Why is this night different from all other nights?

Holy Thursday is the day when Christians celebrate a Passover Seder. Not in the strict sense, we wash and awful lot of feet, but it’s the night we celebrate the Last Supper, which three of the four Gospels depict as a Seder meal. If you’re a Christian and you’ve never celebrated a proper Seder, try it sometime. Any understanding of Christianity is really incomplete without an appreciation for the faith’s Judaic foundation.

Which brings me to the question this post inspired: reader Lori wants to know why in most other languages Easter is called “Pascua”, “Pasqua”, “Pascha” or something similar. The answer…

Read on…

Filed under:  Pastry | Leave a comment

On Easter Eggs

Eggs are a conspicuous part of an Italian Easter bread, and for Greek Easter bread as well as reader Rick reminds me. The two are virtually identical save for the fact that in the Greek version the eggs are all dyed a single color: a deep crimson red. That’s standard for Greek Orthodox Catholics, being a bit more doctrinaire than most Roman Catholics. I guess they don’t call it “Orthodox” for nothing.

In the orthodox tradition Easter eggs are always dyed blood red to symbolize the drops of blood shed by Christ on the cross. Roman Catholics, like other Christians who celebrate Easter, tend to approach Easter eggs with a bit more frivolity. Ours come in all colors of course, they can be tie-dyed, drawn upon, you name it. …

Read on…

Filed under:  Pastry | 7 Comments

Moveable Feast: Not Just Another Catering Company

We’re getting some warm spring breezes in Louisville today and they’re welcome after a not very snowy but conspicuously cold winter. Puts an old Catholic like myself in the mood for Easter, because if Easter isn’t about tulips, short sleeve shirts and roast spring chickens, then what’s it about? The resurrection of Christ thing, that’s a for-sure.

Reader Dusty wrote in to ask an interesting question: why does Easter move around the spring calendar so drastically when other big Christian holidays like Christmas are always on the same day each year? That’s a lovely one, and it all goes back to a little something called the Council of Nicaea, a gathering of Christian leaders that was convened in 325 A.D. by Constantine the Great, the Roman emperor whose conversion to Christianity turned the entire Roman Empire Catholic in one fell swoop, transforming the faith from an underground religion to an officially sanctioned church.

Read on…

Filed under:  Pastry | 13 Comments

How to Make Fancy Pastry Like a Pro

Reader Michelle writes:

Joe, I’m frustrated. I consider myself a fairly accomplished baker but every time I set out to make a really fancy pastry the whole thing ends in disaster and my entire day is wasted. I don’t want to give up but I just can’t seem to get the fancy pastry thing right. Should just stick to bread and cookies? Help!

Michelle, as a white-haired man named Clinton once said: I feel your pain. There’s not much worse than spending a long day making components for an elegant pastry, then having the whole thing collapse into an ugly, delicious mess. It happened to me over and over again, then I went to work in a pastry shop and saw how the pros avoided my mistakes.

Read on…

Filed under:  Pastry | 3 Comments

Italian Easter Bread Recipe

What we have here is something similar to brioche, though not as fussy. You mix it all together in one step (no beating in the butter once the dough is made) and let it rise as you would any bread dough. The result is a bread that’s still quite soft and rich, but without the explosive rise of brioche, which in this context is a good thing. You’ll need:

4 ounces (1/2 cup) butter
6 ounces (3/4 cup) milk
1 lb. 1. 1/2 ounces (3 1/2 cups) all-purpose flour
2 1/4 teaspoons instant yeast
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
zest of one orange
1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs, lightly beaten
6-8 hard boiled eggs, dyed Easter colors
egg wash

Read on…

Filed under:  Pastry | 3 Comments

Next Up: Italian Easter Bread

I know I’ve been spending a lot of time in Italy lately, but the food is good so why not? Plus who can resist braided brioche with a dyed hard-boiled egg baked in the middle? My girls are going to go nuts and the breads will look amazing on the Easter table. I promise to do something very different after I’m done getting all Martha Stewart on you. Cool?

Filed under:  Pastry | 8 Comments

Raised Doughnut Tweaks

Comments from a few readers have spurred me to make a few changes to the raised doughnut recipe. I’ve always like them but they’re in overdrive now, boys and girls. Try them and see!…

Read on…

Filed under:  Pastry | 10 Comments

Making Amaretti

Coffee lovers, meet your new favorite cookie. These things are dynamite with an afternoon cup, just small enough and and light enough that you won’t feel guilty crunching your way through a couple of them with your three o’clock pick-me-up. They store well, which means a batch will last you a week or two, and who knows? You may find them handy for crushing and sprinkling over some cut fruit or a little sorbet. They’re handy for all sorts of things. Start yours by preheating your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and assembling your ingredients.

Read on…

Filed under:  Amaretti, Pastry | 21 Comments

The Death of Dessert?

I was recently reminded that I neglected to comment on a couple of interesting articles from the Washington Post that appeared last month discussing the decline of dessert. Not the decline of sweets or pastries mind you, but the decline of dessert as a meal course. Dessert, so claims reporter Roberto Ferdman, is a happening that’s vanishing both in the restaurant and in the home. The chief culprit isn’t health or calorie concerns, but time.

Only 12 percent of dinners eaten at home in the United States ended with something sweet last year, the lowest reading in more than 30 years, according to data from market research firm NPD group. Just 10 years ago, in 2004, 15 percent of families indulged after the main course. And 28 years ago, in 1986, the number was nearly 25 percent.

Read on…

Filed under:  Pastry | 53 Comments

Now What?

It’s become traditional to ask for project suggestions after my late winter fishing trip. With the exception of the candies (which I have yet to tackle since I’m not very good at confectionery) I completed most of last year’s project requests, and many more besides. What shall I plan for the this coming year? Please weigh in if you’re so inclined.

Filed under:  Pastry | 122 Comments