Easter baskets made with light and tender cake, sinfully rich chocolate or fragrant bread dough are more than just eye appealing. These baskets are also pleasing to the palate--and chances are the younger set won't be the only ones to find at least some of the recipes appealing.
The scope of edible baskets ranges from sweet to savory--cakes shaped and decorated, candy, meringue and bread containers that can be nibbled along with whatever contents they hold. Their development provides the opportunity for an imagination to run rampant--one idea spawning another that is even more creative.
For instance, the ever popular trio of bread, wine and cheese takes a slight twist when the bread is also the basket that carries the other two. A Braided Bread Easter Basket makes an attractive gift, portable party appetizer or even romantic picnic fare. A stick of hard salami, some great pate and grapes or other fruit are delectable additions also worth consideration.
This same basket may serve instead as a vessel for bread or rolls at the holiday dinner or an edible bowl to hold cheese chunks, chicken or tuna salad on a buffet table. With the more traditional Easter eggs and candies, it becomes an attractive centerpiece.
A simple layer cake takes on new dimensions when appropriately shaped and frosted with a basket-weave pattern. Yellow cake mix was used for the recipe developed in The Times' Test Kitchen, but any favorite flavor may be substituted. Fresh strawberries seemed to add a springtime crowning touch. The festive baskets make dessert for two to four, depending on the size of the sweet tooth.
Those with a bit more time and inclination may want to try their hand at a Meringue Basket. The smooth, glossy meringue is piped through a pastry bag fitted with a decorative tip to form basket parts. After baking, these are assembled using frosting as mortar. Just before serving, creamy Strawberry Bavarian is spooned inside. Bright red strawberries are used to garnish this impressive dessert. Use a knife to slice the meringue for serving--its crunchy texture makes an appealing foil to the smooth filling and succulent fruit.
Miniature chocolate tube cakes, flavored with a hint of coffee, are filled and frosted with swirls of rich chocolate mousse. At the risk of gilding the lily, attach a solid chocolate handle and garnish with a chocolate daisy. A packaged cake mix and easy mousse recipe make quick work of the cake portion of these edible baskets. If small-size tube pans aren't available, substitute muffin pans.
The chocolate handles and daisies used for garnish are a bit more time consuming, but well worth the effort for their visual effect and edible contribution. Corn syrup and butter added to chocolate produce a mixture pliable enough to form the handles. Add powdered sugar to chocolate to give it the proper consistency for piping into the daisy shapes. Chocolate-covered coffee beans form the flower centers.
Most intricate, and perhaps impressive, of the edible containers presented is a solid chocolate variation on a basket that's sure to delight even the most avid chocoholic. Many will deem it pure, unadulterated decadence--particularly when filled with even more foil-wrapped chocolate bunnies and eggs.
One-pound coffee bags with wax lining are used to form the edible containers. Local stores stocking coffee beans will probably be willing to sell the few needed. These have the strength to hold their shape when chocolate is painted inside.
When the bags were tested using pure chocolate, they softened rather quickly at room temperature. That's fine if they are going to be eaten immediately, but adding a small amount of paraffin will make them much more stable, a plus especially if the bag is for giving or will be sitting for any length of time at room temperature.
The California Department of Health, Food and Drug Branch, gave its assurance that paraffin is nontoxic and totally edible. There are no limits on the amount you can use, and the small amount called for produced only stability, no undesirable flavor. The ribbon was anchored in place with a dab of melted chocolate.
BRAIDED BREAD EASTER BASKET
3 (1-pound) loaves frozen bread dough
1 egg white
2 teaspoons water
Allow bread dough to thaw at room temperature. Grease 2 large baking sheets and entire outside of 7 3/4x3-inch souffle dish. Set aside.
Cut 1 bread loaf into 3 equal pieces. To form handle, divide 1 portion into thirds and roll each piece into 16-inch rope on lightly floured surface. Braid ropes and pinch ends to seal. Place on 1 baking sheet.
To create basket, roll remaining 2 pieces dough into 2 (28-inch) ropes on lightly floured surface. Form base by loosely coiling 1 rope in center of baking sheet. Continue spiral with remaining rope, pinching ends together. Tuck outside end under spiral and pinch to seal.
Using palm of hand, press dough to 9-inch circle. Place souffle dish, open end up, in center of dough, leaving 3/4-inch border around sides. Set aside.