Easter Lamb

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
I spent Easter in north Devon with my soon-to-be in laws, walking along beaches, exploring smugglers’ villages, cooking and chilling out.  The weather held for two out of three days, which is more than you can expect from an English bank holiday, so no complaints there.  I always find that Easter is a wonderful time for gathering together and breaking bread, without the stresses of decorating, present buying and the dreaded turkey cooking that comes with Christmas.  This is a much more relaxed affair, free from quite so many expectations.   There’s really only one thing I insist on at Easter: roast lamb, at its best right now.
 
This year, I studded mine with garlic and slow cooked it for 5 hours on a bed of spuds and onion.  However, if you are feeling more adventurous, you could try this almond milk braised recipe.  Cooking with almond milk is something I’ve been wanting to try for ages and I was not disappointed.  It adds a richness that works particularly well with the fennel and beans here, and makes for a really succulent, tender lamb.  You could also veer towards north African with the flavours, adding chilli, coriander and cumin before roasting then scattering with pomegranate seeds.  I think that would work particularly well, but felt that something a bit more classic would be more appropriate for Easter.
 
The photographs in this post are, yet again, taken by Faith Mason during an Easter-themed testing session.  I particularly love the black and white photo of duck eggs, with their pearlescent shells.  The blue eggs are in fact not painted (although that would be pretty fitting for Easter), but come from Cotswold Old Legbar hens and naturally have a slightly turquoise hue.  You can find them from Clarence Court, along with many other exciting egg varieties.  
 
 
 
 
 

Almond milk Braised Shoulder of Lamb with Cannellini Beans, Fennel and Baby Carrots

You will need:
1/2 shoulder of lamb, approx 1kg/2 lb 3 oz
3 fat garlic cloves, cut into slivers
2 green chillis, finely chopped
1 tbsp chopped parsley stalks
1/2 tbsp cumin seeds, toasted and lightly bashed
zest and juice of 1 lemon
1 tsp smoked paprika
2 tbsp olive oil
1 red onion, thinly sliced
1 fennel bulb, thinly sliced
300ml/10 fl oz almond milk (unsweetened)
1 tin cannellini beans, drained
baby carrots, to serve
flaked almonds and chopped parsley leaves, to serve

 

 

Method:

1.  Preheat the oven to 180C/160 fan/gas 4.  Using a small knife, make little incisions all over the meat and insert the slivers of garlic.  Mix together the parsley stalks, cumin seeds, lemon juice and zest, smoked paprika, olive oil and 1 tsp of salt (preferably sea salt) in a small bowl to form a thick paste.  Rub this all over the lamb.

2. Place the onion and fennel in a roasting tray, season and pour over the almond milk.  Sit the lamb snugly in the tray.  Cover with tin foil and roast for 1 hour, basting a few times, then remove from the oven and tip in the beans.  Continue to roast for a further 30 minutes, uncovered, until tender.  Leave to rest for 10-15 minutes then scatter with chopped parsley and flaked almonds.  Serve with steamed baby carrots, still slightly crunch and, if you like, some of the beans, fennel and milk whizzed into a thick sauce. 

Healthy Hot Cross Buns

Alright, so the title of this post is a little misleading.  I’m not entirely sure it would be possible to make healthy hot cross buns, as there is no way of getting around it- they are a treat.  But you can make them a bit healthIER.  I’ve tried to lighten them up a little with the addition of spelt flour, oats, agave and grated apple for sweetness and oil instead of butter for richness.  There’s still plenty of spice there and if you pop them in the toaster, you’ve got a perfect Easter breakfast.  This was originally a recipe I created for Women’s Health Magazine.  You can see it and other healthy treats here.  Make a large batch then freeze the rest for later.

