“For singing till his heaven fills,
’Tis love of earth that he instils,
And ever winging up and up,
Our valley is his golden cup,
And he the wine which overflows
To lift us with him as he goes…”
~From The Lark Ascending by George Meredith
March 9 is the 40 Martyrs of Sebaste and Russian custom is to make lark buns to celebrate. Some sources say it is because the larks return to Russia for spring on this day or that they represent the Holy Spirit descending as the martyrs faced their persecution. A few of my fellow Californians told me 40 lizard shaped sugar cookies is the tradition they grew up with. Maybe it is because Western Fence Lizards (aka blue bellies) wake up for Spring around here?
I’ve wanted to join in on this tradition for some time and always have it on my calendar, but never seem to have my stuff together enough to be able to take on a baking project.
This year our family is trying to be Paleo during Lent to see if it helps with some health issues. I bought some almond, coconut, and tapioca flour last week to make Welsh Cakes to celebrate St. David of Wales and decided to experiment with making some grain free lark buns too. The experiment was mostly a success. These are not going to be doughy fluffy sweet bread though, they are more like a peanut butter cookie texture. In hindsight, I probably would have doubled the honey to make them sweeter (the recipes I referenced called for up to 1 cup of white sugar) and added some orange or lemon extract to bring out that flavor more.
Before we got started I just mixed up the remaining flour I had leftover from the Welsh Cakes, but the kids and I measured it out and it worked out to be:
- 5 1/2 cups almond flour
- 3 cups coconut flour
- 2 1/2 cups tapioca flour/starch
- 9 cups flour mix (see above)
- 2 cups warm water
- 2 1/4 tsp yeast
- 1/4 cup honey
- 1 tsp pumpkin pie spice
- 1 tbsp grated lemon (I keep Meyer lemons in my freezer and grate them one at a time and then keep the gratings in a freezer bag to add to water, cooking, etc.)
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 16 tsp coconut oil
Combine warm water, yeast, honey, and 3 cups of flour. Let sit for 45 minutes to activate the yeast, rise and get bubbly.
Add remaining flour and ingredients and combine into a dough. The dough will be slightly crumbly. It is not going to be smooth and elastic like wheat dough so don’t expect it to be. It is best to just make peace with that.
Pull out pieces of dough about the size of a ping pong ball and handle to smooth the consistecy a bit and then form into bird shapes. To do this, my technique was to make an oblong shape then pinch the head up on one end and further pinch to make a beak. Press raisins into the side of the heads for eyes. You may have to reshape the head a bit after this step. You are roughly making something that looks like the marshmallow Easter treats called Peeps.
More about this tradition from around the web:
- St. Nectarios Orthodox Church: Lark Buns (Zhavoronki) Recipe for the 40 Martyrs of Sebaste
- Charming the Birds fr the Trees: The 40 Martyrs of Sebaste
- Ann Lardas: Larks
- An Orthodox Nest: 4th Saturday of Great Lent
- Catalogue of St. Elizabeth Convent: What are Zhavoronki and how to make them?
- The Scrumptious Life: Zhavoronki
- Orthodox Church in America: 40 Martyrs of Sebaste