The Easter break can be a busy time, both for visiting or hosting visitors, so I thought a post on Easter baking would be useful with the holiday period fast approaching. I am going to share some old favourites with you : Mardi’s Date Loaf; Dutch Ginger Cake; Mrs. Wilson’s Walnut Cake and Speculaas, as well as some new favourites: Date and Ginger Cake; Easter Biscuits and finally, Annabel’s Ginger and Apricot Biscuit Slice.
Mardi’s Date Loaf
This was Ross’s mother’s recipe and I used it for many years. In fact, it was the mainstay (along with Anzac Biscuits) for Ross’s natural history tours, when Ross would make his guests afternoon tea out in the bush. He often had international visitors and whenever I make this recipe, I am reminded of a pair of German girls, who were initially very suspicious of this loaf, but after the first few tentative nibbles, went on to demolish the lot very quickly over their cuppa!!!Set the oven temperature to 180 degrees Celsius and line a loaf tin with Gladbake.Bring to the boil in a saucepan : 1 cup chopped pitted dates, 1 cup sugar, 1 tbsp butter and 1 cup boiling water. Take off the stove and immediately add 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda, which will cause the mixture to fizz! Allow to cool.Add 1 well-beaten egg. Mix in 2 cups sifted self-raising flour and 1/2 cup chopped walnuts.Spoon into loaf tin and cook in the oven for 45 minutes. Make sure it doesn’t overcook or get too dry. Delicious with butter, but equally tasty on its own!Dutch Ginger Cake
I think this one came from the good old Women’s Weekly recipe book years ago and it fast became a firm favourite, not just because it is quick and easy to make (apart from the baking time that is!), requiring no mixmaster or beaters, but also because it’s really DELICIOUS and dangerously more-ish! But BE WARNED! Consumption of more than two wedges at one sitting is definitely NOT RECOMMENDED!!! It is very rich (it’s all that butter!), but even though I have tried to reduce the butter amount, it’s best with the full ration! I use the glace ginger in its own syrup, sold by Buderim Ginger. Do not use crystallized ginger. I often used to make both Date Loaf and Ginger Cake at the same time, because they both take 45 minutes to bake. Their flavours also complement each other well.Set the oven to 180 degrees Celsius and line a 20 cm round cake tin with Gladbake.Melt 125 g butter. Sift 1.75 cups plain flour. Add 1 cup castor sugar and 125g chopped glace ginger.Mix in melted butter and 1 well-beaten egg. Spoon mixture into cake tin. Glaze with milk and 30 g flaked almonds.Bake in the oven for 45 minutes. Do not expect the cake to rise too much. It’s more of a flat shortbread. Cut into thin wedges!Date, Honey and Ginger Cake
Since we love both the recipes above, as well as honey (my husband being the human reincarnation of Pooh Bear!), I was keen to try out Matthew Evans’ recipe from his lovely book : ‘Winter on the Farm’ . It’s a beauty and is on a par with the faithful old Date Loaf in my affections!Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Line a 24cm square cake tin with Gladbake.Boil 1 cup water in a saucepan, add 150g chopped pitted dates and 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda, then remove from the heat and set aside.Beat 250g softened butter with 250g castor sugar and 350g (1 cup) honey with electric beaters until light and fluffy, then add 3 eggs, one at a time.Fold in 450g sifted plain flour, 1/2 tsp salt, another 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda, 2 tsp ground ginger, 2 tsp mixed spice, 1 tsp cinnamon and 150g (1.5 cups) lightly chopped walnuts.Drain the dates, saving the liquid, and fold dates into the batter. Add enough water to the saved date liquid to make up a cup (250 ml) and add to the batter. Stir well till combined.Pour mixture into a tin and bake for 1 hour or until a skewer comes out clean. Cool in the tin for 20 mins , then turn out onto a wire rack to finish cooling.Mrs. Wilson’s Walnut Cake
Mrs. Wilson was a teacher at my children’s primary school and she brought this divine cake along to a parent-teacher evening one year. For even more exotic flavours, hazelnuts and lime juice can be substituted for the walnuts and lemon juice. Both forms are delicious and make a lovely moist cake.Preheat the oven to 160-180 degrees Celsius and line a 20cm springform cake tin with Gladbake.