Lighter Hot Cross Buns
Makes 16 buns

You will need:

500ml skimmed milk or dairy-free alternative
4 cardamom pods, lightly crushed
4 cloves
zest of 1 lemon
zest of 2 oranges
300g spelt flour
300g strong white bread flour, plus about 100g extra for kneading and the crosses
1 tsp salt
100g oats
1 x 7g sachet fast action yeast
50ml sunflower oil
3 tbsp agave nectar
1 large egg, beaten
1 apple, coarsely grated
2 tsp cinnamon
60g currants
2 tbsp apricot or fig jam, ideally a no added sugar brand

Method:

1. Bring the milk to boil with the cardamom pods, cloves, lemon zest and zest of 1 orange. Set to one side and allow to cool to blood temperature.  Meanwhile, sift the flours and salt into a large mixing bowl. Tip in the oats, yeast, oil, agave and beaten egg. Once the milk has cooled, remove the cloves and cardamom and pour into the bowl.  

2. Mix together until the ingredients are well incorporated. Then tip the dough onto a generously floured work surface and knead for a good 10 minutes, either by hand or using the dough attachment of a table top mixer. It will seem like a very wet dough, but keep working it, slapping it onto the work surface to develop the gluten. It will eventually come together to form a sticky, but elastic dough. Place in a lightly oiled bowl and cover with a tea towel. Leave to prove in warmish place for about 1 hour, until risen.

3.     Tip the dough out onto a floured work surface and flatten slightly. Mix together the apple, cinnamon, currants and remaining orange zest and sprinkle over the dough. Knead briefly to distribute all the ingredients. Divide the dough into 16 even pieces and roll into smooth balls. Arrange the buns on 2 lightly oiled baking sheets in rows of 4, about 1 cm apart. Cover with a tea towel and leave to rise for a further hour.

4. Heat the oven to 220C/fan 200/gas mark 7. In a small bowl mix together 30g of flour with 2 ½- 3 tbsp water, adding the water gradually until you have a thick paste. Scrape into a small sandwich bag. Once the buns have risen and puffed up, cut off the tip of one corner of the sandwich bag and use to pipe crosses over the buns. Place in the oven and bake for 15 minutes, swapping shelves halfway through. Meanwhile, heat the jam with 2 tbsp of water in a small pan until the jam has melted and is syrupy. Sieve into a small bowl and use to brush over the buns as soon as they come out of the oven. Transfer the buns to a wire rack and allow to cool before tucking in.

Crisp Bread for Crisp Days


I was back in Stockholm over Easter for a friend’s 30th and to catch up with relatives.  I left behind a London that had just started to wake up to Spring to land in the middle of an icy Scandinavian winter, where the mercury barely teetered over zero most days.  Having said that, the sun stayed out and I didn’t see a cloud the whole time I was there.  The snow gradually started to melt, freezing overnight to create sheets of lethal, slippery glass over the pavement and roads.

You know it’s cold when water freezes straight out of the drainpipes

The Swedes do Easter with a bit more pizzaz than their southernly neighbours.  They love an excuse to get crafty and break out a bit of colour in order to liven up the last days of winter.  Feathers, dyed lurid tones of yellow, pink and blue, are the decor of choice, but many paint eggs and hang up wreaths too.  There’s usually a family get-together for a big Easter meal, but we eschew lamb in favour of a smörgåsbord of traditional feast food- pickled herring, salmon, eggs, meatballs, potatoes, Janssons temptation.  Rich, indulgent dishes, originally created to fuel the manual labour that farming the land required.  Not quite as necessary these days, of course, but still absolutely delicious.

Although we, too, like to give Easter eggs (generally decorated cardboard ones brimming with sweets), I’m always more interested in the baked goods category when it comes to festive eating.  Whether it be the spiced breads and biscuits at Christmas, the berry-filled tarts at midsummer or the cream filled cardamom buns available during Lent.  Snappy crisp breads, although enjoyed all year round, particularly come into their own with the rich foods served during the holidays.  Over Easter, my godmother, Margareta, very kindly shared her technique for making home made rye crisp breads.  Over an afternoon, we rolled, poked holes and scattered various toppings over the dense dough that gets slowly dried out in the oven.  It is quite a physical, painstaking job, but absolutely worth it.  Not least because the results could probably survive a nuclear holocaust.  Make a big batch, wrap it up in an airtight container and you’ll have delicious bread or canapé bases on tap.

