Food: Easter treats without the chocolate

Good Housekeeping Institute cook Cher Loh
Good Housekeeping Institute cook Cher Loh
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Hit a sweet note this Easter and give these lovely bakes a whirl. Keeley Bolger heads to the Good Housekeeping Institute for a biscuit-making masterclass

The UK splashes out around £365 million every year on Easter eggs.

It’s big business. In fact, in 2014, we scoffed 92 million Cadbury Creme Eggs, while Thorntons are currently re-stocking their shelves with some three million Harry Hopalot chocolate bunnies.

But if your favourite egg has already flown off the shelves, or you’ve had your fill of chocolate, you could try making some alternative sugary hits instead.

I head to the Good Housekeeping Institute for a masterclass with cook Cher Loh, who is here to teach me and a batch of other merry bakers, how to whizz up some Easter biscuits.

He reassures us they are “easy to make” - and for us, it’s made all the easier by the fact that Loh has already mixed up and chilled some dough.

After rolling some out on the work surface, I’m just about to hastily shove my biscuit-cutter into the middle when Loh stops me.

“Start from the edge of dough, so you get as many biscuits as possible from it,” he advises.

After cutting out all our biscuits, they’re arranged on parchment and re-chilled, before baking in the oven and then being left to cool.

Next comes the fun part - decorating.

With a steady hand and using a tasteful palette of three pastel colours, Loh pipes neat lines, squiggles and lattices onto each of his biscuits. They look like edible works of art when he’s finished.

But with a stack of errands to run and a tendency to become impatient with baking, I stick with a simple pink squiggle, yellow line and pale blue zig-zag on mine.

They look a little childlike compared to Loh’s (and the other bakers’ in the class), who’ve carefully piped their names, Easter messages and woodland creatures onto theirs.

Still, it’s the effort that counts, right? And while baking biscuits from scratch has taken a bit more effort than my usual supermarket dash, it’s a lot more fun giving out handmade gifts, and I’m pleased to report that my batch is met with approval from my colleagues the next day. To try your hand at making your own Easter treats, here’s a recipe from the Good Housekeeping Institute...

Simnel cake

(Serves 12)

225g butter, softened, plus extra to grease

225g self-raising flour

2tsp ground mixed spice

400g mixed dried fruit

150g light muscovado sugar

50g golden syrup

Finely grated zest of 2 lemons

4 medium eggs, lightly beaten

Icing sugar, to dust

250g marzipan

2tbsp apricot jam

Preheat oven to 170C/150C fan/gas 3. Grease a 19cm round cake or springform tin with butter and line with baking parchment.

In a large bowl, stir together the flour, mixed spice and dried fruit until combined. Put the butter, muscovado sugar, syrup and lemon zest into a separate large bowl and beat together using a hand-held electric whisk until pale and fluffy (about three minutes).

Gradually beat in the eggs, whisking well after each addition. Add flour mixture and fold in with a large metal spoon.

Empty the mixture into the prepared tin and bake. Cover with foil after one hour of cooking, then cook for a further 25 minutes, or until the cake is risen and springy to the touch. A skewer inserted into the centre should come out clean, but don’t be tempted to test too early or the cake may sink. Leave to cool completely in the tin.

Take the cake out of the tin, peel off the parchment and transfer to a serving plate. To decorate, dust the work surface with icing sugar and roll out two-thirds of the marzipan until large enough for a 19cm circle (cut around base of cake tin).

Heat the jam with one teaspoon of water in a small pan over a medium heat until runny. Brush the top of the cake with some jam, then lay the marzipan circle on top and gently press down to stick. Using a small knife, score lines on top of the marzipan to make a diamond pattern. Crimp the edge of the marzipan using the thumb and forefinger of one hand, and the index finger of the other.

Roll the remaining marzipan into 11 equal-sized balls. Brush the underside of each with a little jam or water and stick to the top of the cake. If you like, you can use a blowtorch to lightly brown the marzipan balls.

:: All recipes from the Good Housekeeping Institute’s Cookery School. To find out more about upcoming courses, visit www.goodhousekeeping.co.uk/institute/cookery-school/the-school