Easter eating is important in many countries with specific foods, rich in history and symbolism, associated with the holiday. Here we tell you about several classic Easter foods from around the world and some of the delis, bakeries and restaurants in London where you can buy them.
Hot Cross Buns
These popular spiced fruit buns marked with a cross on top are available all year round, but are traditionally eaten on Good Friday. Blackbird Bakery sells them in all their branches in Crystal Palace, East Dulwich, West Norwood and Herne Hill. They're very reasonably priced at 60p each, or six for £3. They're also available in Peyton and Byrne's central London, Greenwich and Richmond bakeries at £1 each or £5 for six, and are made to Oliver Peyton's family recipe. Melrose and Morgan sell them in their Primrose Hill and Hampstead delis, costing £1.50 each, or £5.25 for four. Covent Garden's Balthazar Boulangerie sells them for £2 each; and St John sells them for the same price at their bakeries in Druid Street and Maltby Street. You can buy organic ones from Daylesford in their Pimlico, Notting Hill and Selfridges branches: a pack of four buns and a hot cross bun loaf both cost £3.99. Gail's has several bakeries around London; and their buns are flavoured with cranberries and glazed with spiced syrup.
Dating back to the medieval era, this light fruitcake contains dried fruit, candied peel, lemon zest and spices. It’s covered with a layer of marzipan on top, and traditionally there’s one in the middle, too. Originally the cake was baked for Mother’s Day, but it’s now eaten during Easter. Since the late Victorian period, it’s been decorated with 11 or 12 marzipan balls, representing either the 12 apostles without Judas, or Jesus and the 11 apostles excluding Judas. British deli Melrose and Morgan makes simnel cake from Shipton Mill organic flour. They cost £22.50 for 1.1 kg and £12.50 for 500g.
Associated with Easter in the 18th century, we recently told you about the history of these square currant buns and where you can buy them.
Colomba di Pasqua
Translating as ‘Easter dove’, this yeasted cake is so named as it’s shaped like one of the white birds. First popularised by a baker from Milan, colomba is an Easter version of the Christmas panettone. Studded with candied peel, it’s topped with sugar nibs and almonds.
At Carluccio’s, it’s made with candied fruit and hazelnut icing. Each cake takes a total of 20 hours to make; and both the yeast and the cake dough are proved twice to ensure the correct flavour and texture. A small 300g cake costs £7.95, and colomba grande weighing 750g is £13.95.
The legendary Lina Stores sells different sizes, brands (both commercial and artisanal) and flavours such as classic, dark chocolate, pineapple, cherry, citrus and orange in prices ranging from £8.95 to £23.95. Terroni of Clerkenwell also sells different varieties including plain, chocolate and limoncello in different sizes, priced from £7.95 to £9.85.
This cake-tart from Naples is made from whole grains of wheat, ricotta, candied citrus peel, spices and, most importantly, moisture obtained from orange blossoms. It’s made in advance to allow the characteristic orange fragrance and flavour to develop.
Pastiera’s origins are romantically linked with Pagan celebrations that marked the arrival of spring, but many believe a nun created it in a Neapolitan convent. She wanted the cake, a symbol of the Resurrection, to be perfumed with the flowers of the orange trees that grew in the convent’s gardens. Since then, there has been a long tradition of nuns making it for wealthy families at Easter.
At Osteria Dell’Angolo, the chef makes a rich cake to a special old recipe, and adds a little cinnamon. It can be bought in advance for £5.50 a portion, or £16 for the whole cake. In the restaurant, it’s served with mandarin sorbet and orange-flavoured vincotto (concentrated grape must) to heighten the orange fragrance, which is a significant characteristic of pastiera.
Dating back to the 16th century or even earlier, this Easter pie-cake from Genoa in Liguria is usually savoury (though sweet regional versions exist). It’s made from pastry sheets layered with fresh spring ingredients that grow in abundance in every Ligurian garden at the time: artichokes, peas, spring onions, nettles (nowadays chard is usually substituted), and local herbs like marjoram and borage.
Traditional cooks often like to show off their culinary skills by layering up 30 sheets of pastry to represent what’s believed to be the 30 years of the life of Christ. A highlight of Easter Sunday lunch, it also contains whole eggs and ricotta, as eggs symbolise new life and they, along with cheese, were once only eaten on special occasions.
