Karavai – a traditional attribute of any Russian celebration.
Karavai – is not a simple bread product. It is an indispensable attribute of any Russian holiday: sweet, white, aromatic and necessarily round: as a symbol of the sun, fertility and infinity.
The Origin of Its Name
Ritual bread has existed in Russia for centuries. In different regions it was called differently. First round loaves appeared in eastern and southern Slavs. Sometimes the origin of the word «karavai» is explained by a common root «core» or «choir», which most likely meant a circle, infinity.
Famous historian of the Russian cuisine, William Pokhlebkin, has his own, different from the others, version of the origin of karavai. He believed that this word in Russia was used to call an Indian spice – cumin. It was used in baking bread. Rather, all baking goods were cumin was used were called «karavannie» and then got shortened for «karavai.»
In essence, karavai is a simple wheat bread. It was baked using a sponge dough method, with milk, eggs and sugar. The top of a karavai was decorated with figures of birds and flowers made of dough, as well as a variety of braids and weaves. All ornaments were spread with egg yolk, so that they got a beautiful golden color and some shine.
Karavai was baked mainly for special occasions. Often cooks added other ingredients and fillings that made them more similar to pies.
Symbolism of a Wedding Karavai
There are many legends, traditions and symbols related to baking and serving wedding karavai. Wedding karavai could only be baked by a married woman who was in a happy marriage. Kneading the dough, that woman had to read prayers, asking for happiness and prosperity for the newlyweds. But to place a karavai in the oven could only a married man. It was believed that the more puffy and sweeter the karavai, the happier a new family will be. At the wedding, the bride and groom had to treat their guests with a karavai as a token of gratitude for the gifts and well wishes.