There is a tradition in my house around this time of year. Come Easter Sunday, a cake must be made, and it must be made in the shape of a bunny or a lamb, using a special bunny- or lamb-shaped cake pan (preferably the one passed along to me by my mother, from her mother). Once the cake is baked, it’s frosted with white icing and lavished with pastel-dyed coconut (to represent bunny fur or lambswool, if bunnies had a thing for Manic Panic hair color). Jelly beans stand in for eyes, mouth, and general bejeweling. The type of cake–white, yellow, lemon–is less important than the fabulousness of the decoration.
Now, if you’re the sort of person who notices bylines, you might be a little curious by now. Why is someone named Rosenbaum waxing rhapsodic about bunny cake? Shouldn’t a Rosenbaum be making matzoh kugel this time of year, chopping charoseth and grating horseradish, whipping up a batch of Marcy Goldman-via-David Lebovitz chocolate-covered toffee matzoh crunch?
Well, as a matter of fact, I’m doing that too. On a line for religious affiliation, I’d have to write “Baking Jew.” My Hebrew skills are nonexistent and my grasp of Torah imprecise, but I can whip up a mean Rosh Hashanah honey cake, an excellent Purim hamentaschen, a swell matzoh ball and a pretty great Seder spongecake, even in a studio apartment with a kitchen counter smaller than a newspaper.
So, where does the bunny cake come in? The short answer: my mother converted when she got married. So my sisters and I were raised Jewish, with no bacon, Hebrew school three times a week, challah French toast on Saturdays and lox and bagels on Sundays. But we still got to have fun on Easter, in a purely secular, egg-dyeing way, up at my grandmother’s house. We would spend a gleeful afternoon on an Easter-egg hunt around her house, filling our plastic-grass lined baskets with Peeps, Cadbury creme eggs, and hollow-eared chocolate bunnies.
But therein lay the moral quandary. For understandable reasons, there is no such thing as kosher for Passover Easter candy. If, as commonly occurs, Easter fell during the eight days of Passover, we couldn’t eat those marshmallow chicks and foil-wrapped eggs until Passover was over, which could be up to a week away… When this happened, my grandmother would take pity on us and make her bunny cake with a kosher-for-Passover cake mix: an absurd but also wonderful gesture, as I see it now.
This weekend, I’m out in Minneapolis with my sister and brother-in-law (a Methodist), and their 3 children. We’re having a Seder tonight, with an Easter ham stashed in the fridge for Sunday. Her bunny cake mold is made of pink silicone now, already pre-portioned into kiddie-sized chunks. My sister and I are sharing matzoh and averting our eyes from the rest of the family’s morning waffles. She’s added a Sephardic date-and-ginger charoseth to the mix, and my brother-in-law is providing the pot roast. It may not be totally kosher, but it tastes like home.