Easter baking and red eggs

Memories of Easter as a small girl have been fused into my mind. 

Easter is the most significant religious celebration in the Greek Orthodox faith. The Lenten fast begins seven weeks before Easter on a Monday… ‘Clean Monday’. This time of fasting is a time to cleanse the body and spirit. During this fasting you abstain from foods that contain red blood, meat, poultry, milk, cheese and eggs for example. 

Easter preparations begin on Holy Thursday when the eggs are dyed red, with the red representing the blood of Christ. My mother would also decorate a few using a leaf from her garden as a stencil. She would place the leaf on a clean egg, put it into some stocking, tie it tightly and slowing immerse it into the red dye. When the eggs were ready and the leaves removed she would polish them with a little olive oil. They would then take their place in a large bowl. 

Women in Greek families are busy baking tsourekia and koulouria. The house is filled with aromas of mahlepi and warm tsoureki straight out of the oven. I now spend Holy Thursday dying eggs and baking with my children. My kitchen becomes a hive of conversation and laughter.

Good Friday is the holiest day of the Easter calendar. It is a day of mourning. Traditional foods such as lentil soup are eaten. There is a church service in the afternoon and families attend at this time and help decorate the Epitaphio (the tomb of Christ) with fresh flowers, later to return for the evening service when the priest and choir chant Byzantine hymns. During this service the Epitaphio is taken out of the church for a procession and all follow holding their lit candles symbolising the mourners.

On Holy Saturday the Mayiritsa (Easter soup) is being cooked and the house prepared for the coming feast.

Families attend church for the Resurrection service. Just before midnight the church is darkened and everyone is silent. The flickering light of the ‘Eternal Flame’ (a candle inside the altar) is the only light. At midnight the priest lights his candle from the Eternal Flame and sings ‘Christos Anesti’ – ‘Christ is risen’. The Priest holds out his candle and the flame is given to the closest person and this flame travels throughout the entire church while everyone chants ‘Christos Anesti’. You take your lit candle home and place it near your icons and enjoy the late dinner of Mayeritsa and the breaking of the fast.

Easter Sunday is a day to be spent with family and friends and every soul feasts on lamb, usually cooked on a spit or, at times, oven roasted. Everyone always loves the part where the red eggs are cracked. From ancient times, the egg has been a symbol of the renewal of life, the mssage of the red eggs is victory over death and Christ breaking free from the tomb. As a child I just wanted to have the strongest egg.

Here is a recipe for koulouria, Easter biscuits and a recipe for dying your Easter eggs naturally. I decided to simmer the onion skins and the eggs at the same time, giving my red eggs a marbled effect, which I love. Enjoy dying your Easter eggs and baking…have fun and Happy Easter. 

Mary x

Natural dye for Easter eggs using onion skins giving a traditional red colour to the eggs

12 uncooked eggs, at room temperature
skins from 12 brown onions (or a mixture of brown and spanish onions)
2 tablespoons white vinegar
4 1/2 cups of water
olive oil for polishing the red eggs

Pour the water into a large saucepan, add the onion skins and the vinegar and bring to the boil. Lower the heat and simmer for about 20 to 30 minutes…the longer you simmer the deeper the colour will become.
Strain the dye and allow to cool to room temperature.
When the dye has cooled, add the eggs and bring to the boil and simmer for about 12 – 15 minutes, if the colour is not as deep as you want leave them in the dye for a 5 – 10 minutes.
Using a slotted spoon remove the eggs carefully and allow to cool on racks. When the eggs are cool enough to handle, polish with a little olive oil and using paper towelling. 

Koulouria (Easter biscuits)

2 eggs
1 cup oil
1 cup sugar
150 grams unsalted butter
½ teaspoon vanilla
1 cup orange juice
self raising flour
2 eggs yolks 

Cream the butter and sugar adding eggs in one at a time. Add the vanilla and orange juice, combine well.

Start adding flour a little at a time working well with one hand mixing continuously. Add as much flour as it needs to form a smooth dough that is not sticky.

Avoid overworking the mixture as that will make the biscuits tough.

Take pieces of the dough and on a smooth surface roll into a cylinder, fold in half and twist. Continue until all the dough is finished. Place on a baking dish lined with a baking sheet. Brush tops with the egg yolks (which have been mixed) and bake in a 220 o C oven for about 20 minutes or until golden brown.

Christmas baking

Christmas is nearly here and I need another batch of kourabiedes…love to give these gorgeous biscuits as gifts.

Here is the recipe for that last minute baking and homemade gift giving.

Mary x

Kourabiedes

250gm unsalted butter
½ cup (125 gm) caster sugar
3 egg yolks
½ cup (125ml) oil
1 small cup (shot glass) ouzo
1 small teaspoon baking powder
4-5 cups plain flour
75 gm slivered almonds (optional)
pure icing sugar

Preheat oven to 200 degrees C

Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add egg yolks and mix well. Pour in the oil, ouzo and baking powder.

