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The wedding Korowaj, especially popular in eastern, southern and partly western Slavic areas, is the ceremonial wedding bread with decorations in the form of mythological creatures, astronomical objects, and plants.
The tradition of baking Korowaj for weddings dates back to the Middle Ages. In Poland, it was baked mainly in Podlasie, Suwałki, Lublin and the eastern part of Masovia. It was prepared on the eve of the wedding and, depending on the region, varied in size and appearance. In the past, in the municipality of Stara Kornica in Mazovia, Korowaj was baked mainly in peasant villages.
One type of the Polish Korowaj bread Mielnicki wedding Korowaj. It is a large, round, yeast-raised cake ceremoniously distributed among all the wedding guests.
The tradition of preparing wedding Korowaj was widely known in the Mielnica region, among the Orthodox population, even in the 1950s. The yeast cake was supposed to be a symbol of fertility. The tradition of baking Mielnicki wedding Korowaj is a legacy of Slavic culture from pre-Christian times. The name of the wedding Korowaj derives from the word ‘cow’, which has pre-Slavic roots and is colloquially used to describe a large, heavy object.
To make about 2-2.3 kg of Korowaj, you will need 1-1.3 kg of cake flour, 10 dkg of fresh yeast, 30 dkg of sugar, 3 whole hen’s eggs, 6-7 egg yolks, 250 ml of country cow’s milk and about 12.5 dkg of butter.
According to tradition in the Mielnik area, on the evening before the wedding, ‘Korowajniki‘, i.e. maids, married cousins and neighbours of the bride, would meet to bake this special bread. This ritual was started with a prayer, by the bride’s godmother. Church songs accompanied the baking.
In the middle of the dough, money was placed to ensure good fortune for the newlyweds. The wedding Korowaj was baked in a bread oven heated with pine wood at a temperature of about 150ºC. It was placed in a riddle (used for sifting grain), which was lined with ears of grain or wheat and covered with a white towel decorated with lace.
The top of the bread was decorated with figures, also made from yeast dough, and was surrounded by a plait of dough – a braid or fence. The figures in the shape of the moon and the sun symbolised man’s symbiosis with nature – life, the white cloth and garland on top of the cake symbolised the bride’s purity, the two birds symbolised the bride and groom, and the pinecones symbolised offspring.
During the wedding, after presenting the cake to the guests, the Korowaj was placed on the wedding table in front of the bride and groom. The cake was divided by a man, cut with a knife and distributed in a set order. The first portion with the image of the moon and sun was given to the bride and groom.
Since 2006, an annual ‘Wedding Korowaj Festival’ has been organised in Mielnik, accompanied by a culinary competition for the best Korowaj.