An Easter essential and a teatime classic.
ASTER approaches. Or does it? EQuite frankly, I'm not a man of faith (apart, perhaps, from my unwavering devotion to the mighty Arsenal) so the rather wobbly nature of the Easter holiday confuses me every year.
It pops up at the most random times, seemingly, and it always catches me by surprise. Religion aside, though, it's a time when some good perennial recipes come around.
The comfort of a deeply-toasted hot-cross-bun, alongside a good cuppa, is to be much prized, and I'll admit to accepting the odd Easter egg over the years, though I must say, most of the egg does end up being repurposed for subsequent weeks' recipes.
But our own, rather frugal Easter fare is somewhat eclipsed by the dishes served up elsewhere across Europe and the Middle East.
In Italy, a great deal is made of Easter, as you'd expect, with every region chucking special cakes, pastries and breads into the mix.
In the south, Tortano is popular - a baked bread parcel stuffed with salami and cheeses. In the north, lamb or goat is the usual choice for the big Easter Sunday meal.
Further into Eastern Europe, the pashka reigns supreme. In its myriad forms, this rich tea-bread is baked with loving care, and decorated in many ways. Some add cherries to symbolise gemstones, others add a swirl of chocolate, spices, or dried fruits.
The Polish Mazurek cake is an elaborate construction of sponge, marmalade and caramel, garnished with candied fruits and nuts - a good job they don't have to make that one too often!
A savoury version of pashka exists in Poland and Eastern Germany, where the oldra, a big loaf stuffed with whole smoked sausages, is greatly enjoyed - I'm hoping with lots of sweet mustard. Sounds delicious.
In Greece, many orthodox families sit down to a big bowl of magiritsa, a soupy stew made of lamb's liver, lettuce and lemon with plenty of aromatic dill.
I'm intrigued by this, but I'm not sure how popular a recipe it might be with the Examiner readership.
Perhaps I'll give it a dry run at home first!
All these dishes sound wonderful, and I'll no doubt come back to some of them for future articles, but what I really wanted to make this year was a good Simnel Cake.
It's a classic of British baking, and in my mind is a slightly better version of our classic fruit cakes. This is not just due to its slightly lighter texture, but because of the generous addition of marzipan.
Most people would recognise the classic Simnel cake, topped with its marzipan 'lid' and the eleven balls symbolising the apostles (minus Judas, of course), but what you might not know is that there's also a thin layer of marzipan baked within the cake.
It is traditionally eaten on the middle Sunday of Lent, when the fast is relaxed a little, but thank goodness sanity now prevails, and we can eat our Simnel cakes in full unabashed heresy, whenever we want.
I'd never baked one before, so I thought this was an opportune time to have a go.
My wife has a terrific recipe, using the most aromatic of teas, Earl Grey, and its rich, citrussy flavour adds a lovely back-note to the cake, along with all that sweet, scented marzipan and luscious fruits. Let's get baking.