Slowly fold in the flour a bit at a time. You may not need all the flour; the dough needs to be light and not sticky. Do not overwork the dough as this can make the kourabiedes tough.

Take a small handful of dough and shape into crescents.

Place them onto a baking tray.

Place the slivered almonds in a clean frying pan and toast them over a low heat on the stove top until slightly golden.

Sprinkle over the dough.

Bake for about 20 minutes, or until golden brown.

Remove from the oven and, using a spatula, transfer onto greaseproof paper. When they are cool, dust with plenty of icing sugar and transfer onto a platter.

These biscuits keep well for about 3-4 weeks.

Greek Easter…

April is here already, it doesn’t seem that long ago that it was Christmas, but here I am now preparing for Easter.  I love this time of year.

Preparations for Easter begin on Holy Thursday when the eggs are dyed red and families begin their baking, making tsourekia and koulouria.  The house fills with the exotic aromas of mahlepi and warm baked goods straight out of the oven.

The traditional Easter mayeritsa soup, made with offal and finished with an egg and lemon sauce, is made on Easter Saturday to be eaten when everyone is back home from midnight mass that night.

Easter Sunday is a day spent with family and friends and every soul feasts on roasted lamb.  Red eggs are cracked and everyone, not only the small children and believe me my family can get very competitive, want to have the strongest egg.

These are the family traditions that I love.

I like to make Revani also for Easter, always need some extra sweet things on hand…

Here are my recipes for my koulouria and revani…

Koulouria (Easter biscuits)

150 grams unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
½ teaspoon vanilla
1 cup fresh orange juice
1 cup oil
self-raising  flour
2 egg yolks, beaten

Preheat oven to 200°C.

Cream butter and sugar and add eggs in one at a time.  Add vanilla, orange juice and oil.  Combine well.

Start adding flour, a little at a time, mixing continuously with one hand.  Add as much flour as required to form a smooth dough hat is not too sticky.  Avoid overworking the mixture as that will make the biscuits tough.

Take pieces of the dough and, on a smooth surface, roll into a cylinder, fold in half and twist.  Continue until all the dough is finished.

Place on a baking tray lined with a baking sheet.  Brush tops with beaten egg yolks and bake for about 20 minutes or until golden brown.

Revani (semolina cake)

2 cups oil
1 cup caster sugar
6 eggs
juice of 1 orange
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup semolina
2 cups self-raising flour

Syrup –

1 cup sugar
2 cups water
lemon zest

Preheat oven to 200° C.

Using an electric mixer, combine the oil and sugar.  Slowly add eggs, one at a time.  Add the orange juice, vanilla, semolina and flour and keep mixing until well combined.

Pour into a prepared baking dish and bake for about 30-40 minutes, or until cooked. Allow to cool.

To prepare the syrup, bring 2 cups of water, sugar and lemon zest to the boil and simmer for 10 minutes.  Pour onto the cake slowly.

Cut into pieces and serve at room temperature or cold with a generous spoonful of natural Greek yogurt drizzled with honey and sprinkled with pistachios.

Delicious….

Langham Masterclass MF&WF – dessert

Bougatsa – filo pastry parcels filled with custard – with roasted figs

1 pkt filo pastry
3 eggs
½ cup castor sugar
1 cup semolina
½ teaspoon vanilla paste
1 ½ litres full fat milk (warm)
grated zest of one lemon
1/3 cup melted unsalted butter for brushing
icing sugar and cinammon for dusting or
sugar syrup.

Sugar syrup

2 cups water
1 ½ cups castor sugar
lemon peel

Roasted figs

500 grams fresh figs
2 tablespoons thyme honey
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
ground cinnamon
shelled pistachios for serving

Preheat the oven to 180°C.

To make the custard beat the eggs with the sugar until light and creamy.  Add the semolina and vanilla and mix well.  Pour into a large saucepan and slowly add the milk stirring all the time over the heat.  The custard will thicken and be smooth.  Set aside to cool.

Lightly grease a muffin tray with some melted butter.

Lay out the filo sheets and cut into about 14 x 14 cm squares.  Gently place a square into the prepared pan and brush with some melted butter.  Repeat this until you have placed 4 squares into each muffin mould.  There should be excess filo, enough to bring together in the middle, press together gently, to make a parcel.

Place a heaped tablespoon or two into the filo prepared moulds, bring the filo together and pinch to close and seal.

Brush with some melted butter and place in the oven.  Bake for about 20-30 minutes or until golden.

Remove from the muffin tray carefully.

Prepare the figs by trim the stems and cutting into half lengthways.  Place onto a baking tray lined with baking paper and place a very small piece of butter in each fig,   drizzle with honey and sprinkle with cinnamon.  Roast in a 200°C oven for 10-15 mins or until the figs have softened.

Prepare the syrup by bringing to the boil the water and sugar and a little lemon peel and simmer for about 10 minutes.

Serve the bougatsa with roasted figs, a gently drizzle of syrup and some pistachios.

You can also dust with some icing sugar and cinnamon if preferred over the syrup.

