Saturday, April 17, 2010

Easter Bread- The Harting Family Tradition

 Dying the Easter Eggs

I got a little spoiled having not worked full-time for over a year.  Going to school and working at places like Sur La Table and Crema Cafe certainly took enough hours, but it didn't feel so much like work, and I felt like I had a little more time for myself.  Now I am committed to 40 hours a week at Whole Foods, and while my job is fun and coworkers are still feels like work.  It probably has a lot to do with the getting up at 5am each morning and that I'm not exactly practicing my art in the way I want just yet.  But I am being patient and happy to be employed by a great company.

The one of the biggest problems with not having time is, my blog gets neglected.  I have plenty of wonderful desserts and stories to share with you, but keep finding other things to do then post them.  While I was in Paris I ate a lot of great food and even made a few things as well.  As promised here is the post on the "famed" Easter Bread.
The Famed Easter Bread
The Easter Bread Traditions started in my family over 40 years ago.  My mother found a recipe in a Good Housekeeping magazine in 1963 for an "Easter Egg Twist".  She clipped it out, but didn't actually make the recipe till the following year.  It must have been so good, that she continued to make it every year right before Easter, with only a few exceptions. (I was born on Good Friday, so my oldest sister baked the bread that year.) The usual routine went like this: we would start making the bread on Thursday or Friday before Easter.  The small kids would help with coloring the eggs.  There were rules, we could dye the eggs any way we wanted, but only "normal" colored eggs  (ie red, blue, green, ect) were allowed into the bread.  Normally my mother encouraged creativity, but not when it came to her Easter Bread.  If you were capable, you got to help with the mixing of the dough, kneading and rolling it out.  My mom made a lot of bread, but Easter bread was unique because it was lightly sweet and had lemon zest in it.  To this day, the fresh smell of lemon zest reminds me of Easter Bread.

Making Easter Bread was an all day affair.  We made enough to cover several baking sheets, and the house always smelled heavenly after.  Then the torturous waiting began.  Once it was baked and cooled, it was wrapped in tin foil and we were not allowed to eat it till after the Easter Vigil Mass on Saturday night or Easter morning.  It was almost worse then waiting for Christmas gifts.  Easter morning would come and no one stayed in bed late.  If you got up early enough, you could have a few slices before leaving for church. Once we returned home, it was a free for all.  Then the next few days we'd nibble on the remaining bits as breakfast, lunch or just a snack. 

I was in college when I made Easter Bread by myself for the first time.  I talked it up to my roommates, telling them the history of the delicious bread.  I didn't need to say much, the smell coming from the oven was enough to convince them this bread was special.  Once it was done baking, I did something completely scandalous, my roommates and I tore into the bread as it was still warm from the oven.  Easter Bread that you have waited to eat for several days is very delicious.  Easter Bread fresh from the oven is out of this WORLD!  Soft, sweet and just enough lemon to give it a bright flavor; I was ruined.  This year I was a little more disciplined.  I did not eat Easter Bread till the day after I made it, though it took all my reserve to not eat it straight from the oven again as the aroma filled the apartment.

I almost feared my made-in-Paris Easter Bread was going to have to be "sans oeufs".  The first grocery store I went to did not have food coloring.  I visited 2 more stores before I found them just as I was about to give up.  I also could not find colored sugar for sprinkling on top, but that wasn't such a big problem: I made my own. Later in the week I did find colored sugars at the Gallery Lafayette's Epicerie.  (Note to self for future adventures in Paris.)  They could have also been found at Mora, but I didn't make it there during this trip. I found myself sounding just like my mother when it came to dying the eggs because someone wanted to make crazy colored eggs.  I said, that is fine, but only the normal colored ones go into the bread.....

Easter bread is essentially an enriched yeast bread.  You start by hydrating the yeast and then adding a little flour and letting is sit.  In the meantime you cream butter with sugar and add some lemon zest and a little lemon juice.   Then the two mixtures are combined together with more flour to make a workable dough.  Let the dough rest till it has doubled in size and then you can shape it.  The original recipe instructed you to make braids (hence the Twist in the title) and then twist the braids around the colored eggs to make a wreath like shape.  Let it rest again till doubled in size and then brush with a milk and egg yolk wash and sprinkle with colored sugar.

  Stages of Making Easter Bread

Ready for the Oven!

If you'd like the recipe....well you'll have to ask my Mom, she guards it closely, it is a family tradition after all. 

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Paris, encore.

As my plane descended to Charles De Gualle airport last Thursday, I had the feeling of coming home.  It's comforting to take a vacation in a familiar place.  I didn't have any grand plans of seeing this museum or eating at that restaurant....just a week to relax, see some friends and be with one very special person.  But I'd be lying if I said I didn't have anything planned.

