Yes, we still have St. Patrick's Day and March Madness to get through, but have you looked at the calendar? Easter is just over three weeks away, on April 8. Next to Thanksgiving and Christmas, this may be the holiday that inspires us most to do something special in the kitchen.
We plan to look at some favorite Easter brunch ideas in a week or so, but if you're wanting to add wow factor to your Easter dessert table, advance planning comes in handy. While "simple" is often a key ingredient in recipes we compile, some of this week's choices require a little more time or effort. But these palate-pleasing desserts should more than make up for it at your dinner table, or even a bunko or bridge party.
We start with a fairly easy recipe. A whimsical one the kids can have a hand in. Children can roll out dough, cut out bunny cookies and decorate them to populate this bunny bundt cake covered with fresh, green "grass." Add names to the cookies, if you like, and use some for place cards. Don't let the greenery on top of the cake intimidate you. A plastic resealable bag with a snip in one corner and a little practice should do the trick.
One of the most elegant desserts is Martha Stewart's rich chocolate cake with ganache frosting and truffle-egg nest. Tucked inside nests of milk-chocolate shavings are truffle eggs tinted robin's egg blue, then dusted with metallic luster.
The accompanying marbled eggs are created by dipping more truffles into melted white chocolate swirled with blue food coloring. A note or two when working with this recipe: In trying to master marbling, a chocolate fork is ideal for dipping the truffle eggs, but any fork will do. Using one fluid motion, dunk each chocolate egg into the chocolate and food coloring, turn to coat and transfer to parchment. Move the eggs as little as possible to avoid muddying the swirls. After you dip a few eggs, the swirled chocolate mixture may become overmixed. If this happens, start over with a new batch of melted white chocolate and food coloring.
Food Network's raspberry-lemon cake is a four-layer confection that will cap off any Easter or spring luncheon. The recipe calls for homemade cookies surrounding the cake. But you could simplify by topping it with a few spring blossoms.
For pure whimsy (and a sweet tooth rush) a beehive cupcake recipe at brightideas.com fills the bill. The icing "hive" on each cupcake is actually supported by a Snickers Brand Miniature. Jellybean bees sport almond sliver wings. Go online at cdispatch.com, under the lifestyles link, for this recipe and the four-layer cake.
Do you have some favorite recipes you like to use at Easter time? We'd like to hear them.
CHOCOLATE CAKE WITH TRUFFLE-EGG NEST
Makes eight servings
Vegetable-oil cooking spray
1/2 cup cocoa powder, plus more for dusting
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
1 tablespoon instant espresso powder
3/4 cup water
2 cups sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 cup low-fat buttermilk
2 tablespoons pure vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
Whipped Ganache Frosting
8 ounces semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
3/4 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons corn syrup
1 pound bar of milk chocolate
For the ganache frosting:
8 ounces semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
1/2 cup heavy cream
For the truffle eggs:
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate (preferably 61 percent cacao), finely chopped
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons heavy cream
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/2 to 3 pounds white chocolate
Sky-blue gel-paste food coloring
Teal luster dust (optional)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat two 3-inch-high, 7-inch-round cake pans with cooking spray; line bottoms with parchment paper. Coat parchment with cooking spray, and dust with cocoa powder, tapping out excess.
Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add cocoa and espresso powders and water; whisk until dissolved. Whisk in sugar until smooth. Remove from heat, and whisk in eggs, buttermilk and vanilla. Add flour, baking soda and salt; whisk until combined.
Divide batter among prepared pans. Bake until a cake tester inserted into centers comes out clean, about 45 minutes. Let cool 20 minutes. Unmold, and remove parchment; let cool.
For the ganache frosting, Put chocolate and cream into a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Stir until smooth. Refrigerate, stirring occasionally, until the consistency of stiff cream cheese, 10-15 minutes. Whisk until fluffy and smooth.
Trim tops of cake layers level. Place one layer, cut side up, on a wire rack set over a rimmed baking sheet. Spread with 1/2 cup ganache frosting. Place remaining layer, cut side down, on top. Coat top and sides with remaining cup frosting. Refrigerate until firm, about 15 minutes.
Put semisweet chocolate, cream and corn syrup into a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water, and stir until smooth. Let cool five minutes. Pour over cake, and then refrigerate until firm, about 15 minutes.
Using a chef's knife, scrape milk chocolate bar at a 90-degree angle, forming enough curls and shards to measure 1 1/2 cups. Transfer to a rimmed baking sheet, and refrigerate until ready to use.
