DIY EASTER BAKING
It’s hard to think of a cosier activity than baking at home over Easter. Sure, you could buy a cake but a DIY version has so much more resonance. “It’s an expression of nurturing and love,” says Nadine Ingram of Flour and Stone in Sydney. “Baking creates welcoming aromas and puts people in a relaxed state of mind.” It’s also a boon for anyone with children – a fun, tactile activity. “You are effectively sowing their childhood memories,” she adds.
Autumn is the ideal time for amateur and even first-time bakers to roll up their sleeves. From hot cross buns to sweet loaves, brioche to biscuits, there’s an Easter recipe to suit every skill set and every set of tastebuds.
We asked some leading bakers for their tips on firing up the oven.
DON’T GET CROSS ABOUT BUNS
Jocelyn Hancock, owner of Cake & Bake in Brisbane, believes the secret to perfect hot cross buns is a searing oven.
“Don’t turn the oven on just before you put them in – it needs to be at 250°C for at least 20 minutes,” she says. Then, drop the temperature to 180°C so the buns still “jump” or rise. Resist the temptation to pull them apart once done and allow them to cool on a wire tray. Hancock also infuses her glaze with cardamom, cinnamon and organic peel.
ENLIST THE LITTLE ONES
“Baking is a wonderful way to bond with your kids,” says Kirsten Tibballs, who runs the Savour Chocolate & Patisserie School in Melbourne. “My 10-year-old son loves making hot cross buns with me and we also make chocolate Easter eggs together.”
Tibballs advises letting go of any inhibitions about creating chaos and allow kids to tap into their inner Jamie Oliver. “That’s when you get the most pleasure and enjoyment out of it,” she says. “Kids love kneading and rolling dough and cutting out little biscuits by hand, and generally that means making a mess.”
DANGLE A CARROT CAKE
For time-poor bakers, London-based Australian virtuoso Dan Lepard advises recruiting the kids as a kitchen hack. “Getting children to help with a carrot cake is good because there are so many different elements,” he says.
“Let the children grate carrots, ensuring they’re not grating fingers, and allow them to measure sultanas and nuts since they don’t need to be exact. They can also butter the tin and mix the cream cheese until it’s soft.”
BREATHE NEW LIFE INTO CLASSICS
Ingram suggests tweaking dishes to give them your own spin. “So long as you maintain the basic ratios of a recipe, you can mix everything else up,” she says.
She recommends replacing flour with ground nuts, turning a carrot cake into a parsnip and pear cake, adding raisins instead of chocolate chips or replacing milk with coconut yoghurt.
“Or use your favourite Anzac biscuit recipe but stir chopped crystallised ginger through it,” says Lepard.
LOOK TO THE BOUNTY OF FRUIT
“Apples and pears, which you can buy cheaply, lend themselves to home baking well,” says Lepard. “Think about baked cheesecakes, rich fruitcakes and anything chocolate.”
Speaking of which, Lepard likes to combine milk and dark chocolate for a child-friendly treat with adult appeal.
GO GLOBAL FOR INSPIRATION
To wow your guests, consider how other cultures commemorate the end of Lent. Ingram loves Italy’s schiacciata di Pasqua, a fluffy sweet bread made on Good Friday, and a round brioche called pogne which is traditionally baked in France. Eastern Europeans favour an eggy bread that is enriched with dried fruit.
The Russian kulich, a sugary yeasted bread, has the added drama of XB initials, which stand for “Christ is risen”. “Maintain the integrity of how that bread would be made,” says Ingram.
MAXIMISE MINI CONFECTIONS
When reviewing how to present your masterpieces, Lepard suggests going mini. “That doesn’t mean you eat less but you feel like you are, and they’re quicker to bake,” he says.
Make hot cross buns half the size, or bake simnel cake, a light fruit cake, in cupcake cases, topped with a thin disc of marzipan while they’re still hot so that it melts on top.
METHOD TO YOUR MADNESS
Preparation is key. “Once you have decided what you want to make, read through the recipe twice, taking into account every detail right down to the baking paper you need to line the tin,” advises Ingram.
SWEET THERAPY CAN BE YOURS
“Baking is an incredibly therapeutic activity and you get such pleasure from making something then sharing it with friends and family,” says Hancock.
“It doesn’t have to be a work of art,” she adds. “And even if you forget the baking powder it will still be delicious – just a little flatter.” Homemade delights are also free of the stabilisers and preservatives some commercial bakers use for longevity. These treats are destined to be polished off. Keen to get started?