Sunday, May 12, 2013


   Children look forward to Spring and the arrival of the Easter bunny.  Easter signifies the warm weather is coming, is the first big holiday since Christmas and who doesn't like jelly beans and chocolate bunnies?  There are sever theories and legends around where the tradition of the Easter bunny began and how colored eggs became a part of it.
   Once theory, according to Wikipedia, is that the Easter bunny  or "Osterhause" as it is called in German, first originated in Western German cultures where it had traveled from the Upper Rhineland during the Holy Roman Empire.  German children would leave their caps and bonnets out where the rabbit could find them and make a nest to leave brightly colored eggs.  This tradition crossed the seas to the American colonies, where all children picked up the custom and started to observe it.  The bright colored  "Easter grass" we see in baskets today is a throw back to this custom.

   Since birds lay eggs in the Spring and rabbits give birth to large litters in the Spring, the egg became a symbol of Spring and fertility.  Who better to deliver it than a new bunny?  The coloring became symbolic of all the colors of Spring flowers.  However, the Eastern Orthodox Church only dyes its eggs red to represent the blood shed by Christ as he was crucified.
   For those who celebrate Easter as a lunar holiday rather than a religious one, the origins go back to the fast that Easter is always the first Sunday after the first full moon after Spring Equinox.  Easter gets its name from the goddess of Spring, Eostre (pronounced Estra).  She is the goddess of fertility and also was said to have always traveled with a companion, a white rabbit.  Legend says she gave the rabbit the ability to lay brightly colored eggs once a year, in the Spring, and from this came our Easter eggs.  This legend also appears in German folklore where they say she became angry with the rabbit and cast him into the heavens where he remains as the constellation Lepus the Hare, which is located at the feet of Orion.

   There are many legends relating the full moon, fertility and the rabbit.  The Chinese believe that rabbits, like the moon, can change their sex.  Often in Chinese symbols there will be a rabbit leaping across the face of the moon.  This is a fertility symbol.  Since Spring is the time of birth and fertility of the land, the moon and rabbits are associated with it.


Coffee and Donuts Cake

It seems I have made it my personal mission to create cohesive marriages between foods that are separate entities, but are commonly eaten together.

Coffee, do you take Donuts to be your lawfully wedded wife(s)?  Of course you do.  You were made for each other!

The idea for this cake first came to me when I found this recipe, originally from Gourmet magazine. I figure 1389 reviewers can't be wrong.  If a whopping 91% would make it again, then I should at least try it once.  I'm happy to report I'll be adding my 4-fork review very soon!  The cake batter gets a good dose of brewed coffee, so I began searching for a complimentary coffee buttercream icing.  Amongst the searching I found a new baked donut recipe I was eager to try.  I decided to combine everything together in one big over-the-top cake - and what better pairing than coffee and donuts (...and chocolate cake and buttercream icing)?

The recipe specifies 2- 10" round pans, but I substituted 3- 9" pans.  The layers were still plenty big enough, and I love the added height.

The Swiss buttercream icing is so silky and beautiful. If you've never made Swiss buttercream, I highly recommend you give it a try.  Unlike American butter(cream) icing, it doesn't crust or dry out, which makes it a perfect adhesive for the donuts. 

You'll need a mini donut pan for this recipe, available here.  The donut glaze takes a little while to set, so donuts should be made and glazed ahead of time. They'll need plenty of time to dry before being applied to the cake.  I was surprised at how easily the donuts adhered to the Swiss buttercream.  If you are pressed for time and your donut glaze is a little tacky,  skewers can be used to carefully apply the donuts to the cake.  

The top of the cake gets an extra sprinkling of espresso powder, and the donuts are sprinkled with silver sugar crystals, both available at King Arthur Flour.

(Cute video after the recipe!)

Coffee and Donuts Cake                              [click for printable recipe]
 12 servings

Cake Layers: 

3 ounces fine-quality semisweet chocolate such as Callebaut
1 1/2 cups hot brewed coffee
3 cups sugar
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch process)
2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
3 large eggs
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1 1/2 cups well-shaken buttermilk
3/4 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 300°F.  Grease pans with shortening. Line bottoms with rounds of parchment paper and grease paper.
Finely chop chocolate and in a bowl combine with hot coffee. Let mixture stand, stirring occasionally, until chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth.
Into a large bowl sift together sugar, flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. In another large bowl with an electric mixer beat eggs until thickened slightly and lemon colored (about 3 minutes with a standing mixer or 5 minutes with a hand-held mixer). Slowly add oil, buttermilk, vanilla, and melted chocolate mixture to eggs, beating until combined well. Add sugar mixture and beat on medium speed until just combined well. Divide batter between 2- 10” pans or 3- 9” pans and bake in middle of oven until a tester inserted in center comes out clean, approx 50 minutes to 1 hour.
Cool layers completely in pans on racks. Run a thin knife around edges of pans and invert layers onto racks. Carefully remove wax paper and cool layers completely. Cake layers may be made 1 day ahead and kept, wrapped well in plastic wrap, at room temperature.

