After 40 days of fasting for Lent, Poles pull out all the stops with a feast that begins on Easter morning and doesn't end until well past Easter Monday. Polish desserts are varied and delicious. These are some of the more popular ones for Easter. Probably the most conspicuous of all the desserts is the Easter lamb cake, representing the Paschal Lamb, that takes center stage on the dining table, often with a miniature red-and-white Polish flag.
Easter lamb cakes are not just an American tradition. They are featured in Poland on the dining table that is decorated with pussy willows and a fine crocheted tablecloth. They have always been an important part of my family's paschal celebration. We use a cast-iron Griswold mold, that I recently found out is a modern collectible. Any leftover pound cake batter goes into the making of a little cake for the swieconka basket that holds small, symbolic portions of Easter food to be blessed on Holy Saturday by the parish priest.
Baba or babka (the diminutive) means "old woman" or "grandmother" in Polish and gets its name from the dessert's resemblance to an old woman's full skirt or a top knot. This half-cake, half-bread, yeast-risen confection celebrates the return of the egg to the diet after Lent. A mere 15 go into this recipe! For a lighter cholesterol load, see the Easy Babka Recipe below. Raisins, citron and almonds are traditional, but some prefer to leave them out entirely, as pictured here. Here are more Eastern European Babka Recipes.
This recipe for easy Easter babka only requires one rise and far fewer eggs than the traditional recipe above. Babkas are similar to Italian panettones and other breads of its type. Easter Breads Around the World proves that the more things are different, the more they are the same! And here are more Eastern European Babka Recipes.
While not strictly an Easter dessert, kolaczki appeared on my family's table after every holiday meal. Kolaczki can be round, square or diamond shaped, and the dough can be flaky or yeast-risen, and the fillings vary widely. This cream cheese dough produces a flaky pastry and we use the standbys -- prune, apricot and raspberry filling. This is a great kids project.
Polish cheesecake or sernik is a ubiquitous dessert across Poland but, there is an infinite number of varieties. Some are crustless, some have pastry crusts and yet others have a cookie or graham cracker crust. Sometimes they're baked in rectangular pans and sometimes in round pans. This recipe sports a cookie crumb crust.
Mazurek, known as mazurka in English, is a flat Polish yeast-dough or pastry-dough cake variously topped with almond paste, preserves and/or nuts, dried fruits, meringues, and sometimes left plain. The one thing they have in common is they are rarely over 1 inch in height. They are typically served for Easter. This "royal" version is probably so named because the colored preserves peeking out of the lattice resemble the jewels in a royal crown. See this picture gallery of how Royal Mazurek is made. Here, also, is more about mazurek, in general.
Traditionally, chrusciki, fried pastries known also as chrust faworki, which means "pastry twigs," are associated with the pre-Lenten feasting of Shrove Tuesday when another fried dessert, paczki (see below), also known as Polish bismarks or doughnuts, are served. But they both also show up for special celebrations, weddings and other holidays.
Every ethnic group has its splurge food for Fat Tuesday, also known as Shrove Tuesday or Mardi Gras. For Polish-Americans, it's paczki, which literally means "puffy." But these fried rounds of rich yeast dough are also served on Easter and for any special occasion, like weddings. They can be filled with fruit preserves or sweetened cheese or left plain.