Easter is a very traditional holiday in France. The French get both Good Friday and Easter Monday off and school children usually get their spring break right around that time as well so it is an eagerly anticipated time of the year. In France, as in most Catholic countries, it is the Church Bells that bring the eggs all the way from Rome. In Alsace, which holds more german traditions, rabbits bring around the eggs, but in the rest of France, they are too smart to venture out as they as would likely end up in someone’s plate if they did 😉
The French love to celebrate the end of Lent with a gigot pasqual and this year I made mine with a simple rub of herbes de provence accompanied by a gratin dauphinois with sun dried tomatoes. The highlight of the meal for me, however, was trying to incorporate American dishes into a traditional French Easter meal that would satisfy both my American and French guests. As a child, I always ate all sorts of “animals” made of marzipan and so I jumped at the occasion to make these little marzipan carrots from Martha Stewart Living. They were the perfect toppers for a carrot cheesecake… recipe below, courtesy of Martha Stewart Living.
FOR THE CRUST
2 ounces (1/2 cup) toasted pecans
8 graham crackers, finely ground (1 cup)
2 ounces (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted
3 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
FOR THE CHEESECAKE
1/2 ounce (1 tablespoon) unsalted butter
2 medium carrots, peeled, finely grated
1 1/2 cups sugar
4 packages (8 ounces each) cream cheese, softened
4 large eggs, room temperature
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
Petite Marzipan Carrots
Make the crust: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Pulse pecans in food processor until finely ground. Place in medium bowl with graham crackers, and stir in butter, sugar, and salt.
Wrap outside and bottom of a 9-inch springform pan in 2 layers of foil. Press crumb mixture firmly into bottom of pan. Bake until golden brown around edges and firm, about 15 minutes. Let cool on wire rack. Reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees.
Make the cheesecake: Melt butter in medium saute pan over medium heat. Add carrots and 1/2 cup sugar, and cook, stirring often, until carrots are soft, 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer with pan juices to a bowl, and let cool.
Beat cream cheese and remaining cup sugar with a mixer on medium speed until fluffy, about 4 minutes. Add eggs, 1 at a time, scraping down sides of bowl as needed. Add carrots and pan juices, nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger, salt, and vanilla, and beat until incorporated. Pour into crust.
Set springform pan in a large roasting pan. Fill roasting pan with enough boiling water to reach halfway up the sides of springform pan. Bake cheesecake until set but slightly wobbly in center, 80 to 90 minutes.
Transfer springform pan to a rack, and remove foil. Let cool. Refrigerate, uncovered, at least 6 hours (or overnight; cheesecake will keep, covered and refrigerated, for up to 3 days). Run a hot knife around edges of cheesecake to loosen, then remove sides of pan. Decorate with marzipan carrots just before serving.