Saturday, 7 April 2012

Easter Cooking And Crafting

This year I sat down with my notepad and recipe books (and the internet too, as many of my recipes these days are stored on my personalised recipe box on the Taste of Home website) as I do every year, to plan the menus and cooking for our Easter weekend. However, as it turns out, unusually, there hasn't been much to do at all! For one thing, Papa Bear decided that it would be lovely if we could dine out as a family for the main Easter meal tomorrow, as some other members of our very large family had already planned to do this, and he thought it would be fun if we could join them. So we are! He said he thought it would be lovely for me to have a rest and eat a meal that someone else had cooked! It will indeed be a treat - though I never do find cooking a chore, in fact, I love it - but I was very pleased at his suggestion! There will be a big group of us so it will be fun to have some family fellowship and catch up with everyone's news. We have a huge family so it will be quite exciting to see relations we've not had a chance to catch up with for a long time.

The other reason that I've not done much cooking especially for Easter this year is that Little Bear's birthday falls so close to it, that we all agreed it wasn't necessary to have lots of extra goodies so close to her special day, when she will of course have a special meal and a cake as part of her birthday celebrations, so we decided to forego many of the usual treats, and stick instead to the frugality of Lent for a little longer. However that being said, we are still having some treats, and you can see what they are, below!

In the picture above are some of the Easter cards I've been busy making today, to take to Church with us tomorrrow. I really enjoyed making these! I don't as a rule go in for card making (or its sister craft, scrapbooking). The materials for these passtimes are quite expensive to buy, and a part of me isn't really attracted to the way that both activities seem to be a process of assembling ready made items into a whole that you have designed, rather than actually making something which is an entirely original concept. It takes away, for me, the main part of the creativity, which is the inspiration behind the whole design, and what you are left with is a sort of production-line result, put together by hand, a bit like making a cake from a boxed mix instead of from scratch. It doesn't seem to have the same homespun quality of uniqueness to me, that something entirely made by your own hands does. I'm not saying I think it's wrong to enjoy these passtimes - not at all - but for me, they aren't really creative enough. I like to see the individuality in home made items, that shows something of the personality of the creator, and if that means that it has some imperfections or quirks, to my mind that makes it all the more appealing.

I chose to make these cards because the ready made cards in the stores near our home are all so much of a similar design - and all in similar tones of yellow, white and blue, that I wanted to create something that was a bit more "us"! I really like the beautiful designs on the Victorian greetings cards that you can easily find on the internet. The design of this one comes from here - the same source that I use for images on several other blog posts. There are lots to choose from, but I picked this one because it is so pretty - and the message so simple and true. I liked the colours too (everyone who knows me knows that pink is my favourite colour - I'm nearly always wearing something pink, even if, as today, it is only a pink hair ribbon!).

I used straightforward writing paper for the actual cards (if they had needed to be bigger, I would have needed to use card, but I didn't have any, and wanted to use things we already had to hand). For the frill that goes down the side of the card, I used patterned paper doileys! As it is round, the frilled edge forms a pretty pleat when folded concertina-wise. The frilled edge from one doiley was enough for 2cards exactly. All I did was fold it as if I was making a paper fan, then glued it down so that it was just over the left hand edge of the card. I didn't worry too much about the folds coming undone after gluing them down, as the main image was going to be stuck over the top and would help to hold it in place.

I didn't need to alter the dimensions of the printed image I was using - it was exactly the right size already! (The writing paper is A5 size when unfolded, in case you want to try creating something using an image from this website - they are all the same size). I am sure that was a blessing from our Father God! It made my work much easier not having to resize the printed image (and Little Bear was relieved too, as it was she who very kindly helped to actually print it for me - our printer must be one of the most complicated ones to use in all the whole world and she was extremely patient when I got in a big muddle with it trying to do it myself!). I simply cut the images from the paper (I could get 2 to one page) and then stuck them so that they slightly covered the frill.

The centre of the doiley I used to create the bows fixed onto the top left corner of the cards. They were so easy to make! Each one took 4 strips of paper. I doubled the first one to make the actual bow, then folded the second one around the centre to hold it in place. The third and fourth I used to create the 2 ends of the bow. I stuck them down with the ends first, then glued the centre around the bow, and stuck that to the top of the 2 ends.

Now they just need to get really dry, and then we can write in them! I do hope our friends at Church like them as much as I enjoyed making them.

Now for some cooking ...

I make these Easter scones every year, usually savoury. These ones are just a simple cheese scone recipe. I use Easter themed cookie cutters to cut the shapes, and bake them for about 12 minutes (they cook faster than proper scones, as they are thinner and smaller). Everyone enjoys these as part of our Easter Saturday brunch. It's easy to make these on other holiday occasions too, by varying the cookie cutters you use (the recipe I've linked to is for Valentine's scones, but you could just as easily make them into Christmas scones too).

Of course, no Easter menu would be complete without some of these - hot cross buns! Of course, the buns themselves have nothing more to do with the spiritual significance of Easter than fir trees do to the spiritual significance of Christmas. We eat them becuase they're a treat only enjoyed at this one time of year - and a very nice one, at that! Nowadays you can get all sorts of deviations from the traditional fruit bun - we have had apple and cinnamon hot cross buns this year, and cranberry and orange ones too. These are my home baked ones below ...

Now, I will admit to something first though, and that is that although we do enjoy my home baked hot cross buns (and so do our neighbours who usually get some too), we do all agree that the ones you buy in shops are just as good. Why? Well, I don't really think it is to do with my cooking! I hope not, anyways! No - Papa Bear says it isn't! He says, and he's right of course, that the ones you buy in shops are much squishier and ighter and softer than the ordinary home baked type. I think this is due in part to the cooking methods. Obviously, we don't have an industrial sized bake oven in our home, and that means that the temperature and air quality that they are cooked in, will be different (it is the same with crusty rolls - has anyone ever made truely crusty rolls at home? I still can't find a way to do it!). But the ingredients also play a part. There are special dough relaxers and other ingredients that professional bakers use, that help to impart that special soft doughy chewiness to store bought buns, that we can't really replicate at home.

Not to be discouraged, I do always try to recreate the texture and flavour of the bought ones as closely as I can (it's odd, isn't it, because with most all of my other cooking, we all prefer the home baked version to the bought one. But that being said, there are some things that you can buy which are treats because you can't recreate them at home, and maybe hot cross buns come into this category. I think we'll continue to enjoy the best of both worlds, and have store bought ones, and home baked ones too!

I scoured the internet to find a recipe that would make buns as close as possible to the bought ones, and this is the one that I feel works the best. I shan't reproduce the whole recipe here, but I will offer a few tips for anyone who wants to have a go at making them. They are time consuming to bake - there is no denying that - but you will be delighted with the results - they produce a beautifully light, fluffy bun, with almost the same squishy texture when you bite into it as the best bought versions.

I did speed up the process a little, by making the main dough (once you have made the roux, which is essential to get the right texture) in our breadmaker. The dough will be very sticky when it comes out of the breadmaker, but don't be put off. It is a little harder to work with than ordinary bread dough because of the stickiness, but if you flour your hands before you start, this will make the kneading and shaping easier. You will need to do the second rising after you've shaped the buns, out of the bread machine, but this only takes another 45 minutes. I do pipe the crosses on (otherwise they're just spicy currant buns!) but if you're not very confident with a forcing bag and nozzle, I would suggest using an icing pen, and putting the cross on with this, after the buns are baked and cooled. I also put on the sugar glaze, as instructed in the recipe. I think it makes the buns look really special!