Melting ice on lake Mälaren

Easter decorations for sale on Mariatorget


Rye Crisp Breads
(a big batch, recipe can be halved)
You will need:
25g fresh yeast
600ml water (blood temperature)
1 tbsp honey
3 tsp salt
500g rye flour
300g spelt flour
100g sunflower seeds
50g linseeds
100g sesame seeds
Method:
1.  Crumble the yeast into a large bowl and add the water, which should simply ‘feel wet’ (i.e. not hot, not cold, just the same temperature as your finger when you test it).  Stir to dissolve.  In a separate bowl, mix together the seeds.  
2.  Add the rye flour and 200g of the spelt flour to the liquid and yeast mixture, reserving the rest for later.  Add half of the seeds, mix well and knead together for a few minutes to form a sticky dough.  
3.  Leave to rise in a warmish place for at least an hour.  
4.  Preheat the oven to 210 C.   Divide the dough into 15 bits and roll into balls.  Dust your work surface with some of the reserved spelt flour and roll out each ball into rounds about 1/2cm thick.  It will be quite sticky, so do keep dusting more reserved flour.  Make a hole in the center of each round (using a small glass or jar) for traditional crisp breads or, alternatively, roll and cut out long rectangular shapes.  
5.  Place onto a lined baking sheet.  Poke each bread with a fork to dimple.  Sprinkle with the remaining seeds.  
6.  Bake in batches for 10-12 minutes.  Once each batch is done, turn off the oven and place all the breads onto a couple of baking sheets.  Put these into the oven and leave to dry out completely for a few hours.  

Easter buns

Buns, Easter | 16/04/2012 | By

I know, I know  I’m a little late in the day, I’ve fallen a bit behind on my blogging since being away.   But seeing as I did go to all the trouble of making hot cross buns this year, I thought I would share my recipe.

And in any case, why are these stupendous, soft and spicy little buns only allowed around Easter?  Who made up that rule?  I would quite happily eat them all year round.

Hot cross buns 


You will need:

450g plain flour, plus a bit more
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp mixed spice
2 tsp ground cinnamon
30 g unsalted butter
50g caster sugar
zest of 1 lemon
1x 7g sachet of fast-action east
1 large egg
250 ml whole milk
120 g raisins
oil
50 g plain flour
a bit of golden syrup

Method:

1.  Warm the milk and butter over a low heat until the butter has melted.  Meanwhile, mix the flour, salt, sugar and yeast together in a large bowl. 

2.  Add the zest and the raisins to the milk and butter and set aside to cool a little before beating in the egg.

3.  Stir the liquid mixture into the flour mixture and combine, using your hands if necessary, until you have a sticky dough.

4.  Work the dough on a floured surface, kneading until smooth.  Form into a neat ball and put in a bowl that has been lightly oiled and floured.  Cover with clingfilm and leave in the warmest spot in your home.  It should rise and almost double in size.

5.  Tip the dough out on to a floured surface, again and knead for a minute or two.  Form a sausage-like shape and cut off about 8-10 pieces of dough, depending on how large you’d like your buns to be.  Roll each of these into balls and put, evenly-spaced, on a lined baking tray.  Cover with a clean tea towel and leave to rise for a further half hour.

6.  Heat the oven to 200 degrees centigrade.   Make the crosses by mixing 50g plain four with about 5 tbsp tepid water.  Use a piping bag or a sandwich bag with a small hole cut out of it to decorate the buns with crosses- you may find that you want to adjust the flour or water content once you give it a go. 

7.  Bake for 20-25 minutes, taking care not to burn them.  Heat the syrup in a pan with a tbsp of water and brush this over the warm buns to give them a nice sheen.

8.  Serve as they are or toasted with lots of butter.