Transfer cake to serving dish; form a nest with chocolate shavings on top, and fill with truffle eggs.
To make truffle eggs:
Put bittersweet chocolate and cream into a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Stir until smooth; remove from heat. Stir in butter.
Pour into a loaf pan. Cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until very cold and set but still pliable, about two hours.
Using a 1 1/4-inch ice cream scoop or a tablespoon, scoop balls of ganache, transferring them to baking sheets lined with parchment paper as you work. Refrigerate 10 minutes.
Using your hands, roll each ball into an egg shape. Place in freezer until very firm, about 1 hour.
Meanwhile, put 1 1/2 pounds white chocolate into a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Stir until smooth; remove from heat. Divide between two medium bowls. Add food coloring to one bowl until desired blue shade. Add a few drops of food coloring to other bowl, and swirl lightly with a toothpick.
Working with one at a time, dip half of the eggs in blue chocolate, then dip remaining eggs in swirled chocolate, letting excess chocolate drip back into bowl. As you work, transfer eggs to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper; refrigerate until set, about one hour. Truffles can be refrigerated in an airtight container up to two weeks.
For sparkly truffles, brush luster dust onto blue eggs to coat if desired.
(Source: Martha Stewart, marthastewart.com)
BUNNY BUNDT CAKE
Makes 16 servings
1 box (18.25 ounces) devil's food cake mix
1 box (3 ounces) chocolate instant pudding
1 can (16 ounces) milk chocolate frosting
1 can (16 ounces) vanilla frosting green food coloring
For the bunny cookies:
2/3 cup flour
1 roll (18 ounces) refrigerated sugar cookie dough
1/4 cup light corn syrup
1/8 cup decorating sugar in each color: pink, orange and yellow
1 tube white decorating frosting
Prepare cake mix according to package instructions. Stir in chocolate pudding powder. Pour into a greased and floured Bundt pan.
Bake in a preheated 350-degree oven for approximately 45 to 55 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove and cool completely.
Invert cake, remove from pan and cover completely with chocolate frosting. Tint vanilla frosting green and spoon into a resealable plastic bag with a snipped small corner. Pipe "grass" on top and a few patches at the base of the cake.
For the bunny cookies, knead flour into cookie dough and roll to scant 1/4-inch thickness. Cut out 12 large and 12 small bunnies with cookie cutters. Transfer to a parchment-lined cookie sheet.
Bake in a preheated 350-degree oven for 10 to 12 minutes, or until golden. Remove and cool completely. Lightly brush corn syrup on cookies and sprinkle with desired color of decorating sugar. Decorate as desired.
Makes 24 cupcakes
1 box (18 ounces) your favorite cake mix
3 cups prepared vanilla frosting
Yellow food coloring
24 pieces Snickers Brand Miniatures
1/2 cup orange jellybeans
1 tube chocolate decorative frosting, with plain tip
1/4 cup sliced almonds
Resealable plastic bag
24 paper cupcake liners classic
2 12-cup muffin tins
3 pieces construction paper, in bright, spring colors (orange, pink, green, etc.)
Serving tray, optional
Line the two muffin tins with the paper cupcake liners. Prepare the cake mix and bake according to the package directions. Let the cupcakes cool to room temperature.
In the meantime, tint the frosting with yellow food coloring to the desired shade. Dab a teaspoon of frosting on the bottom of each Snickers brand miniatures and place one on top of each cupcake.
Frost the top of the cupcake, covering both the cupcake and candy. This will help support the frosting beehive.
Spoon the remaining frosting into a resealable plastic bag. Using scissors, snip a small corner of the bag. Pipe the frosting in a spiral fashion, starting at the bottom of the hive and working your way up to the top.
Place jellybeans randomly around the cupcake hives, and gently squeeze the chocolate frosting in a zigzag pattern on top of them.
For the bees' wings, place an almond slice on both sides of each jellybean.
To serve, create flower cut-outs from the construction paper. Place the flowers on a table or serving tray, put a hive on each flower
RASPBERRY-LEMON EASTER CAKE
3 cups cake flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon fine salt
1 1/4 cups sour cream
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (about 1 1/2 lemons)
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature, cut into small pieces
2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
5 large eggs, room temperature
For the icing and filling:
1 1/4 cups sugar
5 large egg whites
1 1/2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
Pinch fine salt
1 1/2 cups (three sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature, cut into small pieces
1/2 cup seedless red raspberry jam
Rabbit sugar cookies, homemade or store bought, recipe follows
Pastel sanding sugars
Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Lightly brush two (9-inch) round cake pans with shortening or butter. Line bottoms with buttered parchment paper and dust with flour.
