Four different kinds of mona for our most deeply-rooted Easter tradition

This year’s four big mona cake themes are: Pepa Pig, Star Wars, Dog Patrol and Frozen. They are all from cartoon series or animated films that are very popular with children, but the range of mona cakes [traditional Easter chocolate cake] on offer in our country is extremely varied and goes beyond the more commercial trends. Next to frozen castles and space ships, we find chocolate eggs of all sizes, creations that are so spectacular that they seem more like sculptures, sponge cakes with the traditional hard-boiled eggs and custard, cream and chocolate tarts decorated with coloured feathers and chickens made from felt.

The sponge cake is the most traditional mona, a recipe dating back to the 15th century, which did not originally contain any chocolate. It consisted of a sweet brioche-dough bread, round in shape and crowned with hard-boiled eggs. Tradition has it that the mona had to contain as many eggs as the child’s age when they received it. It appears that chocolate was first added in Barcelona in the 16th century, when cacao first arrived from the Americas. This type of mona is not so common in patisseries, but they are the easiest ones to make at home. If you’d like to have a go, this is the recipe from the Corpus Català de la Cuina [traditional Catalan cook book].

Like many other things originating in the Americas, cacao was added to our diet and became the outstanding feature of mona cakes, especially egg-shaped ones. Eggs are a key symbol of Easter in many parts of Europe, where their shells are often emptied and decorated with colours. Their symbolism is related to the arrival of spring and with fertility rituals. These are all pre-Christian beliefs, and as often happened with popular and traditional culture, they were incorporated into the religion.

Chocolate eggs are often used as decorations on the mona cake, which is made with layers of sponge cake filled with crème brûlée, chocolate, cream or butter. It may also have candied fruit, almonds or sugar-paste decorations. But the mona cake’s most distinctive feature is goose feathers dyed in a thousand different colours and chickens made from felt, which are added as decorations. If you want to try and make one at home, there are dozens of recipes online, but we will leave you with this one for an almond cake base from Television of Catalonia programme ‘Cuines’.

Chocolate eggs evolved into all kinds of structures that appeal to kids, including cartoon characters, all sorts of animals, miniature houses, footballs and motorbikes. This is also where the more creative patisserie bakers let their imagination run wild, producing chocolate creations that are more like works of art. Because one of the most interesting things about the mona cake tradition is that it is not set in stone, it is in constant evolution, which is a sure that it’s here to stay.