 Fraise-Pistache St. Honore from Laduree

On Friday morning Romain and I set out to the Champs Elysees to pay a visit to Laduree.  This was not just a visit to buy macarons either; I had a rendez-vous.  I met with the head chef of Laduree to sign a convention de stage and set the dates for my 3 month internship at the famed Patisserie.  I am going back to Paris this summer to work at a world-renowned Patisserie! I was super giddy after my meeting; I practically floated out of the building and down the street before I remembered I wanted to actually go into the store to buy a treat.  So of course we went back.  I needed to see what I will be helping make this summer too. 

Laduree cookbook I received as a birthday gift, to help me prepare for this summer
It was a great way to start off my week in Paris.  The rest of my visit was filled with great dinners, lots of walking and stopping to stare into Patisserie and Boulangerie shop windows, watching a rugby game at the Stade de France, and a trying out Romain's new kitchen and microwave/oven combo.  On Wednesday before I left I had a great opportunity to spend some time in the kitchen at Restaurant Jean.

I stumbled upon Jean by internet search.  Its a cozy restaurant in the 9th arrondissement not to far from Romain's apartment.  The restaurant has a Michelin star and an American pastry chef!  I spent the early half of the day following Alison Johnson (the American pastry chef) around the petite cuisine at Jean and trying to be helpful and not get in her way.  I got to taste some of her lovely desserts and see the flawless artistic presentation of the dishes.  I was thrilled to see her command of her space and her attention to the last minute detail; her passion for her job is obvious.  I felt like a clumsy ameature next to her, but she is a lot of what I aspire to be.  She also became a pastry chef as a career change when she was about my age. She moved to France without knowing the language fluenty. Now she works for a wonderful restaurant making fantastic desserts and speaks French beautifully.

Palais Royal Jardin (2010)
Later on Wednesday Romain and I walked through the Palais Royal Jardin.  The trees were just starting to get some leaves and the intoxicating smell of hyacinths filled the air.  The jardin was rather full with people sitting and enjoying the flowers and the fresh spring air.  It was a great vacation and I was sad to leave Paris once again, but it was easier knowing I would be home again soon and for longer.  I came back to Boston feeling like my batteries had been recharged. Now just a few short weeks to prepare for my next big adventure.

Spring has arrived in Paris

Thursday, April 1, 2010

April in Paris

Photos of the Palais Royal Jardin, Paris

I'm once again sitting in Boston Logan Airport; I'm off to Paris for a visit.  It's just over a year since my first visit.  I'm hoping this time since I'm there in April and not March, there will be a few more flowers and maybe some leaves starting to appear on the trees.  I have other hopes as well for this trip...but those can't be shared yet.

April means other things as well.  Easter falls in April this year, as well as my birthday and 2 of my brothers.  I will be celebrating my 30th in Paris.  My brother Philip lives in Massachusetts as well and his birthday falls the day before mine, my brother Mark's birthday falls 2 days after mine, but they are both older than me.  I had dinner plans with Philip and his Fiance Anne for last Saturday.  I realized while I was at work that morning, that I would be missing his birthday while I was on this trip, and I really wanted to do something nice for him. (We have a long standing of tradition of celebrating our birthdays together if possible)  I started doing a mental scan of cake ideas as I continued my work.  By the time I was ready to leave for the day, I had decided on a recipe from school, but with a few adjustments.  I had to scurry home and get moving to have it ready before meeting them for dinner.

Philip is not a big fan of cake, he will openly admit this.  He will also tell you the exception to this rule is my cakes.  My idea was not so cakey afterall.  A light flourless Hazelnut Dacqouise with bits of Dark Chocolate, and a hint of orange zest.  The Dacqouise was topped with thin layer of Orange Creme Brulee followed by a generous layer of Milk Chocolate Mousse and finished with a Dark Chocolate Ganache and thin slivers of candied Orange rind.  It was not bad for having put it together in just under 3 1/2 hours.  Philip was pleasantly surprised and he and everyone else who joined us really enjoyed the cake.  In the midst of the lighting of candles and singing the traditional birthday song, I forgot to take pictures of the cake before we demolished it. Maybe next time...

Birthdays require birthday cake or a yummy mousse cake; and in my family Easter also gets its own special treat as well: Easter Bread.  I won't go into too much detail right now, but I am planning to make some while in Paris to share with Romain and friends.  I'll post more about it and try not to forget the photos!

Time to board my flight.  Je vais a Paris encore! 

A bientot!