Mazanec and Beránek: Timeless Czech Easter Traditions


Raisin-filled breads (maybe topped with almonds) and cakes shaped like lambs (perhaps coated in chocolate)? It must be Easter.

Baked goods in some form or other are staples of Easter traditions across Europe. The Hungarians have fonott kalacs; Italians have colomba pasquale, and the English have their hot-cross buns.

Here in the Czech Republic, the two classic Easter baked goods are mazanec and beránek. Apart from sharing some connections to other European customs, these two foods can lay claim to centuries of tradition.

Long-lasting food

Mazanec is a sweet, though not cloyingly so, bread filled with raisins and often topped with almonds. Beránek is a cake baked in the shape of a lamb. Many commercial varieties are covered in chocolate.

The earliest evidence of baking mazanec apparently goes back to the 15th century. The noted Czech writer Magdalena Dobromila Rettigová later included a recipe in her popular cookbook, Domací kuchařka, (a Household Cookery Book).

The tradition of baking lamb-shaped sweet bread extends even further back in time. It is claimed the Jewish people of ancient times prepared bread in the shape of a lamb.

The basic ingredients of mazanec haven’t changed much. It is made from flour, yeast, milk and eggs. Rettigová’s version called for sweetened cream and grated lemon rind. Today people add sugar, vanilla and sometimes nutmeg, though none of these items would have been so widely available centuries ago.

Mazanec probably got a foothold into the culture because it and similar breads were cheap festive dishes in the past. In Czech history the bread had a strong association with poorer families. The food was a treat, but it wasn’t too extravagant.


The beránek, while older, has undergone more changes. The more recent chocolate-coated sponge cake varieties would have been unrecognizable to Jewish people thousands of years ago or to Czechs of the late Middle Ages. Yet, when one is properly prepared it has an obvious visual appeal and its symbolism makes it an attractive centerpiece on the Easter table.

The enduring popularity of both no doubt also stems from people’s love of baking and baked goods, especially when they are prepared by family members. These simple traditions reinforce those family bonds, especially when a recipe has been handed down.


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