Easter Pastries, Cake, and Bread

A look at the varieties of Easter breads that have arisen around the world

By Google Arts & Culture

Picture of a Polish Mazurek (2015) by Renata WypijOriginal Source: ICIMSS

It’s not clear why it’s a tradition to eat sweetened bread at Easter around the world, but then again, people have never needed an excuse to enjoy a delicious pastry.

Easter: kulich, daffodils, and wine by Panga Natalie Ukraine (Getty Images)

Different countries have their own special recipes for baked Easter goods. In Russia, Ukraine, and Moldova the traditional baked snack that can be found at Easter is a kulich, a tall cylindrical cake filled with candied fruits, almonds, and flavored with saffron and cardamom. The cake is iced and sometimes topped with the cyrillic initials ХВ, which stand for Христос воскрес (meaning Christ is risen). Traditionally, the kulich is given to the priest after the Easter service to be blessed and then eaten for breakfast on Easter Sunday.

In Bulgaria and Romania people bake kozunak (or cozonac), a sweet leavened bread. Depending on the region, different ingredients are added to enhance the taste, such as raisins, turkish delight, grated orange or lemon zest, walnuts or hazelnuts, and vanilla or rum flavoring. Some regions sprinkle it with poppy seeds, and others make a rolled version with a filling of a combination of the above.

Coloured Easter eggs (2019) by Monika GrabkowskaSlovenian Tourist Board

Recipes from some countries also incorporate the tradition of egg dyeing. In Greece, eggs are colored red to symbolize the blood of Jesus and pressed into the braided dough of tsoureki, the sweet Easter bread commonly flavored with orange zest, mastic resin (a bitter tree sap unique to the Mediterranean), or mahlab (an aromatic spice made from the seeds of a species of cherry).

Mona de PascuaOriginal Source: Wikimedia.org

In many Spanish regions you’ll see the Mona de Pascua cake, a large donut-shaped cake topped with boiled eggs. The cake was traditionally given to children by their godparents, and the number of eggs would match the age of the recipient. More recently, the cakes are made with chocolate eggs instead of real ones.

In Ethiopia, a soft, spiced honey-wheat bread called defo dabo is eaten during the Easter celebrations, known as Fasika. The bread is cooked in a large, round clay dish, covered in koba leaves (known as the false banana tree), and sprinkled with spices like black cumin, Bishop’s weed, and a pinch of salt. On Easter morning, a prayer is said and the bread is cut by a priest or the head of the household before being offered round.

Close up of plate of scones by Debby Lewis-Harrison

In the UK, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand you are most likely to find hot cross buns. A hot cross bun is a sweet, slightly spiced bun made with raisins or sultanas, and is easily identifiable by the cross it bears on its top. The cross is usually made with shortcrust pastry, piped on using a flour and water paste, cut straight into the dough, or added with icing. For Christians, the bun’s cross represents the crucifixion of Jesus.

There are numerous superstitions that surround hot cross buns. One old belief says that a hot cross bun will stay fresh all year if it’s baked on Good Friday. Another says that they have powerful healing properties so you should keep one bun left over from your batch and feed it to a family member if they fall ill.

Hot cross buns were so popular that in 1592 under Queen Elizabeth I, it was decreed that they were only to be eaten on Good Friday, Christmas, and funerals. Some sources say they were banned by the Protestant monarch because of their Catholic associations, others say that it was to maintain their significance at special occasions. Either way, not wanting to forsake such a beloved food, people used to bake them illegally in their own homes. If they were ever caught they were forced to give up their contraband and give them to the poor instead.

When the British arrived in Jamaica, they brought the tradition of the hot cross bun with them, but over time Jamaicans adapted it to their own recipe. Jamaican easter buns are made with molasses instead of honey, packed with fruits, and are shaped like a loaf of bread. Traditionally, the bun is filled with slices of cheese to make the perfect mix of sweet and salty flavors.

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