Easter Lamb: in Sicily, Italy, it is sweet, caloric and made of almond paste!
Eggs, rabbits…we already know what these symbols mean. Also the lamb is one of the most prominent symbols of Easter. In Christianity, it symbolizes purity and sacrifice, two qualities associated with Jesus Christ, who is referred to as the “Lamb of God” in the New Testament.
Sicilians prepare a traditional Easter celebration with the help of a little lamb. Locally known as “agnelli pasquali” or “pecorelle di pasqua”, this sweet figurine is molded from marzipan and often filled with pistachio paste. One distinct characteristic of the Easter sweet is the red flag, a symbol of victory over death.
But the sweet sheep is probably one of the most caloric treats you can eat!
In Southern Italy, the Paschal Lamb is the sweet that takes centre stage at Easter tables. Sicilians, particularly those in the south-central town of Favara (near Agrigento), are known for their pistachio-filled marzipan Easter lambs. Culinary lore tells that the first to prepare this dessert were the nuns at the now-defunct Mary Convent in the “Batia” quarter of Favara, in the 19th century. The recipe was handed down orally by the older nuns to the younger ones.
One of the first Easter Lamb recipes goes back to 1898 and belonged to a rich family from the agrarian, sulphur-producing bourgeoisie. At the time, it was a sweet produced strictly in families.
The recipe required blanching then peeling the almonds and pistachios, then finely ground. 800 grams of powdered sugar were then dissolved in 250 g of water and, after that, the almond flour was dissolved in the sugar syrup to form a thick paste. The same was done to the pistachio flour (whose paste formed the heart, the lamb’s filling). For every 100 g of almonds, you would need 50g of pistachios.
Vanilla was used to sweeten the paste, and lemon zest to give it fragrance.
Today, confectioners around the region create the iconic Easter lambs. Some still manually blanch, peel, and grind locally-grown almonds (for the marzipan) and pistachios to form a paste from scratch.
Once the marzipan has been molded, they meticulously paint the creatures by hand, finishing each colorful figurine with unique details like silver dragées, and candied nuts.
The final product is enough to make any undevout believer utter, “Oh Sweet Jesus!”
Images from web – Google Research