Toast and finely blend 200g walnuts or hazelnuts.Cream 125g butter and 150g castor sugar. Add 1 egg and beat till light and fluffy. Stir in 3 tsp grated lemon rind or lime rind and 2 tbsp brandy.Sift 50g plain flour and 50g self-raising flour together and fold into the mixture gently with the nuts. Spoon mixture into tin. Bake in the oven for 1 hour.
Make a hot syrup from 60ml lemon or lime juice and 55g castor sugar and pour over the cooked warm cake.Cover with foil and cool slowly to room temperature. Keep in the fridge.
Serve dusted with icing sugar. I often use a stencil to create a pretty pattern on top.
Now for the biscuits! Both the Speculaas and the Easter Biscuit recipes come from a lovely book called ‘Festivals, Family and Food’ by Diana Carey and Judy Large.
Traditionally baked for consumption on St Nicholas’ Feast in the Netherlands (Dec 5), Belgium (Dec 6) and around Christmas in Germany, the true speculaas are made in wooden moulds, decorating the thin spicy wafers with images of Christmas. I use cookie cutters in appropriate seasonal shapes instead. For example, sleighs, fir trees, Santa Claus and stars for Christmas; Wombats, kangaroos, kookaburras and other Australian animals for Australia Day or international visitors; And rabbits, eggs, flowers and hearts for Easter. I have a big tin of cookie cutters from my children’s childhood and still find it hard to resist purchasing new shapes when I see them! Even though these biscuits take a while to make, I still often make them before a big car trip, because it’s a generous recipe, making a large number of biscuits, which last well (apart from gobbling them up!)
Preheat oven to 180 degrees Celsius.Cream 250g butter and 175g brown sugar, a pinch of salt and the grated rind of one lemon.Sift 250g plain flour, 1 tsp baking powder, 2tsp mixed spice and 2tsp cinnamon.Fold flour mixture into butter mixture and add 1dsp milk.Roll out thinly. I often use a sheet of Gladbake between the rolling pin and board to prevent sticking.Cut our shapes and place on a biscuit tin lined with Gladbake. Bake for 5-10 mins.Easter Biscuits
These are pretty little biscuits when cut with a fluted round cookie cutter and contrast well with the spicy brown Speculaas on the tea table.Preheat oven to 190-200 degrees Celsius.Rub 125g butter into 250g plain flour with your fingers.Add 125g castor sugar, a handful of currants, 1/2 tsp each of mixed spice and cinnamon and a squeeze of lemon juice.Mix in 1 beaten egg with 1 tbsp brandy and form a paste.Roll out thinly on a floured board. Here again, you can use a sheet of Gladbake between the rolling pin and board to prevent sticking.Using a fluted round cookie cutter, cut into rounds. Sprinkle with caster sugar if desired.Bake in oven for 10 minutes. Be careful to not burn or brown too much.Annabel’s Ginger and Apricot Biscuit Slice
Sourced from ‘Free Range in the City’ by Annabel Langbein, this is a very easy, no-bake slice with some of my favourite ingredients: dried apricots, ginger, pistachios and sweetened condensed milk! I always love a good excuse to open a can of condensed milk, especially when the recipe doesn’t use the whole tin. A teaspoonful of sweetened condensed milk cooled in the refrigerator is divine, although these days I am a lot more self-disciplined!!! I use Marie or Nice biscuits for the biscuit base and crush them to fine crumbs in a double plastic bag (ie : 2 plastic bags, so if one gets holey, you don’t lose the crumbs!) with a rolling pin.Line a 30cm x 24cm baking tin with Gladbake.Place 100g butter and 3/4 tin sweetened condensed milk in a pot and heat gently till the butter melts. Remove from heat. Crush 375g sweet biscuits.Mix 1 cup finely-chopped dried apricots, 1/2 cup finely-chopped crystallized ginger, 1 cup dessicated coconut, 1 tsp ground ginger, 2 tbsp lemon juice and finally, the crushed sweet biscuits.Add butter and condensed milk mixture and stir to combine. Press biscuit base into the prepared tin and set in the refrigerator for 1 hour.Make Lemon Icing : Melt 50g butter and mix to a smooth consistency with 3 tbsp boiling water, 1 tsp lemon juice and 3.5 cups icing sugar.Spread icing over biscuit base and sprinkle with 1/4 cup chopped crystallized ginger and 2 tbsp chopped pistachios. When the icing is set, cut into slices and store in a cool place.
I hope you enjoy making and eating these cakes and biscuits and have a Happy and Safe Easter, especially if you are travelling on the roads! Here are some fun photos from Easters past!