Monday, April 09, 2007

Happy Easter (and Passover)!

I hope everyone had a nice Easter (or are still having a lovely Passover, as the case may be). I enjoyed my three-day holiday weekend, but it's back to the grind tomorrow. So I'll just share a quick report on our Easter dinner. Let's begin with a colorful version one of my very favorite breads, an Easter egg challah. I thought this would be fun and festive--and it was--but truthfully, the bread itself was just "good" (I've made better), and I had a little trouble with the eggs. They shifted on top as they baked, the color ran on the top of the bread, and they got weird little speckles on them, too. Who knows why? Still, it was cute, and I would make it again, although I would probably swap it out with a different challah recipe.

Easter Egg Challah
(Source:, adapted from

3 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 teaspoon (1 package) active dry yeast
2/3 cup milk, warm, 110F (low-fat is fine)
2 eggs, room temperature
2 tablespoons butter, very soft
3 raw eggs, dyed (as above) if desired
1 egg, lightly beaten with 1 tablespoon water (for egg wash)

In an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook or in a large bowl, combine 2 cups flour, sugar, salt, yeast and milk and mix to combine. Beat in eggs, one at a time, making sure that the first one is well incorporated before you add the second. Add butter, but into small pieces, and beat until completely absorbed. Add remaining flour 1 tbsp at a time, until the dough pulls easily away from the side of the bowl. Knead dough lightly for about 3 minutes on a lightly floured surface until it is very elastic, then place in a lightly greased bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise for about 2 hours, until doubled in size.

Gently deflate dough into a rectangle and divide it, lengthwise, into three equal pieces. Roll out until pieces are about 16-inches long. Braid together, tucking the ends underneath the loaf. Place on a greased baking sheet (I used a silpat) and cover with a clean dishtowel. Let rise for 60 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350F. Place three raw, dyed eggs gently into dough and brush the loaf with the egg wash. Bake for 36-40 minutes, until rich golden brown. Cool completely on a wire rack before serving.

Makes 1 loaf.

Then for our main course, we had a spectacular Easter ham. Instead of going down the spiral-sliced path of least resistance, I decided to get a regular (as AB would say, "city") ham (butt end) and glaze it myself. I used about a half a cup of apricot jam, half a cup of hot pepper jelly, a little jalapeno honey mustard, and the rest of that brown sugar syrup from the other night. It sounds like a weird, catch-all combination, but it was just delicious! My only mistake was miscalculating the cooking time. I was thinking that I only had to bring it to 140 degrees (like with a pre-baked ham), but it actually needed to go to 160. So our dinner was an hour later than I had planned--oh well, it was worth waiting for! I served the ham with some Potatoes Dauphinois, roasted asparagus with lemon, and of course, a thick slice of challah with a slathering of Irish butter. Yum, yum!

Then, for dessert, I chose to make a chocolate cake leavened only with egg whites, making it equally fitting for the Passover table. It was adapted from one of those rolled and filled numbers, but is much easier to make as a layer cake. Since it was just for me and the roommate, I decided to half the recipe and make a two-layer cake instead of four. And I baked them in eight-inch pans instead of nine-inch, to make the cake a little taller for a more substantial-looking presentation. But of course, that added about ten minutes to the baking time on the layers. When you don't have to roll it, the cake is super-simple to make. The worst of the job is just having to rewash your mixing bowl several times for the batter, then the egg whites, then the whipped cream. And the flavor is deep and chocolately--especially if you use coffee instead of water with the melted chocolate--rather reminiscent of the beloved Chocolate Icebox Cake. I highly recommend this recipe even when it's not a special holiday.

Lighter-Than-Air Chocolate Cake
(Source:, adapted from a 1975 New York Times article)

For (2) cake layers:
6 ounces fine-quality bittersweet chocolate (not unsweetened), chopped
3 tablespoons water (or strong brewed coffee)
6 large eggs, separated, at room temperature
2/3 cup sugar, divided
½ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon Dutch-process unsweetened cocoa powder

For filling:
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
3 tablespoons confectioners sugar, sifted
2 tablespoons Grand Marnier* (or a teaspoon of vanilla--I used vanilla bean paste)

Preheat oven to 350°. Grease two 8-inch cake pans and line bottoms with circles of parchment paper. Melt chocolate with water (or coffee) in a small heavy saucepan over very low heat, stirring. Cool to lukewarm.

Beat yolks, 1/3 cup sugar, and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer until thick and pale, about 5 minutes. Fold in melted chocolate until blended. Beat whites with cleaned beaters until they just hold soft peaks. Gradually add remaining 1/3 cup sugar and beat until whites just hold stiff peaks. Fold one third of whites into melted-chocolate mixture to lighten, then fold in remaining whites gently but thoroughly.

Spread batter evenly into the two prepared cake pans and bake until puffed and top is dry to the touch, about 30 minutes, rotating cakes halfway to ensure they bake evenly. Transfer pans to racks until cool, and then if necessary, loosen edges with a knife. Sift cocoa powder over top of cake layers and place a piece of waxed paper over the top of the pans. Place a baking sheet over paper and invert cake onto it, gently peeling off wax paper lining. Place layers in the freezer for about an hour, until they are firm enough to be carefully lifted without breaking. (Personally, I skipped the freezing step and had no breakage to speak of.)

Beat cream with powdered sugar and Grand Marnier or vanilla with cleaned beaters until it just holds stiff peaks. Bring first cake layer out of the freezer and arrange on platter, cocoa side down. Spread one half of the filling evenly over the cake. Bring the next cake layer out of the freezer, placing it gently over the filling, again cocoa side down and spread with the remaning filling.

Keep cake in the refrigerator until you are ready to serve it. Two hours should be more than enough to assure that the layers are no longer frozen. Dark chocolate grated into curls with a vegetable peeler makes for an excellent garnish (although I just used some grated chocolate that I had left over from a previous project).

* You can substitute the following for Grand Marnier: 2 tablespoons cognac and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla; 2 tablespoons cocoa and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla; or 2 teaspoons instant-espresso powder or instant-coffee granules dissolved in 2 teaspoons water plus 1/2 teaspoon vanilla.

1 comment:

Cyd said...

Everything was wonderful! Still, I was hoping for some of that Hawaiian Macaroni salad.