With the winter we just went through, it's a safe bet that the general public is enthusiastic about the passage of the seasons from winter to spring. When I was a child, what with my father being an Episcopal priest and all, the Sunrise Service was a family tradition. When I lived on Guam, the Episcopal Church of St. John the Divine there was a lovely place to see the sun come up, with its two-story windows behind the altar that faced to the east. My mind is still imprinted with those moments.
However, my mother would have done most of her work the day before, as she prepared for a brunch that we would all settle down to once the series of services for the day were concluded. I really like that custom, whether you have a crowd or just the family; it provides a pleasant contrast with other Holiday observances.
The huge family that I had in Guam was mostly inclined to have a big potluck dinner on Christmas Eve. Late-night New Year's Eve parties are a standard way to entertain, and we barbecue all summer long, particularly in Tucson where cooking out of doors helps keep your house cool.
So it's time to think about Easter morning's repast, whether it will be large or small, potluck or prepared. The pretty pastel colors of spring will be all over the stores, with pastry decorations that look like tiny Easter eggs or bunches of flowers overflowing their containers at Fry's and Safeway. Bring them into your home and table, and see how life breaks through the cold darkness every year.
One of the things that absolutely jumps to my mind is the carrot cake. Once you mix the batter, you can pretty much cut to the chase and bake it in a large rectangular pan and decorate it as much or as little as you please. Carrot cake is traditionally garnished with cream-cheese frosting, which is easy, and if you shop at Whole Foods or Sprouts in Tucson, you can find non-dairy alternatives to sour cream and cream cheese, which is what I do. So you can get the flavor even if you abstain from dairy products other than eggs and butter.
2 cups granulated sugar
3 sticks butter at room temperature
4 large eggs at room temperature
2 cups pastry flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
3 cups raw finely-shredded carrots
4 ounces finely chopped walnuts
4 cups powdered sugar
12 ounces room-temperature cream cheese or substitute
1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
2 ounces butter at room temperature
Preheat your oven to 300 degrees.
In a mixing bowl, cream the sugar and butter until the mixture is light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs one at a time, pausing to incorporate each egg before adding the next.
In another bowl, sift together flour, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon. Set this mixture aside.
Lower your mixer speed to its lowest setting or Fold and mix the dry ingredients into the wet mixture. Fold in carrots and chopped nuts until well blended.
Distribute the batter evenly into 3 (9-inch) cake layer pans, which have been generously greased. There will be approximately 1 pound 5 ounces of batter per pan. Place in the preheated oven and bake for 50 to 60 minutes.
Remove the layers from the oven and cool them in the pans for approximately 1 hour (to preserve moisture). Store the layers in their pans, inverted, in the refrigerator to prevent drying. The layers must be 1 day old.
To remove the layers from the baking pans, turn each one upside down, tap the edge of the pan on a hard surface, and catch the layer with a wire rack. Center a 9-inch cake circle on top of a cake stand or serving plate.
Place the first layer, bottom side down, in the center of the serving dish. With a spatula, evenly spread approximately 3-1/2 ounces of frosting on the layer.
Center the second layer on top of first layer with the upper side down. Again with a spatula, evenly spread approximately 3-1/2 ounces of frosting on the layer.
Center the third layer on top of second layer with the upper side down. With a spatula, spread the remainder of frosting to cover top and sides of cake. Decorate the cake as desired. Refrigerate until serving time.
Ready-made sugar carrots intended for carrot cakes are available right now, and they look pretty fancy on the cake. You can also find lots of egg-themed decorations because of the tradition that brings us decorated Easter eggs. You can also toss some shredded coconut with a little green food coloring to make "grass" for decorating the cake, or to surround it on the serving plate. Be creative!