Sunday, 20 April 2014

Easter Biscuits

We have been very fortunate this Easter as the weather has been absolutely gorgeous, with lovely sunny days and very few rain showers. Easter was relatively late this year, so that definitely helped in allowing the weather to warm up and deliver such lovely weather to us. It is great to see many of the hedgerows coming into flower and the baby lambs skipping happily through the fields. With the sun shining in the sky I am reminded of how fortunate I am to live in such a beautiful part of the country.

Easter Sunday is a ‘movable feast’ which means that it does not fall on a fixed date each year but is determined by establishing the date of the first Sunday that falls after the full moon following the March equinox. As such the earliest that Easter can occur is the 21st or 22nd of March and the latest is the 25th April.
 
There are many food traditions and rituals involving food relating to Easter, many of which are fascinating. I have often thought that I would love to do some intensive research about various Easter traditions around the world and write a book about them – including plenty of recipes of course! In the Catholic religion, Easter Sunday follows a forty day period of fasting, prayer and penance called Lent.
 
Many people still ‘give something up’ for Lent, with chocolate being one of the most commonly chosen. It is therefore little wonder that there is such an insatiable lust for chocolate come Easter Sunday.
 
I think that it is rather a shame that most Irish children are raised thinking that Easter is all about chocolate eggs. I love chocolate, but there are so many historic and traditional recipes that are being forgotten and I think that this is such a pity. For me Easter has always been about baking; simnel cake, hot cross buns, rich yeasted breads, chocolate cakes and the recipe that I am going to give here which is for Easter Biscuits.
 
Easter biscuits are a lightly spiced, shortbread-like biscuits which contain currants and are sprinkled with a dusting of caster sugar when they emerge from the oven after baking. They are a simple biscuit, but one that I have always loved. My grandmother also loved them and would make them from time to time. Other than the inclusion of the currants and the sprinkling of the caster sugar, these are relatively simple, unfussy biscuits –there are no icings, no glazes, no buttercream fillings and no chocolate coverings; but this is what I find so appealing about them – the taste of all the individual ingredients really comes through and for me, they are delicious to nibble on when having a cup of tea!
 
Having carried out some research on Easter Biscuits, I found that they appear to be English in origin, hailing from the West Country, but like so many recipe that hail from across the Irish Sea, they were also popular here in Ireland. They were historically served after Mass on Easter Sunday, in bundles of three to represent the Holy Trinity. Whatever their roots, I think that Easter Biscuits are absolutely delicious.
 

Ingredients:

100g butter, softened
75g caster sugar
1 large egg yolk
Grated zest of 1 lemon
½ tsp mixed spice
¼ tsp cinnamon
2tblsp milk
100g currants
Extra caster sugar for sprinkling
 

Method:

1. Preheat oven to 180C/Fan Oven 160C/Gas Mark 4. Line two large baking trays with baking parchment.
2. Place the butter and sugar into a large mixing bowl and using a hand-held electric mixer, beat together until light and fluffy. Add the egg yolk and lemon zest and beat again until they are fully incorporated.
3. Sieve the flour and spices together and work into the egg and butter mixture along with the milk using a wooden spoon to make a fairly soft dough. Turn out on to a lightly floured work surface and gently knead in the currants.
4. Using a lightly floured rolling pin, roll the currant dough out until it is about 5mm thick. Using a fluted, circular cutter, stamp out rounds from the dough. Place these on the prepared baking trays, leaving space between each biscuit. Sprinkle lightly with a little caster sugar. Bake in the preheated oven for 13-16 minutes until a light golden colour. Remove from the oven and sprinkle again with a little more caster sugar. Allow to cool for five minutes before removing to a wire rack to finish cooling completely. The biscuits can be stored for up to three days in an air-tight container.

Makes 24-28 biscuits.