Arabs Indulge in Symbolic Easter Bread
By: Nisreen Eadeh/Arab America Contributing Writer
During the Easter season, Christian Arabs make a variety of delicious breads to commemorate and celebrate the resurrection of Christ. Easter bread is used to instill the memories of Christ who walked the lands of Arabs 2,000 years ago. Every Easter, Arab Americans carry on the tradition of their ancestors and bake sweet breads for family, friends, and neighbors to enjoy. While many of the recipes are similar, it’s the memories of making the bread with family members that makes each tradition special.
Egyptians often make a thick, highly enriched bread called choreg (or brioche in French). Armenian immigrants introduced this sweet bread to Egypt in the 1800s, and it has been a tradition ever since. Like most Arab Easter breads, choreg is hand-made, braided, and infused with mahleb (cherry spice) to give the bread its unique, sweet flavor. A recipe for choreg can be found here.
Lebanese Christians have been making sweet ka’ak (cake) for centuries. This bread is made year round but is especially important to make and pass around during Easter. Sweet ka’ak is often made into a ring to symbolize the crown of thorns placed around Christ’s head.
However, some make ka’ak by pressing down the dough into an intricate mold, coating it in a rose water blend, and eating it like a cookie (sometimes called qurban). Both ways are delicious! A recipe for traditional sweet ka’ak can be found here and a recipe for cookie-style ka’ak can be found here.
Palestinians celebrate Easter by making sweet ka’ak like the Lebanese, but some also make ka’ak asfar (yellow bread). Unique to Palestine, ka’ak asfar is a round, flat bread that is made big enough to share. Some traditions say that the sweet bread is made to symbolize the boulder used to cover the tomb where Christ was buried. This bread can be dipped into labneh, paired with salty olives, or eaten plain with a hard-boiled egg. A recipe for ka’ak asfar can be found here.
Syrians also celebrate Easter with sweet ka’ak, but with a different look and flavor. Syrian Christians sometimes make Easter bread that is large like a pizza and flat like a wafer. This style of bread is good for putting spreadables on top or ripping a piece off and dipping it into a labneh. Designs are stamped into the dough to make a beautiful bread that is the centerpiece of an Easter feast. A recipe for Syrian-style ka’ak can be found here.
Ka’ak bi ajwa/Ma’amoul
And who could forget ka’ak bi ajwa (cookie with dates)? It’s one of the Arab world’s most popular desserts and long-standing Easter traditions. This date-filled cookie is served on Easter to symbolize the crown of thorns worn by Christ. Arabs gather to make these cookies every year, using a special pinching tool to give the cookies their famous bumpy look. A recipe for ma’amoul can be found here.