usually try to dress up the end result with almond extract, but for my purposes the cake was merely there as a pedestal for other things, so no almond extract here. And to keep the coconut firmly attached to its pedestal I decided to use enough über-fluffy Italian Meringue to make the clouds in the sky jealous.

Obviously you’re free to use whatever Easter candy you prefer as the ingredients of each “basket,” but my choices were distinguished little gold-foil wrapped Lindt Milk Chocolate bunnies, a few Dove Milk Chocolate eggs, and a smattering of jelly beans. Enough sugar to sink a battleship. I skipped my original idea which was to tie licorice whips to each cupcake to simulate a basket handle; in theory it was cute, but in practice it set off the kitsch alarms.

If you’ve never made Italian Meringue, yes, it’s a bit convoluted. But don’t confuse convoluted with difficult;  with a Kitchen Aid mixer, a candy thermometer, and a little bit of patience, in short order you’ll be spooning little clouds of the stuff on top of cupcakes. (Meringue is also fat-free, not a bad trade off for all the sugar.)

The end result of my trial run was placed before a panel of experts pre-Easter to make sure kids would like the cupcakes. The panel (my brother, a rather large kid) declared that they were “…all about the meringue on top.”

Lavish praise indeed. Wait until the Easter Bunny tastes them.


Click here for my recipe for Easter Basket Cupcakes.


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