In ancient times, Easter was celebrated in honor of the spring or vernal equinox, symbolizing the end of winter (death) and the rebirth of life, as well as the importance of fertility. The word Easter is believed to have originated from the Anglo-Saxon goddess of dawn, Eostre, from whom "east" (where the sun rises), "Easter," and even the female hormone "estrogen" got its name. Eostre's feast day was held on the first full moon following the vernal equinox. Eostre's two symbols were the hare (one with a particularly high libido) and the egg, which symbolizes the possibility of new life.
In European folklore, when wild hares abandoned their nests, they were sometimes taken over by plovers, who would lay their eggs in them. The locals would then find the eggs in the bunny nests. Further, in the 16th century, we see the appearance of the "Easter Bunny" in German writings. The legend said that if good children built a nest out of their caps or bonnets, they would be rewarded with colored eggs. The legend was then brought to America in the 18th century, by German immigrants.
And finally, I must mention the "Simnel Cake," eaten during Easter in the UK, Ireland, and other European countries. Simnel cake is a type of fruit cake, made with a layer of marzipan or almond paste baked in the middle of the cake, and topped off with a ring of eleven marzipan balls, said to represent the true disciples of Jesus (Judas is omitted), and sometimes a ball in the middle to represent Christ. I don't care for simnel cake, but I do have a sublime recipe for "Mascarpone-Filled Cake with Sherried Berries." This recipe from Shelley Wiseman is a light buttermilk cake, filled with a layer of mascarpone cream, and topped off with very sophisticated Sherry-spiked berries. I love this cake so much, it may be my absolute favorite! It makes the perfect ending to any Easter celebration!
Mascarpone-Filled Cake with Sherried Berries
Serves 8-12, (cake and cream can be made a day ahead, store cake covered at room temperature)
For the cake
2 cups sifted cake flour (not self-rising), like Swans Down
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1 cup well-shaken buttermilk
For the berries
1/2 cup Fino (dry) Sherry
1/2 cup sugar
4 cups mixed berries, cut if large
For the cream
8 ounces mascarpone (1 cup)
1 cup chilled heavy cream
1/4 cup sugar
For the cake
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees with oven rack in the middle. Butter a 9" round cake pan (2 inches deep). Line the bottom with a round of parchment paper, then butter the parchment.
Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
Beat together the butter and sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer until pale and fluffy. Beat in vanilla. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. With mixer at low speed, beat in the buttermilk until just combined. Add flour mixture in 3 batches, mixing after each addition until just combined.
Spread batter in cake pan, smoothing top. Rap the pan on the counter several times.
Bake until golden and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 35-40 minutes. Cool in pan on a rack 10 minutes. Run a knife around the edge of cake to loosen, then invert onto a plate. Discard the paper and reinvert cake onto rack to cool completely.
Macerate the berries
Bring Sherry and sugar to a boil in a small heavy saucepan, stirring until sugar has dissolved. Put berries in a bowl and pour hot syrup over them. gently tossing to coat. Let stand at least 15 minutes before serving.
Make cream and assemble cake
Beat mascarpone, cream, and sugar in a large bowl using cleaned beaters until mixture just holds stiff peaks.
Halve cake horizontally with a long serrated knife. Carefully remove top half and reserve. Put bottom half on a plate, then spread evenly with all of the cream and replace top half. Serve with berries. It's Fantastic!