Come to my house for Easter and you will most probably be served Applecake at breakfast, as German a tradition as sauerkraut and bratwurst, Christmas trees and Schnapps.
Brought up in England by my English father and German mother, I consider myself fortunate to have enjoyed the best of both cultures, both so similar and yet in many ways worlds apart. Easter (Ostern) was a particularly enjoyable festival, heralding the end of winter. The house would be full of vases of daffodils picked from the garden and nearby orchard where they grew in profusion.
The custom of boiling and painting eggs, the symbol of new life, began in Germany during the 16th Century, the bright colours representing sunlight and growth. When we were little, my mother would wait until we four children were tucked up in bed before boiling eggs then painting and decorating each one before hiding them in the garden, either amongst the flowerbeds or often as not hanging from the branches of trees and shrubs for us to find on Easter morning. These, she told us, had been put there by the Easter Hare (der Osterhase). An article this weekend in one of the newspapers decried the arrival of Easter trees in the shops as a commercial extension of the Christmas tree but Egg Trees have long been part of traditional Easter celebrations in Germany.
As we grew older, we would help decorate eggs to be served for breakfast along with cold meats, cheese and bread followed by applecake. My father would also give each of us a small chocolate egg into the package of which he would place money for us to buy as much chocolate as we wanted. The first edible Easter Bunnies were also made in Germany, in about 1800. These were frequently made of marzipan covered in chocolate.
On Good Friday, toasted Hot Cross Buns would be served for breakfast, the day spent in quiet contemplation although we were not a religious family. On the Saturday evening a bonfire would often be lit, as a way of driving out the Winter spirits and welcoming in the warmth of Spring, although this was a good way for my mother to get rid of the trimmings from the shrubs she had cut back in March.
My German grandfather (Opa) was the baker in the village where my mother grew up and his cakes and pastries were legendary.
He would also bake a special Easter cake in the shape of a lamb. Many of his recipes have been handed on but, sadly, many were not written down and the recipes consequently lost. Thankfully, my mother inherited his talent and baked delicious cakes and confection but as the years have taken their toll, she has forgotten many of the recipes, so it was with relief and pleasure we came across Coppenrath & Weise Apple Crumb Cake in shops such as Makro. This is the nearest to the real thing you can buy and you don’t have to wait until next Easter to enjoy it.
Traditional Lamb Cake (Delicious with fresh-brewed coffee)
- 1 cup butter
- 2 cups sugar
- 1 cup water
- 3 1/2 cups flour
- 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 4 egg whites
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
Instructions: With an electric mixer, beat together the butter and sugar, then add in the water. In another bowl, mix the flour, baking powder and salt. Add into butter mixture and mix well. Add in the vanilla. In another bowl, beat egg whites until stiff peaks form, then add into batter.Grease and flour one lamb cake mould, and pour in batter. Bake in a preheated oven at 350 F (175 C) for about forty five minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. When cold, dust with icing sugar.
Tip for the Day: Does your butter go rancid in the heat yet if you keep it in the fridge it is rock hard. Instead of putting a whole block of butter out, keep only small amounts in the butter dish, say a quarter or half block. That way, it gets used quickly and the butter is always fresh. Unless, that is, you honestly prefer the oil-based concocted whips that spread straight from the fridge or you like playing games with the microwave guessing how long the butter will take to soften before melting, and melt it usually does.