Coffee Buttercream

1 cup sugar
1/3 cup water
2 large eggs
3 sticks (1 1/2 cups) unsalted butter, softened
3 tablespoons instant espresso powder dissolved in 1 tablespoon hot water

In a small heavy saucepan set over medium heat, dissolve the sugar in the water. Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring constantly.  Continue to cook until it registers 240°F on a candy thermometer.

In the bowl of a stand mixer with the whisk attachment, beat the eggs until they are frothy. While mixer is running, add the sugar syrup in a thin stream, carefully tempering the syrup into the eggs without cooking them.  Beat until it is cool. Change to the paddle attachment and add the softened butter, 1 tablespoon at a time.  Add the espresso mixture, and beat until it is light and fluffy.

Mini Cake Donuts (3 dozen)

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
3/4 cups sugar
2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 large egg
1/2 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup melted butter

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  In a bowl, mix flour, 3/4 cup sugar, baking powder and salt.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat milk , egg and vanilla together.  Add flour mixture to egg mixture and beat on low speed to combine.  Stop mixer and pour melted butter over dough.  Mix again until just incorporated. Transfer batter to a piping bag and pipe into the cavities of a donut baking pan.

Bake for 10 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean.  

Chocolate Glaze for Donuts

2/3 cup heavy cream
6 oz. bittersweet chocolate finely chopped
1 tbsp. light corn syrup

Nonpariels or sanding sugar

Place cream in a small saucepan over medium heat and cook until very hot but not boiling.  Place chocolate and corn syrup in a small bowl then pour hot cream over mixture and stir until smooth.
Quickly dip cooled donut tops into glaze and allow the excess to drizzle back into the bowl.  Sprinkle with sugar or nonpareils. Allow glazed donuts to dry, about 40 minutes to 1 hour.  Chocolate glaze will darken in color as it cools.


Espresso powder for sprinkling
Decorative large crystal sugar for sprinkling

Frost and stack cake layers.  Press unglazed side of donut gently into the side of the cake.  Repeat with entire batch of 3 dozen donuts.  Sprinkle top of cake with espresso powder and decorative sugar.  Extra donuts can be used to garnish the top of the cake.

Please note, I used the entire batch of 3 dozen donuts for decorating.  You may want to resist snacking on a few donuts while you are making them, or else you may not have enough to complete the cake.


   The Feria Nacional de San Marcos (San Marcos Fair) is a national fair held in the Mexican state of Agualscalientes every year for three (sometimes four) weeks.  Most of the events related to the fair, however, occur in the city of Aguascalientes, the state capital.  The exact date of the fair varies every uear but is set around April 25th, the Feast Day of San Marcos.

Beauty Queens

   Initially the fair was tied to the vendimia (harvesting of grapes) since wine production used to be an important activity in Aguascalientes.  Nowadays, it is an important tourist attraction that is heavily associated with bullgighting and cock fighting.  It is estimated that seven million people visit the fair every year and as a consequence, hotels are usually filled to capacity, however some locals rent out their houses to visitors and go on vacation during this time.


   The San Marcos National Fair is organized by an independent foundation that oversees the governance of what happens at the fair, but is supported by the state and city governments of Aguascalientes.
   The fair is host to a large range of activities, of which bull and cock fighting are the most popular.  Usually a concert is given by a prominent Mexican singer after a series of cockfights; this event tends to draw more attention than the fights themselves.

San Marcos Plaza Bullring

   Located in the main fair venue are an assortment of sponsored stands and mechanical games, as well as stages where various concerts and theater plays are performed.  the livestock fair and the charreadas still remain an important part of the celebration.  Parties where traditional Mesican music is played (tamboras) are also celebrated on the streets of Aguascalientes.  Finally, a casino is licensed in downtown Aguascalientes just for the occasion.
   Concerts, art exhibits and other cultural events complement the fair in many locations around the state.  The award ceremony of the National Award for Youth Art occurs in Aguascalientes during this time as well.


   The fair was celebrated for the first time around harvest time from November 5th to November 20th, 1828, as a showcase of the state's produce and livestock.  During that time it was in direct competition with the fair of Acapulco, Jalapa and San Juan de los Lagos.

   The celebrations centered in the Parian (a word borrowed from the Filipino language), a market in the city of Aguascalientes, until 1848.  In 1842, the outside balustrade of San Marcos Park was built on a plot of land donated by the Catholic Church.  the balustrade is of neoclassical style and is still preserved to this day.  Once San Marcos Park was completed the date of celebration was changed to April to coincide with the festivities to honor the patron saint, San Marcos.

   Construction of the San Marcos Plaza bullring started in 1896 and was completed in only 48 days.  From that date bullfighting was included in the festivities.  It was not until 1992 that the much larger Monumental Plaza de San Marco was built, with seating capacity of 15,000 people.
   Since 1924, the winner of the beauty pageant has been crowned "Queen of the Fair".  In 2006, after some electoral controversy, three queens were appointed.

    In 1958 the fair was elevated to the rank of "National" by President Adolfo Lopez Mateos.   On April 26th, 2009, the fair was canceled due to an epidemic flu virus that was roaming in Mexico.  This is the first time in 181 years that the fair was canceled.