The chocolate-less Easter

Australians are the biggest consumers of chocolate at Easter. I read that somewhere (in an article on taste.com.au that is no longer there). Even if it´s not 100% true, Australians have to be in a top 5 consumers of chocolate at Easter. We´re nuts about the Easter Bunny and egg hunts and all sizes of eggs from the little ones to the super-dooper huge ones. Then there are bunnies, bilbys and mugs with eggs inside them. There are little chocolate chickens and there are chocolate carrots (for the Easter Bunny who still wants his carrot).

So here I am in Colombia on the other side of the world to the Easter chocolate frenzy. There is not a chocolate egg in sight. Not even a little marshmallow chicken. And there is definitely no Easter Bunny. When I learned that the Tooth Fairy here is called El Raton Perez, I asked about El Conejo de Pascua and was met with furrowed brows of confusion. Nope, here is it all about Jesus on the cross.

I kind of expected a low dosage of chocolate and Easter eggs as when I was in Latin America in 2004 there weren´t any of my traditional bunnies and eggs. However this article says Brazil has the second highest consumption in the world. When I was in Brazil for Easter 2004 I consoled my Easter egg fix with the Brazilian style of Easter egg. I can attest to the fact they are clear plastic egg shapes with normal chocolates and truffles inside hung from the ceiling rather than stacked on shelves.

I spent Easter 2011 in the United States and I was surprised by the lack of Easter eggs in the stores. Very surprised.

Chocolate, peanut, sultana and coconut filled and decorate eggs
These are the chocolate, peanut, sultana and coconut filled eggs D and I made and decorated

I´m keen to introduce my Aussie Easter traditions to my Colombian family and since having my Australian family ship an Easter Care Package faces the problems of unreliable (if existent) postal service and extreme (ie melting point) heat, I need to get DIY on the Easter Egg front.

I´ve thought about making my own chocolates. Not too hard right? Well it helps when you have the plastic moulds to make them in and my favourite baking supply store doesn´t stock an egg shaped mould.

The other day I read a tutorial for dyed eggshells filled with chocolate, fruit and nuts on Ali Does It Herself. A bit of traditional egg dying and decorating with the inside goodness of a solid chocolate egg. It was laborious but not too hard. Although Ali didn’t mention that piping the chocolate filling from a plastic ziplock requires hands of steel, or at the very least, oven mitts.  But, all the effort and burnt palms are worth it. Easter is saved. There is chocolate!

It´s a bit of a tangent to this post on Colombia´s lack of Easter eggs, but I came across an interesting article about where the ingredients come from to make them and it got me thinking. Imagine that your chocolate-a-day habit pays the daily wage of a cocoa worker and that the even more expensive Easter eggs and bunnies are at least two day´s wages. For the cocoa workers who barely earn enough to feed their families and have a roof for shelter, a chocolate bar is a complete luxury. Who has ever been haunted by the poverty of Charlie Bucket´s family in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and their sacrifices to buy Charlie a chocolate bar in hopes of a golden ticket? That poverty is the reality of cocoa workers in many places in the world (Oompa-Loompas have better work conditions and can eat all the cacao beans they like). From where I live, I can see that this type of poverty is the case for many Colombians too.

If you celebrate Easter, whether for religious or chocolate reasons, I wish you a very Happy Easter! Maybe like in other holidays celebrated throughout the year, we can also think about those who are less fortunate and perhaps donate the value of an Easter egg to a worthy cause.

Call the fire brigade

I thought I was about to burn the house down last night in a baking incident gone wrong.

Of recent times, more often than not, I can be found wearing an apron by the oven. I’ve discovered the joys of baking. These joys include producing a successful baked product, the de-stressing that comes from constructing something with love and painstaking care and the accolades from those who are on the baked treat share list. My obsession with baking came to the point where a friend told me to back away from the oven and stop stalking it.

In a way that other girls are getting their vintage on pursuing grandmotherly crafts with considerable talent and success I’m getting my baker on. I’m trying new things that I’ve never made before, or things that I’ve been scared of attempting for fear of failure, and the results lie more on the success end of the measuring spoon.

