The Powerful Symbolism of Ukrainian Easter Bread

THIS ARTICLE IS ADAPTED FROM THE APRIL 16, 2022 EDITION OF THE GASTRO OBSCURA FAVORITE THINGS NEWSLETTER. YOU CAN REGISTER HERE.

It’s hard to imagine celebrating Easter, a festival of spring and rebirth, in the midst of a war. But in Ukraine, bakers still bake their Easter breads with pride and defiance.

Here is just one example. Zavertailo, a sourdough bakery near St. Michael’s Cathedral in Kyiv, continues to bake paska for residents, in classic fruit and chocolate flavors. They are also raising funds to bake massive amounts of this sweet domed bread for the defenders of Kyiv. “Easter is celebrated not just in words, but in deeds,” they wrote on Instagram. “Together towards victory🤞🏻🇺🇦.”

Sweet egg buns are part of the festive menu of almost all European countries, especially around Easter. But the paska is special. Ukrainian bakers go out of their way, covering their loaves with tiny floury birds, braided shapes and curved crosses, sometimes baking them in towering domes with lots of icing. Easter is the most important holiday in the country and Ukrainians have long regarded bread as an object of reverence.

Paska brings together bakers to help Ukraine. Individuals, bakeries and churches sell the bread both on the Internet and at bake sales. Some of the bakers are Ukrainian or of Ukrainian descent, while others trade in their annual baking of hot rolls or Easter panettone to make paska for the first time. But all come together during a dark time to bake a bread that symbolizes renewal and rebirth.

Whether you celebrate Easter or not, I encourage you to make a paska this spring and keep Ukraine in your thoughts. For those who can, donations to organizations such as World Central Kitchen will go a long way to feeding both Ukrainian refugees and Ukraine’s defenders.


Anatomy of a Paska

Several designs tell the world that a loaf of bread is a paska – a food that families have baked, brought to a church for blessing, and eaten together at Easter since time immemorial. In an article on Ukrainians in Canada, author Jo Marie Powers describes the symbolism of the paska with diagrams and lots of detail. Paska is baked in endless variations, from domed loaves to frosted rolls, but these characteristics are common.

Ingredients
“It’s a bread always made with white flour.”

The cross
“The dominant motif is almost always a cross, symbolizing the suffering and resurrection of Christ.”

Spirals
“The ends of the cross are usually split to form spirals. The spaces between the crosses are often filled with spirals or a twisted piece of dough which variously signifies a crown of thorns, a bird’s nest or a rose.

The braid
“Most paska are made with a braid around the top below the cross. The braid usually symbolized eternity, and sometimes women said it represented a life path – the ups and downs of life, or that life is not always a smooth ride.

The form
“The paska is always round and the circular shape signifies eternity.”


An international bake sale

Here I have collected five photos of baked paska to support Ukraine. Not all follow the traditions described above. Some are square or frosted. My own paska came out hopelessly flat. But all of them were made with the aim of learning more about Ukrainian culture or providing financial assistance to the country.

An illuminated loaf of paska bread. PAMPSHADE/Used with permission

Japanese artist Yukiko Morita makes lamps out of real bread, resulting in breads that actually light up. Proceeds from her paska lamp will go to Ukrainian aid.

A traditional version of the paska.
A traditional version of the paska. anna_bakes_makes_and_mends/Used with permission

Baker Anna Rose has raised thousands of pounds for Ukraine aid by offering the chance to host a cake and coffee party in her garden in Malmsbury, England. It was his first paska.

A rectangular grip on a paska.
A rectangular grip on a paska. cats.home.cooking/Used with permission

Cat VanVliet from Virginia made this swirling rectangular paska for the #bakeforukraine campaign.

A round, glazed paska, cooked in a box.
A round, glazed paska, cooked in a box. @jojo_jangles/Used with permission

Baker Jo Lancaster in Cheshire, England, used dozens of tins of tomatoes to bake large paskas for a relief effort in Ukraine.

Dela Cruz sends a paska recipe to people who sign up to his Patreon.
Dela Cruz sends a paska recipe to people who sign up to his Patreon. makeitdough/Used with permission

Hannah Dela Cruz, Tucson-based blogger and author of Yeast every dayis donating the proceeds of one month of Patreon subscriptions to World Central Kitchen.

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