Felicity Cloake puts six far-flung recipes through their paces. Chocolate wins.
Easter always means roast lamb, simnel cake and chocolate for me - a trio of seasonal treats ably represented here, along with a couple of lovely, and unusual, Easter-egg recipes from Portugal and Liguria. Natalie Wong's rich, nutty cake is a just winner though - and far more impressive than a chocolate egg.
Sadly there wasn't space for all your wonderful celebratory dishes - but if my hot cross buns ever get the chance to go stale, I'll certainly be giving Piggy Fair's decadent-looking hot-cross bun pudding a whirl. And I'm dying to try Katharine Roberts's Italian lamb with pecorino and eggs ... lucky Easter's a four-day weekend, eh?
The winning recipe: hazelnut chocolate cake
This flourless, hazelnut and chocolate cake, inspired by German praline Easter eggs, will definitely be enough for a family to feast on over the Easter break. Create three layers or top with muffins. Natalie Wong, London, twinnydip.blogspot.co.uk
Makes 1 large cake
350g dark chocolate (70%), in pieces
270g golden caster sugar
270g unsalted butter, cubed, plus extra to grease
225g ground hazelnuts
9 eggs, separated
50g hazelnuts, toasted and chopped
9 whole hazelnuts, toasted
For the ganache
300g chocolate (½ milk, ½ dark), in pieces
150ml double cream
1 Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4. Grease and line three 20cm-cake tins, or two tins and one muffin tin (use muffin cases for the latter).
2 Place the chocolate, 200g of the sugar and the butter in a bowl and melt over a pan of simmering water. Take off the heat and stir in the ground nuts. Beat the egg yolks slightly and add them to the mixture.
3 Whisk the egg whites, adding the remaining sugar just before they form soft peaks. Continue whisking until they reach soft-peak stage. Gradually fold into the chocolate.
4 Transfer to the tins, and bake for 20 minutes (for cakes) or 15 minutes (for muffins). Cool before turning out.
5 To make the ganache, melt the chocolate and double cream together in a bowl set over boiling water, then allow to cool slightly.
6 Spread some ganache on the top of the first cake, place the second on top, and spread with more ganache. Top with the third cake or the muffins - one in the centre, the rest neatly around it. Carefully pour the remainder over the entire cake and spread as evenly as possible - don't worry if it looks a bit messy and uneven.
7 Sprinkle the chopped hazelnuts over the entire cake and decorate with whole nuts. Serve with sour or whipped cream.
Pao de lo
If any dish evokes Easter childhood memories for me it's this, probably the lightest and fluffiest cake in the world. Created by Portuguese monks and nuns as a way of using up surplus egg yolks, this dessert is usually baked in terracotta pots (but an 18cm cake tin, lined with baking paper will work too) and served sliced with a spoonful of ripe sheep's milk cheese and an espresso after a long Easter lunch.
Miguel de Almeida, London, westcoastcooking.wordpress.com
9 egg yolks
2 egg whites
1 tsp vanilla essence
A pinch of salt
125g self-raising flour, sifted
Zest of ½ lemon
Icing sugar, to serve
1 Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/gas mark 6. Whisk the yolks with the whites, sugar, vanilla essence and salt for at least 20 minutes until super-light and fluffy. (This is very important, do not stop whisking before this.)
2 Fold in the flour and zest with a metal spoon and transfer to a lined cake tin. Bake for 30 minutes, remove from the oven and leave to cool.
3 Dust with icing sugar, and serve.
Easter means lamb for me so I came up with this and it went down a treat: the lemons and sumac cut through the fatty lamb and the sweet shallots balance it all out. Chop any leftovers up, mix with yoghurt and use to fill some pasties. Serve with tzatziki.
Glyn Ellis Hughes, Liverpool
4 tbsp olive oil
1 big glass of vermouth
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp crushed peppercorns
1 tsp sumac
1 shoulder of lamb (or ½ leg)
12 shallots, peeled and halved
1 bulb garlic, halved horizontally
2 thyme sprigs
2 preserved lemons, very thinly sliced
24 Jerusalem artichokes, peeled or well-scrubbed and halved
1 small bunch of mint
1 Preheat the oven to 170C/340F/gas mark 3-4. Mix the oil, vermouth, salt, pepper and sumac in a big bowl, add the lamb and shallots and marinate for a good hour.
