If you were to rank American family feast days, you’d most likely put Thanksgiving first, followed by Christmas. But in my family, Easter has always been in the spotlight. Growing up, it meant new outfits, flowers around the house, egg dyeing, Easter baskets filled with chocolate and presents for all ages, and most of all, Easter brunch.
My mother’s table, and subsequently mine and my brother’s since her death in 2015, groan with all manner of homemade dishes. We have several types of quiche, an oven-baked French toast, bagels with smoked salmon and cream cheese (yes, I get the irony), green salad, fruit salad, cinnamon rolls, King Cake that I save from Mardi Gras, and champagne in my mother’s honor.
Then, there’s the mazurek.
Mazurek is a colorful pastry that originates in Poland, but like many European dishes, seems to have been adopted by other countries. The name might be a derivation of “wife” in Polish, or a tribute to the folk dance called the mazurka. I’ve seen a German version, as well as a Hungarian one, and it was part of my mother’s Baltic repertoire, which is how it ended up on our Easter table every year.
The base is like shortbread topped with almond paste, which is then decorated with two types of jam. Some versions call for candied fruit, others for slivered almonds, and it can also have icing. My mother always used either plum or cherry jam, plus apricot, which made a nice contrast of colors. (Supposedly, the red stood for Jesus’ blood and the apricot for the sun of resurrection, but religious symbolism wasn’t really the point. It was mainly about the pastry.) She arrayed the jam in four quadrants, so that you could choose the flavor you wanted. I always went with the red kind.
My brother Frank has a real talent for mazurek, and has picked up the baking baton in our family. Lately, he has been spreading the surface of his mazurek with apricot jam, then dropping teaspoonfuls of cherry jam on top. That way, it’s simpler to construct, and you get both flavors.
I recently found my mother’s original recipe neatly typed on a card in her wooden recipe box, which is one of my favorite possessions. When I read it, however, I found entire steps and measurements were missing, probably because she knew it by heart.
I’ve managed to fill in the gaps in her recipe, though. There are two baking steps, and you need to let it cool completely before you decorate it, because the icing and jam can melt if the shortbread is too warm.
Mazurek will stay moist for several days, so you can prepare it a day or two ahead of serving and store it in the fridge. A small piece is usually plenty, especially if you plan to bite the head off a chocolate bunny afterward. Happy Easter!
- 2 cups pastry flour (if using all-purpose flour, sift it first)
- 1 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup butter (1 stick), softened
- 1 egg
- 3 Tbsp. cream or buttermilk, plus extra for the almond paste
- 1/4 tsp. salt
- 7 oz. almond paste
- 1/2 cup each of cherry or plum jam and apricot jam
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9" glass or ceramic pie dish (use the normal size, not the deep dish kind).
In a deep bowl, place the softened butter and flour. Using a pastry cutter or a fork, cut the softened butter and flour together until crumbly. Add the sugar and mix until combined.
In a separate bowl, break the egg into the cream or buttermilk and mix it with a fork. Add this to the flour mixture. Then, using your hands, incorporate the wet ingredients until you have a soft dough. (The mixture will be sticky, so butter or oil your hands first.) Transfer the dough to the prepared pie dish and press it evenly across the bottom. Bake for 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a small bowl, mix the almond paste with one tablespoon of cream or buttermilk, stirring until smooth. If the almond paste is stiff, add more liquid a teaspoon at a time. You can microwave it 15 seconds at a time to soften it more, but take care that it doesn’t cook.
After 30 minutes, remove the shortbread from the oven. Immediately spread the softened almond paste on top (drop spoonfuls around the surface, then smooth them together). Bake for approximately 20 more minutes, but keep checking to make sure it doesn’t get too brown.
Remove from the oven and let the shortbread cool completely before removing from the pie dish and onto a platter for decorating. Stir the cherry jam and apricot jam well before applying to the cake. Mazurek can be made in advance, then wrapped in aluminum foil and stored in the fridge for a few days. Bring it to room temperature before slicing and serving.
Make a decorative icing with 1/4 cup confectioner’s sugar, 1 tablespoon of melted butter, and 1 tablespoon of milk. Stir thoroughly, and let the icing stand for at least 10 minutes to thicken. Then, use the icing to divide the surface of the mazurek into quadrants. Fill each quadrant with jam.
Top the jam with 1/4 cup diced candied fruit and 1/4 cup sliced almonds.