Thursday, April 11, 2013

Easter memories & chocolate almond mazurek

Traditions.  Customs.  Family rituals.  I was brought up with tons of those, especially customs that apply during holiday season.  When it comes to such traditions I feel very lucky to be Polish, as we have plenty of really cool customs that have been cherished and nurtured for centuries.  I cannot imagine how plain and boring Easter holidays would be without them.  They are what glues families together, what accounts for hundreds of memories, and what makes home feel like home.  And as all great things -- they come at a price: lots of hard work and planning (a big chapeau bas for my Mum).  But they are totally worth it!

The profane traditions obviously evolve around food.  There are plenty of traditional dishes, such as the "white borscht" (barszcz biały or its variety żurek) -- a sour rye soup with white sausage, potatoes and eggs), white sausage served hot, baked pâté and slow-roasted meats, the famous Polish vegetable salad and various egg dishes.  There are also plenty of traditional desserts such as the babka (sweet yeast bundt cake, sort of like the Italian panettone, but less buttery), traditional cheesecakes, mazurek (see below) and a curd cheese dessert called pascha [pass-hah].

Traditional Easter activities include painting whole egg shells (you make holes on both sides of a raw egg, and blow the egg white and yolk out), preparing a basket with symbolic Easter foods and having it blessed in church on Holy Saturday, or abundantly spraying each other with water on Easter Monday, a day we call śmigus-dyngus or lany poniedziałek (both names basically signal you will get soaking wet that day).

And let's not forget the tradition cultivated at every holiday season -- eating as much as you can, and then some.  No wonder the most frequent commercials on Polish TV during this time promote anti-acids and indigestion pills.

One of the most traditional items on the Easter table in Poland is a cake called "mazurek" [mah-zoo-reck].  There is no one type of mazurek -- it varies greatly depending on the regional customs, family recipes, and simply your own taste and imagination.  Nonetheless you will definitely know one when you see it.  

You can recognize a mazurek by the following: (i) it is very very sweet, and thus is served in small pieces (exceptions apply -- for example my brother has no problems at all with eating huge chunks of it), (ii) it has thin layers: usually a pastry bottom topped off with a luscious sweet layer, (iii) it is flat and short in height (iv) it is hard and crumbly, yet sticky, and (v) it is both simple and fancy - simple in structure, and fancy in decorations.  The latter include the word "Alleluja" written in icing or chocolate, and candied / marzipan eggs, bunnies or flowers.

Mazurek is often made with shortcrust or ground almond pastry, sprinkled with lots of dried fruit and nuts, and abundantly covered with colored icing, chocolate, fudgy caramel or smooth marzipan.  And last, but not least -- it is insanely delicious! 

Left: two marmalade / icing mazurki, middle: chocolate almond mazurek, top right: caramel fudge mazurek, bottom right: babka.

This chocolate-almond-raisin mazurek has been on the Easter table in my family since I remember.  It has the best, signature shortcrust pastry -- very similar to the one I use in the poppy seed almond cake and Christmas cookies.  The pastry is so fragile and crumbly that you have to be careful when transferring the cake from tray to platter, as it brakes easily.  I remember this once happened to my Mum when I was a kid, and she had to make a new one totally last minute.  She was bummed of course, but the rest of was could not have been more happy -- somebody had to eat the broken chunks of the shortbread.  And it was incredibly delicious on its own!

The shortbread is covered by a layer of melted chocolate, with a bit of butter added for increased smoothness and glossiness.  You can add raisins or chopped nuts to the chocolate or leave it plain.  The top layer is a traditional decoration with peeled almonds -- the perfect finishing touch.  Feel free to let your imagination run wild and be creative!


  • 300 g of flour
  • 200 g of good quality butter
  • 100 g of sugar
  • 3 egg yolks, boiled (boil whole eggs and get them out) and crumbled (it's best to pass them through a sieve)
  • 1 package of vanilla sugar (or vanilla essence or scraped out vanilla seeds from 1 bean)
  • Natural rum aroma
  • Pinch of salt
  • Preheat the oven to 180ºC.
  • Roughly chop the butter (makes it easier to kneed the dough) and put in a bowl with the rest of the ingredients.  Kneed the dough until it forms a uniform ball (I did it by hand, but you can of course use a food processor).
  • Line a big square baking tin with parchment paper (also on the sides and sticking out of the tin - it will help lift the cake out of the tin once baked).
  • Distribute the dough evenly in the tin, forming 1-2 cm high edges (the base will better hold the chocolate layer).  Punch holes with a fork on the bottom of the cake.
  • Put the tin in the fridge for an hour or two, or in the freezer for around 30 minutes.
  • Take out of the fridge/freezer and bake around 35-40 minutes until golden.
  • Let cool entirely.


  • 300 g of good quality dark chocolate
  • 200-250 g of good quality milk chocolate
  • 50 g of butter
  • 200 g of big golden raisins, rinsed and dried
  • 200 g of whole peeled almonds
  • Roast the almonds for a few minutes in a hot dry frying pan, until golden.  Let cool.
  • Melt the chocolate and butter au bain marie (in bowl over a pan with boiling water).  Add the raisins and stir thoroughly.
  • Spread the chocolate mixture evenly over the baked shortcrust bottom.  Decorate with the roasted almonds.

Bon appetit!


  1. Choc wszystko wyglada bardzo apetycznie, to najchetniej porwalabym Ci kawalek babki! :)

    Pozdrawiams erdecznie!

    (i widze, ze ksiazka chyba sie przydaje ;))

    1. Dziekuje bardzo i rowniez pozdrawiam! A ksiazka zdecydowanie sie przydaje :)