Have you ever wonder why the tradition of chocolate eggs at Easter took hold?
Today is Easter Monday and after yesterday’s celebrations, our house is full of chocolate. Chocolate bars, chocolate bunnies, chocolate buttons and, of course, the good old traditional Easter favourites, chocolate eggs, are scattered around the place, promising to keep the kids active with a sugar rush of epic proportions.
I have always taken the tradition of chocolate eggs for granted and never really questioned its origin, by my son is VERY fond of the ‘why’ phase and so this year he popped the question: why do we eat chocolate eggs at Easter?
His curiosity sparked mine and so I went online to look for the story behind our modern way to celebrate Easter. I discovered something interesting and was able to tell him about not just one but two different traditions that merged to create the melting delicacy we all love to sink our teeth into.
Why chocolate eggs at Easter
The first part of the story: why eggs
The very first chapter of this story has nothing to do with sugar and cocoa but brings us back to the symbolic meaning that ancient civilisations attached to the humble chicken (or duck) egg. Egyptian and Hindu documents show that from very many centuries before Christ, the egg was regarded as a strong symbol of fertility and rebirth: the egg in its oval perfection gives birth to new beginnings and new life emerges perfect and fully formed from its mysterious container.
Christianity adopted this very same symbolism and attached it to its most powerful moment: the discovery of Jesus’ resurrection. In Christian iconography, the egg became the symbol of Jesus’ tomb and the cracking of its shell the re-enactment of his breaking free from death, marking the beginning of a new era of salvation for humanity.
Theological symbols often enter popular costumes, sometimes losing and sometimes retaining their original meaning, and the eggs at Easter followed exactly this fate: in medieval times, eggs were among the food prohibited during Lent and so, when Easter came, to be able to feast on proteins again was a reason for celebration in itself. Eggs would, therefore, be given as an Easter present to signify abundance and prosperity and often kids would decorate them to make the gift even more festive.
It is in this spirit that the eggs were also at the centre of medieval Easter egg rolling competitions: kids would race rolling their eggs down a hill and the cracking of their colourful shell would bring together the festive pagan and the symbolic Christian traditions of rebirth.
Over time, the tradition of gifting eggs evolved and in the Nineteen century the upper class decided to break away from gifting actual eggs and started commissioning the creation of precious ones, often made of gold or precious metals and gems. Probably the most famous of such eggs are the one by Faberge: in 1883 Czar Alexander of Russia commissioned the goldsmith to craft a golden egg for his wife Empress Marie and the present was received with so much delight that Faberge found himself crafting golden eggs for Easter for the following 56 years!
And what about chocolate?
The story of Faberge brings us close to the time when chocolate finally enters the Easter tradition. At the beginning of the Nineteenth-century, chocolate making reached a turning point: thanks to new techniques, what was originally a thick, brittle mixture turned into a soft paste that could be moulded into almost any shape. From that moment, there was not limit to what chocolate could do and chocolate eggs of all sorts started populating the tables of rich and poor: it even became possible to shape chocolate into bunnies, incorporating in the Easter tradition one more symbol of spring.
I found the story of chocolate eggs at Easter fascinating but I can tell you: I am now sick of chocolate eggs and am wondering what to do with such a large amount of leftover chocolate. My best bet is probably to melt it and use if to make brownies: if you want to follow my lead, this is my best ever leftover chocolate brownie recipe
Chocolate (dark is best, but we’re working with leftovers so we won’t be too picky): 120g
Eggs: 2 whole eggs, whisked
White flour: 90g
Almonds (peeled and thinly sliced) 50g
Cut the butter into small cubes and the chocolate into small pieced: gather both into a large, suitable container and pop them in a microwave for about 30 seconds. Take out the bowl, mix the no semi-melted butter and chocolate and repeat the process until they are both fully melted and have formed a shiny, smooth paste.
Once ready, slowly add the whisked eggs, then the flour, the sugar and the almonds and slowly mix with a wooden spoon: keep mixing until the almonds are well spread across your paste.
Take an oven proof dish (you need it about 20 cm large) and cover it with greaseproof paper: pour the brownie mixture in and put in 180C hot over for about 30 minutes. Enjoy!