2 Transfer to a roasting tin, add the garlic and thyme, cover with foil and cook for 2 hours.
3 Turn the meat, baste, then remove the thyme. Mix in the lemons and artichokes. Replace the foil and cook for about another hour, until tender.
4 Rest for half an hour then serve in big chunks with the veg. Squeeze the garlic into the juices and pour over the meat. Garnish with chopped mint.
Easter spinach and egg pie (torta pasqualina)
This traditional Ligurian Easter dish is one of my party pieces. I love using olive oil pastry as it is beautifully stretchy and never leaks or shrinks.
Rachel Kelly, London, marmadukescarlet.blogspot.co.uk
For the olive oil pastry
400g strong plain flour
A pinch of salt
90ml extra virgin olive oil, extra to grease
150ml warm water
1 egg yolk, lightly beaten
For the filling
500g mixed greens (spinach, Swiss chard or cavolo nero), trimmed
1 onion, finely chopped
Knob of butter
A pinch of salt
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, very finely chopped
1 small bunch of flat-leaf parsley, chopped
450g ricotta, drained
50g Parmesan or pecorino, finely grated
3 globe artichokes in oil, finely chopped
Grated zest of 1 lemon
1 For the pastry, sift the flour into a large mixing bowl with the salt. Make a well in the centre, add the oil and mix well. Add the warm water a little at a time until you have a soft, but not sticky dough. Knead until smooth, form into a ball, cover and leave to rest for 30 minutes in a cool place.
2 Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/gas mark 6. Put the greens in a large pan with about 50ml water. Cover and wilt over a medium heat. (Add chard stalks to the water first to give them a headstart). Drain and cool slightly, then with your hands squeeze out as much excess water as possible.
3 Gently fry the onion in the butter and oil, with a pinch of salt until it begins to soften. Add the garlic and cook for 2 minutes.
4 Roughly chop the greens and stir into the pan along with the parsley. Mix in the cheeses, then 3 beaten eggs. Season. Add the artichokes and zest.
5 On a lightly floured surface, roll out ⅔ of the pastry into a 36cm circle and gently press into a 23cm springform tin. Let the edge hang over the sides.
6 Top with the greens, then make three dips in the surface. Break the remaining three eggs into the dips.
7 Roll out the remaining pastry into a 23cm circle. Wet the rim of the pastry in the tin and press the circle on top. Trim off any excess and seal the edges. Cut a few slits in the top and brush with the beaten egg yolk.
8 Bake for about 15 minutes before turning down the heat to 180C/350F/gas mark 4 and cooking for 30 minutes until golden brown. Leave to cool for at least 15 minutes before serving.
No Easter tea table is complete without a simnel cake. Traditionally the recipe calls for two layers of marzipan, but I prefer to stir some into the mixture itself. I do stick to the conventional top though: 11 marzipan balls (representing the 12 apostles minus Judas).
Diane Kitchen, Ilkley
Makes 1 large cake
225g butter, plus extra to grease
225g light soft brown sugar
5 eggs, beaten
350g plain flour, sieved
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp cinnamon
275g glacé cherries, halved
175g dried apricots, chopped
250g marzipan, cut into 2.5cm chunks
1 tbsp apricot jam
1 egg, beaten
1 Preheat the oven to 150C/300F/gas mark 2. Grease and line a deep, 20cm round cake tin. Cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
2 Gradually beat in the eggs, then fold in the flour, nutmeg and cinnamon.
3 Stir in the dried fruit and marzipan and spoon into the tin. Cover with greaseproof paper. Bake for 3 hours, then uncover and bake for a further hour.* Cool slightly, then turn out.
4 When the cake is cool, warm the jam and brush over the top. Divide the marzipan into 3 and roll out 1 piece to cover the top of the cake.
5 Halve the second piece and roll into 2 lengths. Twist together and place around the cake rim. Divide the third piece into 11 balls and stick on top with a little more jam.
6 Brush the top of the cake with egg and brown under the grill.
*NB: I found the cake was ready after 3 hours - FC
Hazelnut chocolate cake. Photograph: Jill Mead for the Guardian