Tradition of preparing this type of bread has survived in the village of Podegrodzie in southern Poland, among other places. The ritual bread from that area is unique due to its size and the surviving informations about its meaning. It’s listed on the official registry of regional food products of Poland.
Literal meaning of the word kukiełka is a ‘small puppet’ or a ‘small effigy’. It’s a type of a ceremonial bread, a remnant of old-Slavic customs of preparing certain kinds of ritual food for passage ceremonies. In the past this particular bread was gifted to a newborn’s family 2 weeks after the Christening (as documented by ethnographers), usually prepared by the godmother herself and given during a lavish feast called wiązowiny. Name of the feast is derived from the verb wiązać (“to tie” or “to bind”) – it was organized to welcome a new child in the community. This tradition, along with preparations of the kukiełki, was still alive in Podegrodzie in the first half of 20th century. Such kukiełki were often giften to a child by the godmother also later – after each new year’s up until the child reached 10 years of age.
The bread itself is made of soft, sweet and aromatic dough. It’s always ‘braided’ in form. It could reach even up to 1.5 meters in the lenght and weighover 10 kilograms. A basic recipe included milk, yeast and śmietana (East European type of sour cream) among other ingredients. The recipes often varied among neighbouring households, and sometimes were passed down from generation to generation as one of family secrets.