Sift the flour, baking powder, soda and salt into a medium bowl; whisk to combine evenly. Stir the sour cream, lemon juice and vanilla together in a liquid measuring cup, and set aside.
Beat the butter in a standing mixer with the paddle attachment on high until light and creamy, about two minutes. Stop and scrape butter off the sides of the bowl. Continue beating while gradually adding the sugar; it should take a couple minutes to add all the sugar. Continue beating until very light and fluffy, about three to four minutes more. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and beat in the lemon zest. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.
At low speed, add the flour mixture in three parts, alternating with the sour cream in two parts, beginning and ending with the flour. Scrape the sides of the bowl and mix for 15 seconds longer.
Divide the batter evenly between the prepared pans and smooth the top with a knife. (Lightly tap the pan on the counter so the batter settles evenly.)
Bake the cakes until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 35 to 40 minutes. Cool in the pan on a rack for 20 minutes; then turn cakes out onto the rack to cool completely.
For the icing:
Bring a few inches of water to a boil in a saucepan that can hold a mixer's bowl above the water. Whisk the sugar, the egg whites, lemon juice, cream of tartar and salt in the bowl by hand. Set the bowl above the boiling water and continue whisking until the mixture is hot to the touch and the sugar dissolves, about one to two minutes.
Transfer the bowl to a standing mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and beat the whites at medium-high speed until they almost hold a stiff peak and are cool, about 10 minutes. Beat in the butter, a little at a time, until the icing is smooth and spreadable. (If the icing separates, just keep beating and it will come back together.)
To assemble the cake:
Slice each cake in half horizontally with a serrated knife, to make four even layers, taking care that they are as flat and straight as possible.
Set a large flat plate on a large inverted bowl or bottom of a salad spinner (of course, if you have a cake stand, use that), dabbing a little frosting on the bottom of the plate to secure it. Place a cake layer top side up on the plate.
Using an offset spatula spread about half of the jam in a thin layer over the first cake layer, leaving about 1/4-inch border along the outside. Lay the second cake layer on top, stacking it as straight as possible.
Using an offset spatula spread about 1 cup of the icing on the top layer. Place a third cake layer on top. Spread remaining red raspberry jam over the cake layer and place the final layer on top, pressing down lightly to secure all four layers together.
Spread about 3/4 of the remaining icing around the sides with a knife or offset spatula, then ice the top of the cake. Use an offset spatula to smooth icing as much as possible. Press plain or iced cookies around the sides, taking care to leave space to cut the cake. Garnish with additional candied almonds and sprinkle the top of the cake with pastel colored sanding sugars.
Serve immediately or set aside at room temperature for up to 2 hours before serving. If refrigerating the cake, bring to room temperature 30 minutes before serving
(Source: foodnetwork.com. For the ingredients and directions for the sugar cookies surrounding the cake, go to cdispatch.com, lifestyles link.)
SUGAR COOKIES FOR
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon fine salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
2 large eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla paste or vanilla extract
Whisk the flour, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl.
Beat the butter and both sugars in another medium bowl with an electric mixer on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 30 seconds. Add the eggs and vanilla mixing until fully incorporated. Slowly add the flour mixture, and continue beating just until the dough comes together, stopping and scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.
Divide dough in half, pat into disks, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, at least 2 hours.
Generously flour a clean work surface. (For a nice, even layer of flour, lightly sift flour over the work surface.) Gently roll chilled dough about 1/4-inch thick. Cut into desired shape using a cookie cutter, working quickly enough so dough remains chilled. If dough gets too soft, refrigerate on a lined baking sheet until firm again, about 30 minutes.
Transfer cut cookies to un-greased baking sheets, leaving about 1-inch between cookies. Refrigerate the formed cookies for at least 30 minutes. Lightly dust off excess flour with a dry pastry brush. (Excess dough can be pressed into a disk, chilled and rerolled.)
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Bake the cookies, until the bottoms are golden, about 12 to 15 minutes depending on shape. Cool on the baking sheets until firm enough to transfer to a rack to cool. Decorate as desired and serve. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 week. Makes 4 dozen cookies.