Torta Pasqualina is not easy to find in London, but Kensington's smart Italian restaurant Acciuga, which specialises in food from Liguria, Piedmont and Tuscany, has it on its Easter menu. Lina Stores will make it for you if you give 24 hours' notice, and they also have a simple recipe on their website.
Cheese is used in the dough and filling of this savoury stuffed Neapolitan Easter bread, of which there are many variations. Shaped like a crown, the rising dough symbolises the growth of new life, while eggs mean rebirth. Lina Stores can make casatiello stuffed with salami specially to order.
Originating in Western and Central Asia, this sweet, egg-rich bread is made from braided lengths of dough, and decorated with almonds or other nuts. There are many variations, including ones flavoured with mahlepi (ground cherry stones used as a spice), mastic (resin from trees grown on the Chios islands), vanilla or cardamom — or a mixture of all four. They often contain red Easter eggs or rosebuds, the colour representing the blood of Christ. ‘Tsoureki’ comes from an old word for ‘round’. Similar brioche-like breads are found in many European and Eastern European countries, including savoury versions. Children usually give them to their godparents at Easter.
You can buy tsoureki at many Greek delis, such as Opso which sells it for £5 (the restaurant will have a small lamb-based set menu for Easter, too). Athenian Grocery sells a brioche-like plaited version with vanilla and almonds for £4.29, and a ring shape with dyed red eggs for £4.99. It's stocked by King's Cross' new deli-restaurant The Greek Larder, which will also serve it as part of its wonderful Easter menu with chocolate ice cream.
Eaten by Orthodox Greeks in Cyprus to break the Lenten fast, this is a sesame-topped pastry that can be savoury, semi-sweet or sweet. Flaouna is filled with graviera, halloumi, mizithra or kefalotyri cheese (or a mixture), and sometimes contains raisins or sultanas. It’s made on Good Friday, to be eaten on Easter Sunday and replaces regular bread. Athenian Grocery sells ones with raisins, mint and egg for £4.29.
Similar to French toast, this is a dessert that’s typically eaten during the Lent period up to Easter Saturday. It’s made by soaking bread slices in milk or wine with honey and spices, then dipping them into beaten egg and frying them in olive oil. It will be on the dessert menu of at Boqueria in Clapham and Battersea at Easter.
Tarta de Santiago
Meaning 'the cake of St James' and often marked with the Cross of St James, this almond pie-cake originated in Galicia in the Middle Ages. It's flavoured with lemon zest, sweet wine and brandy, and often eaten at religious festivals such as Easter. Brindisa sells it as part of its 'sweet Easter bundle', which also includes Spanish chocolates.
Ninho de Pascoa
Meaning ‘Easter’s nest’, ninho is a chocolate-covered yellow cake with a hole in its centre. This is filled with egg strands made from yolks to give a bird’s nest effect, into which brightly coloured Easter eggs and sugared almonds are placed. Buy it at the renowned Lisboa Patisserie (57 Golborne Road, W10 5NR). Ferreira Delicatessen (40 Delancey Street, NW1 7RY) sells different varieties, including ultra-eggy and chocolate.
Folar de Pascoa
Sweet and savoury regional variations abound for this yeasted bread, in which lengths of dough are arranged on top to resemble a bird’s nest concealing Easter eggs. Sweet folares are flavoured with lemon peel, anise seed and cinnamon; and savoury ones may be stuffed with ham, pork, or smoked pork sausages. The eggs can be plain or coloured, and symbolise Resurrection and rebirth. In a gesture that resembles the sharing of bread at the Last Supper, folares are given to priests and to one’s godfather at Easter. You can buy them at Lisboa and Ferreira (details above), as well as at Sintra Delicatessen (146-148 Stockwell Road, SW9 9TQ)
Lampreia de ovos
This is an unusual almond-flavoured flan-cake, shaped like a lamprey (eel). The lamprey has glace cherries for red eyes, and is assembled on egg strands. It’s available to buy from Lisboa Patisserie (details above).
Traditionally served in an edible, hollowed-out bread bowl, this Polish white borscht is made from a base of fermented wheat. It contains fresh white pork sausages (biala kielbasa); and diced rye bread, chopped hard-boiled eggs and horseradish are often added to it. The sour taste that’s characteristic of the soup can take between three to seven days to achieve. You can buy ready-soured barszcz in jars (75p) and sachets from Prima Delicatessen (192 North End Road, W14 9NX) as well as in many other Polish shops.
