The Adorable Pastries Made To Welcome Spring In Russia And Ukraine

When spring has sprung and bakers in Russia and Ukraine get to flip their calendars to the first day of Lent, they also flip on their ovens. 'Tis the season to make some pastries.

During the last week of February, Christians in Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine celebrate Maslenitsa, also known as Pancake or Butter Week. This Slavic, pre-Lent holiday waves a fond farewell to the winter season with fun games, sleigh rides, lighting fire to an effigy, and, you guessed it, pancakes galore. If you don't find any zhavoronki pastries here, you are guaranteed to sample some of these time-honored sweet buns after Lent begins. Each year on Forty Martyrs of Sebaste, 40 lark-shaped buns are baked to celebrate each faithful Roman martyr who died in the name of Christianity (via ITMO News).

Zhavoronki pastries are also made as a symbolic homage to the arrival of spring, and to usher in the Easter season. This traditional bread bake is just as cute as it is melt-in-your-mouth delicious, as the dough is carefully shaped like skylarks of every shape and size. Whether the buns are works of art or lumpy piles of knotted dough, when their raisin eyes look up at you, they're almost too adorable to eat. "During the feast to honor the martyrs, Ukrainian children are given zhavoronki to toss into the air — a symbolic ritual meant to welcome warmer weather and will away the winter," (via Atlas Obscura). But why larks?

Larks are the first birds to return in the spring

"Larks, fly back,
Take away this cold winter,
Bring us a warm spring,
We're tired of winter –
It has eaten all of our bread!"

This pagan folk song from 1903 dates further back than Christianity and was sung when the larks migrated back home to the Slavic east in the spring. Feasts were held to pay tribute to a future of generous crops as spring began to bloom, and zhavoronki pastries played a key role in symbolizing this long-awaited shift in both season and good fortune. Now they've become a tasty tradition. Just as the larks fly in each year, the buttery flavors of these bird-shaped buns never fail to bring a rich, comforting wave of sweetness to the start of spring.

The trick to making them look like round little birds isn't as complicated as it might seem! Though they may look intricately sculpted, much like the elaborate swan towels that appear on Disney World Resort pillows, it's just elongated dough twisted into a knot. Once the knot is looped, you can go in and do a little shaping for the head and pinch off the beak. If you need a visual, you can watch Annette of The Northern Venice make 40 lark buns to celebrate Forty Martyrs of Sebaste with ease. We imagine they're a hit at Easter brunch too, so maybe bring a batch of these little guys to your next Easter Sunday picnic instead of Peeps.