Last night I faced up to the biggest possible failure when the element in my electric oven caught fire after the springform tin holding my cheesecake started oozing a buttery fat. I hadn’t noticed the smoky kitchen as I was in my room Facebooking or tweeting, or doing something similarly unimportant. It wasn’t until checking on it about 25 minutes into cook time that I discovered this and put a baking tray underneath the tin to catch the drips.

Two minutes later my eyes bulged with disbelief as the coil caught on fire. I watched it burn, as we all do around a campfire, entranced by the flames until I realised I needed to do something. I turned the oven off, but this didn’t abate the flames. I opened the oven door only to realise a moment later that the oxygen from outside the oven was fueling the flames.  I yelled in a panicked voice to my housemate to come quick “The oven is on fire! I don’t know what to do!”

The flames started burning with bright blue bases and didn’t seem to be going out. I started thinking about calling the fire brigade, but was so panicked I couldn’t remember where my phone was and I didn’t want to leave the kitchen to set fire while I wasn’t watching.

After a second panicked call to my housemate because I hadn’t heard her answer, she appeared dripping and in a towel as she’d been in the bath. She didn’t know what to do either but suggested we wait. I wasn’t game to open the oven door again and played a waiting game in front of the oven, every fibre of my being tingling with adrenaline and wishing I had a fire blanket handy.

After what seemed like far too long, the fire eventually burned out and I left the door closed to make sure it didn’t re-ignite.

Eventually I opened the oven door with caution and was greeted by a cloud of smoke. I opened the front and back doors and made sure the ceiling exhaust was on high to clear the smoke. I took out the half-baked cheesecake and did what I always do, I phoned home for advice. It turns out Mum has never set fire to her oven before, so there was no comfort there, but she told me to give it a clean out where all the butter had pooled on the floor of the oven and see if it still worked.

Once the oven had cooled down, I wiped it out with paper towel, amazed at how much liquid butter was in there, and then with a damp soapy sponge. Leaving the oven door open to keep a close eye on things, I turned the thermostat on to a low setting and watched the coil heat up and glow red. Wisps of smoke rose and when I heard some crackling, I quickly turned it off again. After a pause, I tried it again and this time there was no crackling, just smoking from the cleaning and remainder of the fat. I hadn’t broken the oven after all!

Eventually, it was all good to put the cheesecake back in there to cook. I was worried that it would be smoky or burnt or just inedible, but I was pleased to find that despite some small burnt crumbs, it was a perfectly delicious creation and that my friends loved it.

Like a brilliant phoenix rising from the flames, so did my chocolate cheesecake.

Chocolate cheesecake
The cheesecake survived!
Half-eaten cheesecake
... only to be devoured.

Love from the Easter Bunny

Easter egg stash
Look what the Easter Bunny brought!

When I left Australia at the very beginning of February, there were already Easter eggs for sale in the supermarket.

Three months later, Easter has arrived and I almost missed it. I expected Americans (who love a celebration and love to eat junk food and are typically more religious than Australians) to really get behind Easter. I expected to see a mad assortment of eggs, bunnies and Easter paraphernalia. I expected to be absolutely bombarded with Easter consumerism. I didn’t and I wasn’t.

At home I would be able to find a whole aisle at a supermarket or department store dedicated to Easter. That and dozens of hot cross buns tempting me. Here, it was a struggle to find anything much other than tiny little eggs or the stuff required to make an Easter basket. In one place I saw Lindt bunnies for sale, but that was the largest chocolate Easter bunny I could find.

Only small sections of aisles or a table at my local supermarket offered up any kind of Easter merchandise. While it was kind of nice to avoid all the Easter consumerism fanfare and the temptation to buy chocolate for anyone and everyone that I possibly know and take hot cross buns to work to feed my colleagues, it also didn’t feel the same. It didn’t feel particularly celebratory, like “here’s some time off for you to spend with your family and friends and get out and about in your country”. I guess the fact that Easter Monday is not a public holiday here changes things a bit.

BUT the Easter Bunny did find his way to my place to leave some eggs, including some Reese’s peanut butter filled chocolate eggs, and he left the chocolate in the shape of a cross on the shelf at Rite-Aid.