Most families have traditions around Easter, such as hunts for sweet little eggs, but as on all occasions, many of the traditions revolve around food and the sharing of meals.
Ours was always to have a ham for dinner, but many people serve a roasted lamb or a turkey. I read somewhere that the tradition of a ham stems from an era before we had such reliable refrigeration, and the best meats left by spring, from the previous fall’s slaughtering or hunting, were those that had been cured, such as hams.
But there are lots of other food traditions, from colourfully-dyed, hard-boiled eggs to hot cross buns and sweet breads.
At this latitude there are as yet few fresh, local vegetables, except those grown in a greenhouse, to recommend as side dishes to whichever main dish you choose to serve your family, so even though it’s officially spring, the root vegetables of winter are still mainstays.
Whichever beast graces your table this Easter, I’d recommend you pair it with a new wine produced by a new winery, owned by the Stewart family of Quails’ Gate and Daniel Zepponi, who used to be president of Mission Hill Family Estate, but who worked in the wine business in the Napa Valley in California for decades prior to that.
Plume Winery is now producing wines in California with Napa Valley grapes and selling them mainly in Canada. The 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon is a luscious wine with lots of bright berry flavours against a background of dark, ripe fruit and a slightly spicy finish.
Easter breads are another tradition embraced by many, so I am sharing a less-rich version of a bread that’s easy to make in the bread maker, a tradition that doesn’t go back nearly as far as many traditions do!
For other Easter food ideas, pick up a copy of my new book, Jude’s Kitchen, wherever books are sold. You’ll find more than 200 recipes arranged by the season and featuring foods that are available fresh locally.
Jammy Easter Braid
This recipe originated in the book that came with my first bread maker, but the machine itself has long since been recycled because I could no longer get parts for it. I’ve made some alterations to the recipe over the years, and you could use whatever jam you have on hand. This isn’t nearly as rich or sweet as some Easter breads, which suits me very well. For an extra special touch, melt an ounce or so of dark chocolate and drizzle it over the still-warm loaf after you remove it from the oven.
1 1/4 c. (310 ml) skim milk
1 beaten egg
2 tbsp. (30 ml) butter
1/4 c. (60 ml) sugar
3/4 tsp. (3 ml) salt
3 2/3 c. (900 ml) white flour
1 1/4 tsp. (6 ml) machine bread yeast
1/2 c. (125 ml) jam
2 tbsp. (30 ml) melted, cool butter
2 tbsp. (30 ml) soft butter
1/3 c. (75 ml) white flour
2 tbsp. (30 ml) brown sugar
1/4 tsp. (1 ml) nutmeg
1/8 tsp. (.5 ml) cloves
Carefully measure the first group of ingredients into the pan of your bread maker.( I melt the butter in the milk in the microwave oven for one minute, then beat the egg into it and add it to the pan). Add remaining ingredients in order. Set the pan properly into the bread making machine, according to the instructions for your machine, set it for dough and press start.
While it’s doing the mixing, kneading and rising for you, grease a couple of sheet pans and dig out the jam you’d like to use. I had some home made black currant jam that was excellent in this, but raspberry, strawberry or whatever you like would also be good.
Mix the topping ingredients together well in a small bowl, ready to crumble over the top of the braid before it is set aside to rise.
When bread machine is finished, dump the dough out onto a lightly-floured surface, punch it down and cut it in half. Set one half aside under a clean tea towel. Lightly flour a rolling pin and roll the other half of the dough into a rectangle about 9×14 inches.
Along each of the long sides, make diagonal cuts, three inches long and about one inch apart. These will be your braids. Spread half the jam, about a quarter cup, down the centre of the dough, then fold alternate strips of dough over the filling, like a braid. Ease it onto a sheet pan.
Brush with half the butter that you’ve melted and allowed to cool, but not solidify. Crumble half the topping over it.
Cover with a clean tea towel and allow to rise about a half hour or until doubled in volume. Repeat with the other half of the dough.
Bake at 350 F for 30 to 35 minutes.
Makes two braids.