4 April: Easter Day

Chick, chick, chick, chick, chicken!
Lay a little egg for me
I haven’t had an egg since Easter
And I want one for my tea…’

Fred Holt / Thomas Magee/ Irving King 1926

The Egg – a thing entire unto itself, a symbol of life, hope, earth, fertility, spring, mourning and resurrection. You name it, the egg says it; no wonder it features so strongly in so many cultures.
The days are longer and hens have started laying. So here’s the theory. According to the Venerable Bede, the word ‘Easter’ is associated with a northern European spring goddess called Eostre – the Anglo Saxons called April ‘Eostur-monath’. Eostre’s symbol was a magic hare who laid eggs and German children still believe that it’s the Easter Bunny that lays Easter Eggs. So Eostre gives us the word Easter, the Easter Bunny and Easter Eggs – tad daa !! All a bit too neat really, but as they say the truth is out there.
I wonder if the magic hare also gives rise to the tradition of Easter Egg hunts – children hunting for where the hare has laid her eggs? I hadn’t though of this Easter morning tradition in that way before. Countries with romance languages use words like Paques and Pasca for Easter, which derive from the Hebrew for Passover but I like Eostre – let’s hear it for northern girls.

Eggs and Easter go hand in hand. Edward I purchased 450 eggs for Easter 1290 to be coloured or covered in gold leaf and distributed amongst the Royal Household. Easter offerings to the Church were often made in eggs, and gifts of eggs were made to the Lord of the Manor on Easter Day (Hutton p198). Easter was of course the day for wearing new clothes, to the extent it was believed that the birds would fall silent if you passed not wearing a new bonnet or waistcoat. The new picture above is by Pieter Aertsen, it's a detail from a larger painting called 'The Egg Dance' and shows traditional spring festivities in 1552.

I was going to do decorated eggs today. Then by chance I wandered into my local German supermarket last week to find they had an Easter Baking Set. It consisted of a spring form cake tin with a variety of moulded bottoms. One of these depicts a rabbit (or a hare?) sitting on a clutch of eggs – irresistible! So here is the most delicious of chocolate cakes.

Flourless Chocolate Cake

Grease an 8 inch cake tin and turn the oven to 180c

8oz dark chocolate
1oz unsalted butter melted and cooled, plus a bit more to grease the cake pan
5 eggs separated
6oz caster sugar
4 oz ground almonds
2tbsp milk
1tsp cider vinegar

You are going to make three separate mixtures and then combine them.

1 Melt the chocolate very slowly (in the oven at 120c for 5 minutes is perfect) now mix in the melted butter and set aside. It helps to have this mixture in the largest bowl.

2 Whisk the egg whites and the sugar until thick and forming soft peaks

3 Beat the egg yolks

Now beat the egg yolks into to the whisked whites and fold in the ground almonds. Fold that mixture into the melted chocolate and then stir in the milk and the vinegar. Pour into the cake tin and bake for 30-35 minutes until a skewer comes out clean. Leave to cool in the tin.

The observant among you will notice the top of the cake is flat. It stuck!! So what you see is the top of the cake not the moulded bottom - which should have been the top - if you see what I mean.....

‘Chocolate: or, An Indian drinke. By the wise and moderate use whereof, health is preserved, sicknesse diverted, and cured…..birth hastened and facilitated, beauty gain'd and continued.’

Written originally in Spanish, by Antonio Colminero of Ledesma, Doctor in Physicke, and faithfully rendred in the English, by Capt. James Wadsworth printed by J.G. for John Dakins, dwelling neare the Vine Taverne in Holborne, where this tract, together with the chocolate it selfe, may be had at reasonable rates, 1652