Easter hasn’t always been about marshmallow chicks, chocolate bunnies, and nougat-filled eggs. Historically, Lenten fasting dictated much of the proceedings surrounding the holiday. For Christians in Finland, spring pickings were especially slim: They were forbidden from eating sweets, were constrained by limited ingredients, and lacked fresh produce. Rye, however, was a year-round staple. Finns malted huge trays of the grain during Lent, which led to the modern Easter treat called mämmi.
At its most basic, mämmi is a cooked pudding made from water and rye that’s sweetened naturally through malting. During Lent, Christians prepared large portions of the dish to share with friends and neighbors, then served the near-black substance in cold scoops. Though the substance lacked sensory appeal on most levels, the hearty dish easily fed a group.
Today, bakers often enhance the minimalist treat with sweet aromatics, such as molasses, raisins, and orange rind, and smother the finished product in cream and powdered sugar. In recent years, the dessert has appeared in increasingly decadent formats—think mämmi sandwiched in custard parfaits, paired with vanilla mousse, and topped with ice cream.
Finns are divided on the appeal of traditional mämmi, but all parties agree that the dish improves drastically when its baker defies the will of Lenten asceticism. If at first you don’t succeed, try more sugar and cream.