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40 Zhavoronki (Skylarks Vegan Sweet Bread Buns) for the Forty Martyrs of Sebaste (VIDEO)

Updated: Mar 22, 2023

bird bread buns

It's still Lent, and so many Christians around the world recognize this time of the year to fast from specific foods, do more prayers, help others, and basically live a more Godly purposeful life. It's a time for fewer entertaining activities and to instead concentrate on more spiritual activities. It's a time when Christian families get together to participate in community projects, assist family, friends and neighbors. It is time to be of service even more so than usual.

me and kids cooking

In our church on March 9, the day on which we commemorate the 40 Martyrs of Sebaste, it is customary for families to make forty zhavoronki, little sweet bread buns, which are made in the form of little skylarks.

These little birds are signs of spring in Eastern Europe, and it is fitting that they should honor the "new life" of spring as well as the new life these martyrs found with Christ after their souls flew up to heaven during martyrdom.


Last Sunday at St. James Orthodox Church, where I belong, the kids learned about this sad episode in our history. Then everyone enjoyed making their own skylark buns at the Innichkachef kitchen.


What a joy it was to take this opportunity to teach the children about the 40 Martyrs and to provide a fun healthy activity, which allowed them to learn the entire process of making bread from scratch. The children participated in zesting the citrus fruits, grinding their own flour, mixing all the ingredients, kneading the dough and shaping their own birds. Of course, they practiced patience by WAITING...and WAITING... for the dough to rise. The joy of taking these raw ingredients and seeing them magically turn into something delicious was a treat for each child and for us adults too.

Our Father Deacon and Matushka helped with this project. I have to admit managing 12 kids of varying ages is not the easiest task, but I think we did a great job, and everyone delighted in making the 40 buns. The entire house was engulfed in the sweet aroma of baked bread making you feel as though you had stepped into a bakery!

bread buns in an oven

On this day in which we commemorate the 40 Martyrs of Sebaste, it is considered a feast day even though it occurs during the Great Fast (Great Lent), Therefore, we keep the fast by using Lenten bread dough (another word for it: VEGAN). These skylark bird buns are perfect as a dinner roll, as a sweet roll for breakfast or as an after-school snack. Enjoy them with a cup of piping hot tea or coffee.


Prep time: 5 minutes

Making time: 20-30 minutes

Waiting time: 2-3 hours

Bake time: 20 minutes.

Total time: 3 hours 55 minutes

Author: Inna of

Serves: 40 buns

Ingredients for the sponge

4 teaspoons yeast

2 and1/4 cups warm water

6 teaspoons raw cane sugar

Ingredients for the dough

6 teaspoons raw cane sugar

2 teaspoons pink salt

10 tablespoons avocado oil or sunflower oil

Zest of one orange or lemon

2 cups whole wheat flour (we grind our own flour in the video)

Ingredients for the glaze

1/2 cup strong brewed black tea or chicory drink

1/4 cup raw cane sugar

1/3 cup avocado oil

1/4 cup dried black currants (to make eyes)


  • First make the sponge; in a bowl mix all the ingredients together. Let it sit for 10-20 minutes, while you are gathering the rest of the ingredients for the dough.

  • To the sponge, add all wet ingredients (zest, oil), along with the sugar and mix with a wooden spoon.

  • Next, add salt and the whole wheat flour and mix all together. Add all-purpose flour and use your hands to start kneading the dough. After the dough feels elastic and is no longer sticking to the bowl, it is ready. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a damp kitchen towel and leave to rise for few hours or until the dough at least doubles in size but does not triple. The whole process can be done in an electric mixer bowl with a hook attachment.

  • Preheat oven to 375F.

  • Take the dough and divide it into 40 pieces using a pastry cutter. I also recommend using a kitchen scale to weigh each piece (100 grams per one piece). Another way is to first cut the dough in half, then in half again, and roll out 10 equal pieces from each section.

  • Now roll each portioned piece between the palms of your hands to form a rope. Then tie a knot in each rope, making the top end to be the head of your bird, and the bottom end to be the tail. Use your creativity in shaping the heads and tails to produce the look of birds. Use a fork to flatten the tail section. Then shape the beak at the other end using a toothpick or a skewer to form the eyes. Fill the indentions with two currants to represent the eyes of the birds.

  • Let them rest for 20 minutes, preferably covered with a damp kitchen towel.

  • For the glaze, mix together the brewed chicory drink or black tea with sugar and mix well until sugar is completely dissolved. Gently apply the glaze on each bun using a pastry brush.

  • Bake at 375 degrees for about 20 minutes until they are a light and golden brown.

  • As soon they come out from the oven brush the birds gently with the oil.

  • Immediately transport them onto a cooling rack. Enjoy these buns warm or at room temperature.


Be sure there are 40 buns going into the oven! One for each holy martyr!

Glazing them is Not a must, but it's nice to use this technic of glazing before and after being baked to give them a glossy look without using real egg wash.

cute girl holding her bread bun looks like a bird

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