CHESTNUT HILL, MASS. — Around the world, Easter is celebrated with sweets. What better way to end the Lenten fast than with sweetened butter or chocolate and gooey sugar frosting.
Italians celebrate the holiday with panettone cakes baked in dove-shaped tins. Greeks top braided bread with red-died eggs. The English savor hot cross buns. And the French make lamb-shaped biscuits covered with meringue "fleece."
Here in the US, cakes are often lavishly shaped into Easter bunnies, lambs with coconut frosting, egg baskets, or symbolic crosses. They are impressive and creative, but often a bit too fussy for many people's taste.
Judy Rosenberg is one baker who hasn't forgotten the appeal of a simple, yet elegant, cake to tastefully celebrate Easter, springtime, and the three R's - rejoicing, renewal, and rebirth. Every Easter at her award-winning Rosie's Bakery, with three shops in the Boston area, Ms. Rosenberg features a lovely golden layer cake filled with lemon custard, lavished with buttercream, and decorated with a few flowers.
Rosenberg grew up observing Passover, not Easter, at her home in New York. And her mother, a busy theatrical agent, didn't have time to greet her after school with homemade chocolate-chip cookies. But "we always went to the Easter parade" and "Mom knew where to find the best-quality desserts," recalls the trim cookbook author, dressed in leggings, an off-the-shoulder sweatshirt, and black ankle boots.
The Easter menu at Rosie's also features a Chocolate Sour Cream Cake and a Chocolate Mousse Cake, but it's the lighter, more springlike one that customers demand first. "Hundreds flew out the door last year," Rosenberg recalls.
But, she says, dropping her voice, "Anyone can bake a cake at home. You really don't have to buy one." The self-taught chef is living proof that one doesn't need a degree from Le Cordon Bleu to create a perfect cake.
Perhaps the most important ingredients in her recipe for success were a stint at art school, endless hours of playtime in the kitchen (to the point where every doorknob of her apartment was coated with chocolate), and a lifetime of passion.
In "Rosie's Bakery All-Butter Fresh Cream Sugar-Packed No-Holds-Barred Baking Book" (Workman), one of her two cookbooks, Rosenberg attempts to demystify baking by sharing some of her early anxieties. "Don't let yourself be intimidated," she insists. "These are words from a woman who used to panic whenever a recipe called for beaten egg whites ... I had myself convinced that if I beat the egg whites one second too long, the entire enterprise would be a flop."
Fear of failure wasn't her only obstacle. "When I left home and my mother's compulsion for tidiness, I realized that by nature I'm a slob," she says, adding: "Chaos makes baking twice as hard."
For bakers with inclinations like hers, Rosenberg developed the following five-step guide: (1) First, read the entire recipe. (2) Line up, pour, measure, and count out all ingredients in advance. (3) Avoid distractions such as chatty phone calls. (4) Bake only when you're not tense or in a hurry. (5) Make sure you understand basic baking techniques and become comfortable with procedures in a recipe.
Piece of cake. Still, Rosenberg realizes that as long as the average American home cook remains strapped for time, she'll stay in business. Even she can't eke out much time with the electric mixer these days. "The gong sounds at 5:30 a.m., and I'm in constant motion until 9:30 p.m.," she says, out of breath at the thought of it.
Instead of gathering round her kitchen table munching on warm, gooey brownies after soccer games, Rosenberg loads her three children and their friends in the car and heads to - where else? - Rosie's. Needless to say, her happy threesome is not lacking for company.
And this week, when she dons an apron at home to make her Lemon Easter Cake, neither will she. If Rosenberg doesn't have volunteers to lick the buttercream frosting off that wooden spoon, she'll no doubt have plenty of takers at the table.
Even her children, Jake, Maya, and Noah, won't miss the gimmicks.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society