food: A feast for Easter

Tea-time treats to tempt little chocoholics
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The Independent Culture
The temptation, as you hand over your child's cache of chocolate eggs on Easter morning, is to advise: "Now, pace yourself''. But there's absolutely no point - by tea time you'll be in charge of a pot-bellied piglet. Full up with chocolate.

The adult perspective may not look much healthier: a celebratory family lunch, perhaps, followed by a celebratory tea. With the masses gathered, and plenty of time on your hands, you need to judge quite carefully the foods that should make an appearance here.

There is a practical side to all this - if you have cooked a big lunch, you are not going to want to produce a dinner as well. One escape is to dish up a substantial, and largely savoury, spread and graze on it from about four o'clock onwards, switching from tea to wine somewhere along the way.

Proper tea is such a rarity these days (the reserve of other people's houses and hotels) that classic sandwiches are a treat: true, you may be able to find egg mayonnaise and cress in every sandwich bar in the land, but rarely does it succeed in being a really buttery mash of minced egg in home-made mayonnaise thickly spread between slices of granary bread, crusts on, crammed with mustard and cress and sliced spring onions. Heaven.

Crumpets have an Edwardian charm, especially with Gentleman's Relish, the sort of thing to tuck into after a long walk (or snooze). Pittas with guacamole and smoked salmon disappear pretty quickly, as they will with scrambled eggs and anchovies, mozzarella and tomato, or slices of leftover roast lamb with grilled aubergine and a sprinkling of cumin.

With children in mind, these miniature pitta breads skilfully disguise wholesome savoury fillings at a stage of the day when their sugar intake would register on a Geiger counter. Light tahini, for example, belongs to the same family as peanut butter; try it with spinach, wilted in a frying pan with butter and a squeeze of lemon.

Sweet health-food snacks and fruit bars have been getting a bad press recently, because they contain as many calories as mainstream chocolate bars. But you only have to look at the breakdown of ingredients to realise that they are better for you, though since they are just as rich as chocolate, perhaps Easter tea is the wrong occasion.

The American style of muffin lies somewhere behind cake and bread. It is not too rich and, given that slapdash blending is the key to success, young hands can be gainfully employed. These muffins need to be eaten as soon as they have cooled, while they are golden and crusty on the surface, pitted and spongy inside.

Cheddar and grain mustard muffins sing of Welsh rabbit; goats' cheese and a little minced chilli is another good mix. Sweet muffins can include blueberries, physalis, bananas, dates, pecan nuts, dried figs; or can be flavoured with cinnamon and served with maple syrup, with grated orange or lemon zest for good measure.

Almond and sultana cake

Baking powder can toughen the crumb of a cake and I prefer to skimp on it, which gives a closer texture that is moist and tender.

85g/3oz sultanas

sweet white wine, to cover (optional)

110g/4oz unsalted butter

110g/4oz caster sugar

3 eggs (size 2)

85g/3oz ground almonds

55g/2oz plain flour, sieved

1 level tsp baking powder, sieved

1 tbsp flaked almonds

icing sugar for sieving

Preheat the oven to 170C (fan oven)/180C electric oven/350F/gas mark 4, and butter a 20cm/8in cake tin with a removable collar.

Place the sultanas in a saucepan, just cover with water or sweet white wine, bring to the boil and simmer for about 5 minutes. Drain. Cream together the butter and sugar until pale and light. Beat in the eggs one at a time. Incorporate the ground almonds, flour and baking powder as deftly as possible. Stir in the sultanas, spoon the mixture into the cake tin and scatter over the almonds.

Cook for 25-35 minutes, until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Remove the collar and allow to cool: dust with icing sugar before serving.

Cheddar and mustard muffins, makes 14

These are easily within the domain of helpful child cooks, and they rise impressively into crusty, golden buns. It is important to use a good Cheddar, ideally a mature farmhouse one.

225g/8oz plain flour

2 tsp baking powder

110g/4oz mature Cheddar, grated

3 tsp grain mustard

1 large egg

200ml/7fl oz milk

55g/2oz unsalted butter, melted

Preheat the oven to 190C (fan oven)/200C (electric oven)/400F/gas mark 6 and butter a tray of small cake moulds - ideally these should have a flat base and steep sides.

Sieve the flour and baking powder together into a bowl and mix in the cheese. In a separate bowl whisk together the mustard and the egg, and add the milk and butter. Now pour the egg mixture on top of the dry ingredients, and fold over just a few times until you have a wet, lumpy batter. Spoon into the moulds so they are two-thirds full and bake for 17-20 minutes, until nicely golden on top. Turn on to a rack to cool, and eat after about 10 minutes. They will keep for an hour or two, but are nicest eaten as soon as they have cooled.

Egg mayonnaise sandwiches, makes 6 rounds

8 eggs

34 tsp Dijon mustard

1 egg yolk (size 2)

150-230ml/5-8fl oz groundnut oil

squeeze lemon juice

sea salt, black pepper

12 slices buttered granary bread

4 spring onions, trimmed and thinly sliced

2 punnets mustard and cress, cut and washed

Bring a pan of water to the boil and cook the eggs for 8 minutes, then run cold water into the pan until they are cool. Shell them, and cut off and discard the top of the white (unless you happen to be especially partial to white; I prefer yolk). Chop remaining egg quite finely.

In a bowl, whisk the mustard with the egg yolk and whisk in the oil, very gradually to begin with, until the mayonnaise "takes''. It should be extremely thick by the end. Add the lemon juice. Season. Stir in the chopped egg. Assemble sandwiches with the egg mayonnaise, spring onion and cress, and cut each round into four.

Miniature pitta breads with smoked salmon and pickled cucumber, serves 6

1 cucumber

1 tsp salt

1 tsp caster sugar

1 tbsp red wine vinegar

12 tsp red chilli, minced

6 baby pitta breads

175g/6oz smoked salmon

3 tbsp Greek yoghurt

Peel and finely slice the cucumber, sprinkle with salt and leave in a shallow bowl for one hour. Drain and rinse thoroughly under a running tap and shake dry. Dissolve the sugar in the vinegar and add the chilli. Dress the cucumber with this.

Warm the pitta breads for five minutes in a medium oven. Cut them in half and open into pockets. Fill each one with smoked salmon, pickled cucumber and about a teaspoon of Greek yoghurt

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