Karydopita (walnut cake with syrup)

Hope everyone had a lovely Christmas.

If you are looking for a  dessert for the new year here is my recipe for Karydopita.

This gorgeous cake is perfect for any special occasion.  The blend of cinnamon, walnuts and honey make this cake irresistible.  It is very typical of Greek cakes.

Happy New Year to all…Mary x

Karydopita (Watnut cake with syrup)

70 grams unsalted butter
150 grams castor sugar
3 eggs separated
70 grams self raising flour
70 grams semolina
1 teaspoon cinnamon
150 grams finely chopped walnuts
½ cup full fat milk
syrup
2 cups water
1 cup castor sugar
lemon zest
4 cloves

Cream butter and sugar in a large mixing bowl, add yolks and combine.  Add flour, semolina, cinnamon and mix well.  Add walnuts and milk.  Whisk egg whites until light and fluffy and fold into mixture.

Pour into a baking dish which has been lightly buttered and cook in an oven at 200 oC for about 45 minutes, or until cooked.

In a small saucepan pour the water, sugar and add lemon zest, simmer for about 10 minutes.  Pour over the cake carefully.  Leave for about an hour then cut into pieces.

Serve at room temperature or cold.

Winter fruits

Winter brings to our kitchen table gorgeous apples, pears and quince, which I love to poach, bake or simply make compotes with.  You can experiment using your own combination of fruits, adding aromatic spices or some berries to them.

Baking these elegant and delicate winter fruits is something I adore.  Perfect with roast meats such as a slow roasted pork belly or duck, I like having apple or quince as an accompaniment to these meats.

My favourite of course is as a sweet, as I do confess I have a sweet tooth.

I like to take shortcuts sometimes, so tonight I am baking a rustic open tart using store-bought short crust pastry.  Place the pastry on a prepared baking tray and pile on the poached fruit (I used apples and quince) sprinkle with some almond flakes, fold over the edges and bake in a medium oven 180°C for 15-20 minutes.  Serve with custard, icecream, yogurt or cream.

I poached the pears in some water flavored with vanilla and brown sugar…I also added some frozen blueberries…delicious with some Greek yoghurt.

Hope there is some left for my breakfast tomorrow.

Rizogalo – rice pudding

This sweet creamy rizogalo fills me with childhood memories.

As a small girl I remember coming home from school and finding small plates filled with rizogalo lined up on the kitchen bench, still hot and sprinkled with aromatic cinnamon.  There was always enough for that afternoon eaten warm and another for the next day, cold from the refrigerator.

Perfect comfort food on a cold winters day…or any day really.

Rizogalo

150 grams medium grain rice
600 mls full-fat milk
30 grams cornflour
140 grams caster sugar,
ground cinnamon, to serve

Place rice and 300 mls water into a saucepan and simmer over a low heat until the rice is cooked and water has absorbed.

Add the milk slowly and keep stirring.

Mix the cornflour with a little water to make a paste and add to the rice mixture, together with the sugar.  Keep stirring until it thickens.

When ready, pour into individual bowls and serve with plenty of ground cinnamon.

Time for a coffee…

In a Greek household, drinking coffee is a way of life.  As a young girl I remember my father always drinking it and my mother always making it.  I remember these days fondly, sipping coffee and chatting…these are the memories that I love so much.

2 teaspoons sugar
2 teaspoons coffee

Greek coffee is brewed in a long-handled copper (or stainless steel) classic ‘briki’ coffee pot.

Pour 2 cups (500 mls) water (small coffee cup) into the briki. Add sugar and coffee and stir well.  Place over a low heat and allow to simmer.  Before it starts to boil, remove from heat and pour the froth into the two coffee cups.  Return to the stove and allow to boil, then carefully pour the coffee into the cups.

Take care not to disturb the froth too much.

Quince spoon sweet

One of my favourite spoon sweets is the one made with quince. The quince is not normally eaten raw as they are hard, too tart and not very pleasant.  However, once cooked and sweetened it transforms into a beautiful red color, and becomes, I think, irresistible.

The spoon sweet is not the only way to eat quince of course.  You can poach them with vanilla and cinnamon and serve with Greek yogurt, you can make a quince tart as you would an apple tart by simply substituting the apple with quince, quince jam, quince compote and roasted as you would apples and served with roast meats such as pork.

They are ready for eating in late autumn…I love this time of the year.  You may be lucky enough to have a quince tree in your garden but, if not, the markets have plenty right now.

Here is my recipe for my much-loved spoon sweet…

Quince spoon sweet

1 kilo quince
3 tablespoons lemon juice
3 cups water
1 kilo castor sugar

Peel and grate the quince roughly and place into a saucepan with the water and lemon.  Simmer until the quince is soft and the water has almost been absorbed.

I love the rich color the quince turns once cooked.

Pour in the sugar, combine careully and allow to stand overnight.

In the morning place back onto a low heat and simmer until the quince is cooked, translucent and the syrup has thickened.  Pour into sterilized jars and allow to cool. 

Store in the refrigerator.