This sweet, yeasted brioche-like cake is glazed with vanilla or chocolate icing, decorated with almonds or candied fruit, and sometimes flavoured with rum. Its raised shape signifies the rising of Christ. It’s popular throughout Eastern Europe, and is baked for Easter Sunday. Babka means ‘grandmother’ — and indeed there are ridges on the side of the cake that resemble a skirt’s pleats. You can buy it at Mleczco Polish Delicatessen (362 Uxbridge Road, W12 7LL) in a large size all year round; and in several different sizes and flavours closer to Easter. Prima (as above) sells lots of different varieties for £2.20.
This poppy seed pastry, in which the pastry is rolled with the seeds to give a swiss roll effect, is traditionally eaten at Easter. Polish Delicatessen (as above) is currently selling it shaped as rolls, and Prima (as above) for £3.50.
Originating in central Poland, this pastry-cake is flat, rectangular, golden brown and very sweet. Eaten as a treat after the 40-day Lent fast, it’s made from a shortcrust base and has a distinctive walnutty flavour. It’s thickly slathered with chocolate icing, and extravagantly decorated with dried fruit, nuts and seeds. It’s sometimes served as part of a meal with 12 offerings to symbolise the 12 apostles — and occasionally, 12 different mazureks make up the entire 12-item feast.
Prima (as above) will sell a variety of flavours with different decorations at Easter.
Similar in looks and taste to the Italian panettone, kulich is an Easter cake that’s eaten by Orthodox Christians in Russia and other East European countries. It’s tall and cylindrical, and often contains raisins and dried fruit. Topped with white icing, it’s decorated with fresh flowers, sweets or glace cherries, and often marked with ‘XB’, which denotes ‘Christ Is Risen’.
The cake is traditionally placed in a basket with fresh flowers and taken to the Easter Sunday church service to be blessed by the priest. The blessed kulich is eaten before breakfast until Pentecost (which is on 24 May this year); one that is not blessed is eaten for dessert. Dacha Delicatessen will sell them from around end of March.
Drop buns and duck bread
Drop buns are round buns that are perfumed with spices, and often eaten with cheese. Duck bread is a hard dough bread shaped like a duck (or embellished with duck motifs), said to have been created by Jamaican bakers in a spirit of flamboyance, good-natured competitiveness and one-upmanship. Both are eaten at Easter and other festivals, and are available at Brixton's friendly First Choice Bakers. Drop buns cost £5.50 (small), £7 (medium), £8.25 (large) and £9.75 (extra large). Duck breads are priced at £7 (small/ one duck), £9.50 (medium/ two ducks) and £12.50 (large/ three ducks).
Forget the lame ‘curry house’ versions, this Portuguese-influenced Goan pork curry is a special occasion spicy-sour dish jazzed up with red chillies. The addition of palm vinegar acts as a preservative, enabling the dish to last throughout the holiday period. Putney's family-run Goan restaurant Ma Goa has the traditional version with palm vinegar, Kashmiri chilli and garlicky spice mix on its menu. It's also a signature dish at Cyrus Todiwala's Assado in Waterloo, and is found at his Cafe Spice Namaste in Whitechapel.
Another Portuguese-influenced Goan dish, this special-occasion dessert is traditionally made by layering up 7 to 16 coconut pancakes and garnishing them with almonds. You’ll find a delicious one at Ma Goa. Assado, too, has it on its menu, as does Cafe Spice Namaste.
Appam and stew
Appams are South Indian savoury pancakes made from a batter of rice flour, white urid lentils, coconut milk and spices. They’re eaten by Syrian Christians in Kerala during Easter with lamb or chicken ‘stew’, a mildly spiced, coconut milk-based curry. You can enjoy appam with lamb or chicken stew at Stoke Newington's Rasa Travancore .
A festive favourite throughout south India, this rice pudding is eaten by Keralan Christians at Easter. It’s traditionally made from coconut milk and jaggery (a type of palm or cane sugar), and often flavoured with saffron, cardamom, almonds and other nuts. Pal payasam is available at Rasa Travancore, and all centrally-located branches of Sagar South Indian vegetarian restaurant.
Which other traditional Easter specialities do you buy or make? Tell us in the comments section below.