Sunday, April 12, 2009
How in the world did easter get tied up with an Easter bunny who laid eggs? What sort of person thought up this mammal-turned avian and decided it would be a great mascot to leave candy for children and thus commemorate Jesus rising again from the grave?
These questions haunt me every year. This year I decided to do some research. Apparently, the bunny predates christianity as a symbol of fertility and birth in the Spring. Not entirely surprisingly, the same people who gave us the Christmas tree, those zany Germans also were the first to associate a bunny with Easter in the 1500s, and creating the first edible Easter bunnies in pastry in the 1800s.
The eggs came along because they were also a symbol of fertility. The Pennsylvania Dutch seem to be responsible for the notion that the Easter Bunny would lay colored eggs for the children, if they were good little doobies. They brought the tradition to America in the 1700s, and their children would make a nest out of a hat or bonnet for the Easter bunny to fill. Legends suggest that the notion that a hare would lay eggs was in fact a misconception due to the fact that birds called lapwings nested on the ground on what looked like the top of a hare burrow.
So in the end, this is another example of Christian holidays bearing symbols from Pagan times, probably to make people more comfortable converts, since their traditions got carried on. In any case, I think the Bunny deserves a little attention. So here's a great carrot cake for your little bunnies. The crystallized ginger adds a hint of heat to the moist cake, flecked with shreds of carrot, toasted pecans, dried cranberries and apricots. The maple cream cheese frosting lends just the right amount of creamy sweetness.
Golden Carrot Cake
2 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground allspice
1 tsp five spice powder
1 tsp ground cardamom
4 large eggs
1 cup sugar
1 1/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
1 stick butter, melted (1/2 cup)
1/4 cup pineapple orange juice
1 Tbsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 tsp pecan extract (optional)
zest of one orange
3 Tbsp finely chopped crystallized ginger
1/2 cup dried cranberries, chopped
1/2 cup dried apricots, finely chopped
3 cups finely packed shredded carrots
1 cup toasted and cooled pecans, chopped
Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease and flour two 9 inch cake pans. Sift together all dry ingredients and set aside.
Beat eggs with sugar until well combined. Add the remainder of the wet ingredients and mix well. Add crystallized ginger and dried fruit and stir. Then sift in dry ingredients and mix until just blended - there will be lumps.
Add in carrots and pecans and stir. Turn out evenly into the two prepared pans. Bake on the middle rack until a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean, about 30-35 minutes. Cool in their pans for 15 minutes, then turn out on a cooling rack. Cool completely before frosting.
Maple Cream Cheese Frosting
16 oz (1 pound) cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
1/4 cup Grade B dark amber maple syrup
2 cups confectioners sugar, sifted
Combine all ingredients in a stand mixer with a whisk attachment and blend until well combined and no longer lumpy. Chill 15 minutes to allow frosting to set a bit. Reserve a little bit for the carrot piping.
Level the two cake layers using a serrated knife and devour the scraps. If desired, split into four layers and spread marmalade between the 2 halves of each cake. Put one layer on a cake stand, then a layer of frosting, follow with another layer of cake and more frosting. Pipe carrots on top of each piece - I used a shell tip for the carrots and a leaf tip for the tops.