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.
Another legend that will tug at your heartstrings is the tale of the pussy willows and the mother cat and her kittens:
Mazurek may trace it’s 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.
Royal Mazurek (Polish Easter Cake)Course: Recipes
A flat Polish cake made with a shortbread style dough and topped with any combination of almond paste, preserves, dried fruits, nuts, meringues, chocolate, hazelnut or sometimes left plain.
5 large whole eggs
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1 cup sliced almonds or 1 cup almond meal/flour
3 sticks unsalted butter, very soft
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract
Zest of 1 lemon (without white bitter pith)
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup strawberry or raspberry fruit spread
1/3 cup apricot fruit spread
1/4 cup sliced almonds for decoration
- Preheat oven to 350°F.
- Place eggs in medium saucepan and cover generously with water. Bring to a boil. Once boiling remove from heat and cover with a lid. After 18 minutes remove from water and when cool enough to handle peel the eggs. Remove yolks, set aside. Save egg whites for a snack.
- Press boiled and cooled yolks thru a sieve directly onto measured flour. Stir yolks delicately into flour and set aside.
- Place sugar and sliced almonds in a food processor and mix until almonds are fine as corn meal. (Omit this step if using almond meal.) Set aside.
- Cream butter until light and fluffy. Add sugar-almond mixture and mix well. Add vanilla, almond extract, lemon zest, cinnamon and salt.
- Add flour/yolk mixture and mix until dough forms. Do not over mix to ensure that dough stays tender.
- Press slightly less than half of dough onto a plastic food film-lined cookie sheet about 1/2-inch-thick and place in the freezer.
- Press remaining dough evenly into a 9 x 13-inch low-sided baking pan.
- When chilled dough is firm enough to roll remove it from the freezer.
- This dough is soft, so rolling it on floured parchment paper is best. When it becomes too soft it can always be transferred to the freezer by sliding parchment paper onto a cookie sheet.
- Roll dough about 1/4-inch-thick and 18-20 inches long. Cut dough into 1/4-inch-wide strips. Sliding a metal spatula or ruler underneath the strip makes it easier to transfer strips onto the baking pan. Arrange strips to create diamond shapes.
- Fill diamond shapes with fruit spread.
- Place in oven for approximately 30-35 minutes or until light golden.
- Decorate with sliced almonds and sprinkle lightly with powdered sugar, if desired
- Recipe adapted from Imperial Sugar