There are a huge number of traditions surrounding the Spring celebration that is Easter. Some of them are deeply serious, and reflective of the sombre nature of this most important of all Christian festivals. Some of them…not so much. Given our nature in hospitality, we at the Varsity Hotel Cambridge naturally tend to focus on the latter group. And while some Easter traditions may not be possible this year round, many are. Especially all the baked goods and other edible treats enjoyed at this time of year.
Whenever we think of things to eat at Easter, one item will always rise to the top. Chocolate Easter Eggs. They always seem to appear in the shops as soon as all the Valentine’s Day paraphernalia disappears. Like they’ve always been there. Waiting.
But in truth the consumption of chocolate eggs at Easter is quite a modern addition. Though given that the celebration of Easter goes back about two thousand years, “modern” is a relative term. It came about with the rise of the consumer culture that now pervades Western civilisation. And was based upon far earlier traditions of painting (real) eggs in bright colours for children. As a way to keep them entertained and try to involve them in the religious festivities.
But in England, the traditional Easter baked goodie has always been the hot cross bun. The sweet, slightly spiced, raisin or currant containing buns decorated with a cross. Every household used to have their own recipe for them. And if you’re looking for an Easter tradition to be performed from the comfort of your own home, then perhaps baking is the answer.
Hot cross buns have travelled far and wide across the English speaking world. They are considered traditional Easter treats in North America, Australia & New Zealand, and even South Africa. But what about the rest of the world? Well, of course most of the rest of the world was never culturally Christian and so never celebrated Easter anyway. But most of Europe was and does, so what baked goodies did they come up with that you might want to try your hand at?
An Italian Treat
Without doubt, the star of the show in this regard is the Italian Colomba. Colomba is Italian for Dove. A bird which has taken on the symbolism of international peace in our modern world. This in turn derives from its symbolism in Christianity of a deep, spiritual inner peace of the quiet, reflective mind. And is a common symbol for the Holy Ghost, a key part of the Holy Trinity of Christian Theology.
In many ways Colomba is an Italian version of a fruitcake, and is closely related to the Italian Christmas sweetbread Panettone. But as usual the devil is in the details, and the details make Colomba quite distinct.
The base of any Colomba lies with flour, eggs, sugar, yeast and butter – like many another cake. But unlike most cake styles it is a sourdough. It is flavoured with candied orange peel and dried fruit. Must be glazed with sugar and almonds. And, of course, shaped like a dove. The best Colomba has to fly a fine line. It must be sweet. But not sickly sweet. Chewy. But not overly so. And to have its buttery richness balanced by the sharper tang of the candied fruit.
So though we won’t be open for Easter this year, we at the Varsity Hotel still suggest you try something new this Easter. Maybe it will begin a whole new tradition for you.