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Easter Breads from Around the World

Families have a variety of Easter traditions and Easter breads are part of so many of them. Easter breads were traditionally baked as a nod to the coming spring season and were full of indulgent ingredients that marked the end of winter and its sparseness, welcoming the season of rebirth. Some Easter breads are also rich in symbolism, with their ingredients and shapes signifying a variety of Christian icons or traditions. Others are decorated simply with foods that are common in the season, like colored eggs.

For many, their favorite Easter bread is an important part of the Easter Day meal. Other breads, however, are eaten during Lent, the 40 days leading up to the holiday, or during Holy Week, the seven days that include Good Friday, the day of Jesus’ crucifixion.
Most of these Easter breads are associated with particular ethnic groups but they can certainly be enjoyed by anyone who’d like to take the initiative to create them in their home kitchen and serve them to their family on Easter Day.

o Babka – This is a sweet yeast cake associated with Poland and a variety of other countries in Eastern Europe including Lithuania, the Ukraine, and other parts of Western Russia. Babka is generally filled with fruit, most often raisins, and many modern babka recipes include chocolate or cheese filling instead. Usually, they are topped with a fruity glaze that may or may not include rum. Eastern European Jews have their own version of babka that includes cinnamon or chocolate filling and is topped with streusel. It’s not hard to find this version in U.S. bakeries where there is a large Jewish population.

o Tsoureki – This braided Eastern bread is a Greek tradition. It includes brown sugar, lemon zest, and crushed anise seeds. Scarlet-colored died eggs are placed in between the braiding to represent the blood of Christ and also new life and the coming of the spring season. The texture of the bread is similar to that of French brioche. In many families, the Tsoureki – also sometimes called lambropsomo – is used to break the Lenten fast after the midnight Divine mass on Easter eve, and is consumed along with magaritsa soup and a green salad.

o Hot Cross Buns – The bread most often associated with Christ’s crucifixion, hot cross buns may actual pre-date Christianity, say food historians. Rolls marked with crosses may have been used to honor the Saxon goddess Eostre, whose name is probably the origin of the word “Easter”. These yeasty buns, which are most popular in England and other UK countries, generally contain raisins or currants and are marked with an icing cross on top. An English tradition says that sharing a hot cross bun with a friend on Good Friday will insure that your friendship remains steadfast in the coming year.

o Pao Doce – This saffron-spiced bread is a favorite in Portugal. It’s light and sweet, as the name implies, and sometimes it’s known as Folar, especially during the Easter season. The recipe is simple and either granulated sugar or honey provides the sweetness. Hard boiled eggs are baked inside at Easter time. Pao Doce can be served with meals or eaten as a dessert with coffee.

o Paasbrood – This flat Dutch Easter bread is filled with a creamy almond paste and also contains raisins and lemon peel. It might also contain chopped walnuts or hazelnuts, depending on the recipe, and the spice cardamom is a common ingredient as well. Some Dutch cooks also sweeten it with kirsch, a cherry liqueur. Paasbrood is generally iced with a simple glaze for extra sweetness.