Easter in Australia is a wonderful time to look forward to, despite the harkening of autumn. For both religious and secular Australians it’s a time for fun and family, and perhaps most importantly a four day weekend! Wherever you are this weekend, why not indulge in a few seasonal activities?
The Easter Bilby
Do you know how we came to associate the bilby with Easter?
Traditionally, the mammal of choice is a rabbit, but they’ve done a lot of damage to our country in the past. They were introduced to the country during the 18th century, brought over from England as a source of food; unfortunately their prolific breeding meant that there were soon far more rabbits than we could handle, and they were destroying the habitat.
In the twentieth century, alternative Easter Bunny stories were created about the Easter Bilby, our native marsupial which bears a resemblance to rabbits. Many confectionary companies began making chocolate bilbies instead of bunnies, donating money to conservation funds to protect this endangered animal. Unfortunately companies like Cadbury’s have tried to get in on the trend, but without donating the proceeds afterwards. Make sure that if you buy a chocolate bilby, it is from a company which donates to bilby charities!
This strange tradition is practiced all around the world, with some minor variation in rules. Similar to the British game of conkers, the object of the game is to hit one boiled egg against another to break it; the winner is the person at the end with an uncracked egg. The eggs are often painted in bright colours.
One person cups their own hard boiled egg in their hand; the other taps the top of it gently with their own. Many inventive forms of cheating have taken place with egg knocking – including filling the egg shell with concrete – which is why many countries have the tradition that the winner must break and eat their own egg to show it’s real. In some cases the winner technically has the right to all of the eggs, although that may be too much egg for some people!
Hot Cross Buns
A traditional Easter treat, there aren’t many who don’t enjoy a hot cross bun! There are a number of different variations however, and no need to mark them with a cross if you don’t want to – “not cross buns” feature a smiley face instead of a cross.
To make the buns, you will need:
- 625g strong white flour
- 1 tsp salt
- 2 tsp mixed spice
- 45g unsalted butter in cubes
- 85g sugar
- zest of one lemon
- 1 1/2 tsp fast-action yeast
- 1 egg
- 275ml warm milk
- 125g dried fruit
For the topping:
- 2 tbsp plain flour
- vegetable oil
- 1 tbsp golden syrup
Begin by sieving the flour, salt and mixed spice into a large mixing bowl. Then rub in the butter, using your fingertips.
Make a well in the centre of the mix and add sugar, yeast and lemon zest.
Beat the egg, then add it to the flour mix along with the warm milk. Mix it all together until you get a soft, pliant dough.
Turn the dough out onto a floured surface, and knead the dried fruit in until combined, then continue for another five minutes. The dough should be smooth and elastic.
Grease a large bowl with butter, shape the dough into a ball and pop it in the bowl. Cover with a clean tea towel and leave in a warm place for at least an hour.
Turn the proved dough onto a floured work surface, then knock back the dough (knead gently).
Shape into a ball again and put it back in the bowl, covering with the towel again and left in a warm place for around 30 miunutes.
Turn the dough out again onto the floured surface and divide into twelve pieces. Roll each piece into a ball, then flatten slightly.
Repeat with all the balls, then cover them again with the tea towel and rest for 5-10 minutes.
Grrease a baking tray with some butter and transfer your flattened buns onto the tray. Wrap the trap lightly in baking parchment, then inside a large polythene bag, tying the end tightly to stop other air getting in.
Leave in a warm place for about 40 minutes – when the time is nearly up, preheat the oven to 240C/475F/Gas mark 8.
While the buns are cooking, mix the plain flour with 2 tablespoons of cold water to make a paste. Take the greaseproof paper and bag off the buns and pipe a cross (or smiley face, or whatever) onto the buns and then bake for 8-12 minutes.
They should come out looking golden brown, and you can glaze them with warmed golden syrup before you put them aside to cool on a wire rack.
Make a chocolate chip version by simply substituting chocolate chips for the mixed fruit, or use icing on top instead of the flour paste. You could also include grated lemon peel and crystalised ginger to make a lighter version of this classic.