Italian families have lots of food traditions at Easter, and I’ve made many of them through the years, such as pastiera, a sweet pie made with ricotta and wheat kernels,
or the colomba, a rich, eggy brioche cake made in the shape of a dove that’s on every Italian’s dessert table at Easter.
Once every few years, although it’s not an Italian tradition, I also indulge in making chocolate covered coconut cream Easter eggs. My mother-in-law used to make these (and peanut butter eggs) each Easter as a fund raiser for a local charity and they’re a real weakness of mine, but so much better than store-bought, especially when you use really good dark chocolate.
But the dessert that holds the most memories for me is the lamb cake that my mother always made when I was growing up.
It wasn’t the chocolate version, as seen in the first photo. It was the white cake version, pictured below, that I often make each Easter.
I’ve already written about the white cake version here, covered with buttercream and coconut, but since I attempted a chocolate version last year, I thought I’d show you the little brown lamb cake, and give you the choice of making either — or both.
I thought for a while about what to use to simulate the dark fleece of a brown lamb, and I came up with this combination: ground up chocolate wafer cookies mixed with ground up amaretti cookies.
It tasted good and I think worked well as wooly fleece, pressed into the chocolate frosting.
I used some cut up jelly beans for the eyes, nose, mouth and ear details, but if you have other ideas, I’d love to hear about them, or see a photo, so send it on. Don’t forget to tie a ribbon around its neck to dress it up in Easter finery.
I inherited the lamb pans from my mother, but you can find them for sale in many places, including on Amazon.com. You fill only one side, then cover with the other very well greased half.
I used a chocolate pound cake recipe I found online, and I knew there was more than enough for the lamb cake, so I baked the extra batter in some small, individual “cakelet” pans I had.
Clearly, I loaded the pan with too much batter, since it started to leak out near the end of the cooking.
No worries though. I just trimmed it up and proceeded with the frosting.
This is how the chocolate cake looks before frosting. Don’t worry about the small holes you see here and there.
I had to keep him company, so I made the vanilla version too. That recipe is here. Again, there seemed to be more batter than I needed, so I baked a couple of cupcakes too. Make sure you grease the pan thoroughly, then dust with flour. After greasing with butter, and before flouring, I sprayed with some nonstick spray just for extra “insurance” against sticking. Following those instructions, I’ve never had a problem – not even with the small ear parts.
When you release it from the pan, it sits upright like this – in desperate need of frosting and decoration.
Side by side, they make quite a cute pair. It’s almost a shame to cut into them.
But we do — starting from the back end. By the end of the day, we were left with these decapitated heads. I can assure you they didn’t go to waste.
Wishing all of you a happy Easter, or a Happy Passover, and if you don’t celebrate either of those holidays, Happy Spring to all of you.
Let me also take this opportunity to let you know we have a few spaces left in our memoir writing workshop on beautiful Lake Como, Italy.
Your home away from home for a week will be Villa Monastero, in Varenna — open to tourists during the day who come to see the beautiful gardens here, but closed at night to everyone but our workshop attendees. Life is short – don’t postpone your dream.
Super Rich Chocolate Pound Cake
- 2 1/2 cups flour
- 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder ( I use Dutch processed)
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup butter, softened
- 2 cups sugar
- 4 large eggs, at room temperature
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- 1 cup sour cream, at room temperature
- Preheat oven to 325*F.
- Grease and flour a 10″ fluted tube pan.
- In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt; set aside.
- In another large bowl, using an electric mixer on high speed, cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy.
- Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.
- Blend in the vanilla.
- In 3 additions each, beat in the flour mixture and sour cream just until combined.
- Do not overmix.
- Pour batter into the prepared pan.
- Bake for 60-70 minutes, or until the center tests done.
- Cool 10 minutes in pan; invert onto a wire rack and cool completely.===========================================For the frosting:
6 Tablespoons softened unsalted butter1/3 cup milk2 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar2 t. vanilla extract3/4 c. cocoa powder
Beat the butter in a mixer until smooth, then slowly add the rest of the ingredients until everything is blended to the proper consistency. If it’s too thick, add a little more milk. Spread over the lamb. You’ll have more than you need to coat the lamb, so freeze the extra.
For the “wooly” coat:Buy some chocolate wafers and some amaretti cookies. Place some of them in a plastic bag and crush with a rolling pin (or pulse in a food processor until the proper texture). Using your hand, spread the cookie crumbs over the chocolate frosting, pressing in to secure.Decorate the eyes, ears, nose and mouth with bits of jelly beans or other candies.