My glorious Citizens! Apologies for going dark for nearly a month, but I can assure you it was for an exceedingly worthy reason – I just spent several days in Warsaw, volunteering to help the Ukrainian refugees pouring into the city! I – the Monarch of Munificence! – could not sit idly by while 3 million+ Ukrainians (the vast majority of whom are women and children!) were being helped by the amazing countries of Poland, Romania and Moldova, who shared their homes and their cash alike with these unfortunates displaced by an unjust war. Here are just a few of My pictures of the situation in Warsaw:
I happened to arrive in Poland during Lent, and as such I wish to commemorate the incredible generosity of the Polish people by sharing a recipe for one of their most beloved Easter holiday desserts – the supremely delicious (and beautiful!) dessert known as mazurek królewski, aka royal mazurek cake!
Mazurek is a variety of very sweet, flat cake baked in Poland for Easter. According to Polish gastronomy coursebooks, typical mazurek is a cake that can be made of one or two sheets of short (or half-short) pastry or one sheet of short (or half-short) pastry covered with a sheet of butter sponge cake. The two sheets are fixed together with help from a layer of marmalade – in the case of the one-sheet version, marmalade is skipped or goes on top, under the layer of icing.
The top of mazurek is typically covered with a layer of icing (i.e. sugar icing or fudge caramel cream) or jelly. It can also be decorated with nut-based icing or almond-based icing and candied fruits. Traditionally, home-baked mazurek cakes are often decorated with dried fruits and nuts. In the one-sheet version, the cake includes the borders made of rolled half-short pastry. Sometimes the shortcrust base is crowned with a lattice made of half-short or macaroon pastry.
Among other versions, often to be found in popular cook books and gastronomy coursebooks is ‘Gypsy mazurek’ (mazurek cygański). A sheet of half-short pastry is half-baked, covered with a layer made of dried fruit, almonds, egg yolks creamed with sugar and whipped egg white and baked again.
The cake’s name may have its origins in the Masovians (old Mazurzy) tribe inhabiting the Mazovia region of central Poland. Another theory says it might originate from the word mazurek (Polish for mazurka), a traditional folk dance in triple metre from Poland. A shortcrust pastry, Mazurek is considered one of the primary desserts of Easter across Poland. Although considered uniquely Polish, almost a seasonal national dessert, the recipe for Mazurek came to Poland most likely from the East, via the spice trade-route from Turkey in the early 17th century.
Its symbolism is closely associated with the period of Wielki Post (Polish for Lent) thus marking its successful completion. In fact, after a 40-day fast (not a total abstinence from food by any means), which is celebrated in Christian liturgy in memory of the Temptation of Christ, mazurek was supposed to be the rich reward for adherence to faith and tradition. Although today, the religious meaning of mazurek is virtually lost in Poland, the cake is closely associated with the seasonal celebrations. Usually, the decorative patterns includes Easter symbols like hares, pussy willows and Easter greetings.
News portal Wirtualna Polska insisted that mazurek cannot resemble any other regular cake. It is supposed to be flat in multitude of varieties, each with different flavor and lavishly decorated. Twelve of them (served side by side, as claimed by the magazine), would not be entirely out of line traditionally! At Christmas, the emphasis on a symbolic number twelve is closely related to the Twelve Apostles at the Last Supper, celebrated by Catholics by twelve different food offerings.
The nutty mazurek (“nutty Easter shortcake”, pol. mazurek orzechowy) was entered onto the list of Polish traditional bakery and confectionery products for the Kuyavian-Pomeranian Voivodeship by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MRiRW) on 3 November 2011, described in a particular way. The shortcrust (half-short) base is prepared from ground walnuts, flour, sugar, margarine, small number of eggs and a little bit of sour cream.
The frosting is a walnut cream or, according to Polish Food magazine published by MRiRW, icing made of sugar, water and milk powder melted together. The thick layer of icing is spread over baked cake and finally decorated with dried fruit (raisins), almonds and walnuts into a pattern. “Nutty mazurek” is supposed to be considerably flat, rectangular, 20 centimetres (7.9 in) by 40 centimetres (16 in) in size, very sweet with distinct aroma of walnuts, golden or golden-brown in color.
As noted on the excellent blog acoalcrackerinthekitchen.com:
Mazurek, also known as mazurka, is a flat Polish cake made with a shortbread style dough and topped with any combination of almond paste, preserves, dried fruits, nuts, meringues, chocolate, hazlenut or sometimes left plain. The one thing they have in common is they are rarely over 1 inch in height.
Mazurka is also the word for a Polish folk dance, a country sparrow and someone from Mazur in North Central Poland.
Royal Mazurek is usually made with a criss-cross pattern of dough strips; the spaces in between the strips filled with colorful jam. Almond slices are sometimes used as a garnish. A dusting of powdered sugar along the edges is optional.
This sweet dessert is a must in Poland on Easter. It is considered an Easter splurge after 40 days of fasting for Lent and is appropriately very sweet.
In Poland, Holy Week (Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday) is a busy time in a Polish household; the house is given a thoroughly cleaning, top to bottom, inside and out. During this hectic time, cooks often choose desserts that can be prepared in advance to lessen the work load but that keep well. The mazurek fits the bill; often made with plentiful dried fruits, they help the dessert stay fresh.
Some cooks choose to frost the top of their mazurek. Typically “Alleluja” or “Wesołego Alleluja,” (loosely translated to “Happy Easter,”) is spelled out in almonds or frosting. Frequently, pussy willow branches, (a sign of spring in Poland) made of marzipan, or mini chocolate chips and almonds are used to depict the buds and branches on the cake top.
Many Christians use Palms as a church symbol of greeting Jesus as he rode into Jerusalem, but in the Polish tradition, you will also see pussy willow branches on Palm Sunday.
According to Polish legend, Jesus visited a forest on Palm Sunday, barren by winter conditions, He commanded His angels to gather up pussy willows, with soft, cotton buds, the first blooms of spring.
The day after Easter pussy willows are put to use one more time during the Polish celebration known as Dyngus Day. It’s a celebration marking the end of 40 days of Lenten sacrifice.
Mazurek may trace its roots to sweet Turkish desserts that came to Poland via the spice trade route from Turkey in the early 17th century, but its origin is uncertain.
Russians also enjoy mazurki (plural for mazurek), but they are usually very different from the Polish version. Russian-style is usually made with hazelnut flour or meal.
The good news for the Citizens of TFD Nation is that royal mazurek is the least fussy version of this ancient cake – the lattice on top does look stunningly like filigreed jewels thanks to the use of 2 differently-colored jams inside each ‘hole’ of the lattice but is not difficult to make and lacks the intricate frosting and details of most Easter mazurek. One way to effectively date the antiquity of the recipe is the fact that the dough calls for sieved egg yolks, a very old technique to make a tender cake or pastry product (details here on the history of it!)
TFD prefers to pay homage to the probable Turkish origins of mazurek by using a combination of Eastern-spiced cherry and apricot jam fillings (with a touch of booze in each) to level-up My version of the classic recipe – the sieved egg yolk dough is a treasure that I would never dare to change! You can easily get Ceylon cinnamon quills from here, Luxardo from your local BevMo, and mahlab from here.
My Citizens – please join Me in congratulating the Poles on their incredible generosity of spirit in helping the Ukrainian refugees to the best of their ability – if you want to help, please donate to this Polish charity here as they are the primary group helping in both Warsaw and on the border with Ukraine!
Battle on – the GeneralissimoPrint
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