On the eve of Easter Sunday, travellers strolling the streets of Romania may detect a welcoming scent: a sharp hint of rum or orange liqueur, wafts of warm vanilla and the wonderful aroma of a cake baking, as locals celebrate spring’s moveable feast with their traditional brioche-baked cheesecake: pască.
Part of the appeal of this cheesecake is its buttery richness, perfectly suited for its annual role decorating baskets at Easter (and deprived mouths following the 40-day fasting period). Food writer Irina Georgescu, author of Carpathia: Food from the Heart of Romania, says that the Romanian’s like to bake “to mark moments of happiness, togetherness, [and] merry-making” and that this cake is the “equivalent” to chocolate eggs.
How the traditional cheesecake came to define Easter in Romania is not so clear, but if it’s a symbol of unity, it certainly works well. Millions of these cakes are sold over the busy Easter period, but traditionally, locals bake their own to be blessed by a priest during the Easter sunrise service. Afterwards, it’s taken home to be feasted on by family and friends, a joyful reminder of the importance of coming together.
But baking has long influenced Carpathian culture, dating back to the grand Austrian Empire and the Habsburg rule. Pretty pâtisseries (cofetării) and cosy coffee houses are more than a dime a dozen in most cities and towns, tempting visitors with everything from carefully crafted cream puffs to chocolate mousses.
Follow your nose to capital Bucharest, though, and you can tuck into your own sultana-studded slice of pască, before wandering down the old town’s cobbled streets to admire the city’s blend of old-world elegance and modern delights.