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Bunny Cake Tradition

“Gran, is it my turn to do the bunny cake face?” eight-year-old Micah asked. 

My first thought was that I’m happy my young Grand wants to continue the tradition of decorating an Easter cake. My oldest Grand, Samuel, now almost 18, first stood on a stool to reach the kitchen counter to decorate a bunny cake.

             The cake recipe and a picture come from my mom’s recipe collection, and a hand-written note read, “Easter – ‘78.”  My Grands’ mother was a toddler then so a bunny cake has been a long-time family tradition.

Imagine an 8” round cake layer as the bunny’s face and another cake layer cut to make the ears and a bow tie.  The picture shows jelly beans for the eyes and nose, threads of red licorice for whiskers and the mouth, gumdrops on the bow tie, and pink colored coconut on the ears.  

We gave up the coconut years ago because no child likes coconut – at least none I know. Through the years, jelly beans have replaced gum drops and no two cakes have looked the same.  One or two Grands can easily share decorating, but when three or four want to help, we determine which part of the cake each person decorates.

When I told Micah that I wasn’t sure who would decorate the bunny’s face, he said, “I did an ear last year and haven’t done the face in a long time.” Then his three older sisters chimed in.

“I think I did the other ear,” said Annabel.

“Annabel, didn’t you do the bow tie last year?  It was completely covered with jelly beans,” said Lucy.

“Was last year when Elsie made a Harry Potter face?”  Micah asked.

“Remember when someone made one eye high and the other one crying?  Who did that?”

“Do you think Samuel will help this year?”

“Did you get that red stuff for the whiskers?” I did. Finally, a question I could answer.

It was determined that no one knew for sure whose turn it is to decorate the face, the most important part of the cake, and that all four thought they might have done an ear, the least favorite, last year.  Someone ended the discussion when she said, “It’s okay, Gran, we’ll figure it out.”  (This year I’ll make a note of ears, bow tie, and face.)

Years ago, I didn’t know that Samuel and I were staring a tradition for his family.  I do know that the bunny cake has never looked exactly like the picture and each year’s cake depends on the whims of the decorators and how many jelly beans are available.

And I know this tradition is important. Traditions connect generations.  Traditions comfort.  Traditions offer stability.  Traditions make memories. Traditions create a sense of belonging.  

Decorating an Easter bunny cake is much more than fun and to have dessert for Easter Sunday dinner, it’s tradition.  I agree with a quote I recently read: Tradition is a very powerful force. 


Easter – Way Back When

Sometimes, I wish for the Easter of my childhood. Easter morning was as exciting as Christmas because the Easter Bunny filled my Easter basket just as Santa Claus filled my Christmas stocking.  Common sense said that my parents were the Bunny and Santa, but the possibility of not getting a filled basket or stocking kept me from ever admitting facts.

            I’d run down the steps from my bedroom into the living room to see what was in my Easter basket, and I laid out each candy, piece by piece.  Mom knew my favorite was the individually cellophane wrapped egg-shaped candies that had marshmallow centers and hard-shell coverings ofpink, yellow, green, lavender, blue, or white. 

            I sorted candy by color, ate one or two a day so they’d last a long time, and saved the best for last – the yellow lemon-flavored ones.  Now these candies are called Easter Hunt Eggs since almost no one hides real eggs for an Easter Egg Hunt.

            But years ago on Saturday before Easter, Mom and I dyed boiled eggs for the church egg hunt.  My brother helped until he decided he was too old.  (I never got too old, even as a high-school and college student and mother and grandmother.)

            Easter Sunday morning, I felt like a princess!  All my clothes were new, from black patent shoes and white lace socks to a hair ribbon or decorated headband.  My new dress covered my new slip and new underwear and I even wore new white gloves.  I was told that wearing new clothes for Easter would bring good luck, but I didn’t care about luck, I just liked wearing all new clothes.

            Not only did I get new underwear for Easter Sunday, I got seven new pairs of panties – one for each day of the week.  The names of the days were embroidered in pastel colors.

            The only Easter Egg Hunt was after Sunday morning church service.  While the minister preached, for what seemed like hours, we children craned our necks to see outside through the open church windows where our daddies hid the Easter eggs.

            There was one prize egg, a big goose egg, and a prize was given to the person who found the most eggs.  From experience, we kids knew the prize egg might be hidden in the church building downspout or nestled in tall weeds beside a fencepost.  The egg hunt turned into a race.  For a few minutes, kids ran helter-skelter until we couldn’t find any eggs and the prize egg had been found.  With great ceremony, crisp one-dollar bills were presented as prizes.

            While I can’t take my Grands back two generations, together we make Easter traditions and memories.  We’ll decorate an Easter bunny cake and dye hard-boiled eggs and there’ll be an egg hunt, not for real eggs, but plastic eggs filled with candy and money.            

And maybe I’ll buy my Grands new clothes, or at least new underwear.  That would be a memory they’d never forget.

Easter Menu and Bunny Cake

 “What do you want for Easter dinner? Anyone like to suggest a new menu?” Husband’s sister sent this message. She organizes family gatherings and makes sure we don’t all take potato salad.

Easter dinner is actually lunch, served sometime around noon. True southerners know this. I’m surprised Sister thinks anyone would like a new menu. What’s Easter dinner without ham and rolls and potato salad and broccoli salad and deviled eggs and an Easter bunny cake? Husband’s siblings, with children and grandchildren, gather for a family egg hunt and dinner. And maybe the menu can change, but no matter what, I’m baking a cake.

Two weeks ago, my 8-year-old Grand asked, “Gran, when are we going to make the Easter bunny cake?” Not, will we? Not, can we? When? I’ll bake a two-layer cake in round pans. And then the Grands, who want to, will help ice and decorate it. Ten years ago, when our oldest Grand was almost two, I invited him to help spread icing and make the bunny’s face. I never imagined that something so simple would become a tradition.

You know the bunny cake that has a big round face, long ears, and a bowtie. Every year I pull out the 3 x 5 index card that has a small picture of the finished cake and a diagram of how to cut one layer into almost thirds. For the bunny’s ears, I cut two elliptical shapes from each side, leaving a bowtie shape in the middle.

The picture shows a round bunny face, covered with white icing and coconut. Short red, narrow licorice candy stings form the mouth and whiskers. A green jellybean for the nose. Two pink ones for the eyes. Pink tinted coconut colors the ears. And about a dozen jellybeans decorate the bowtie. Our bunnies are sloppy, glitzy cousins to this one.

My Grands don’t like coconut. And I provide many jelly beans. After all, when three or four Grands want to help, the bunny is divided into parts so that everyone has the freedom to decorate one part. My Grands have created a rotation and they know whose turn it is to decorate the favorite part, the face. Others choose an ear or the bowtie. Our bunny’s ears and bowties are laden with color. Sometimes in a pattern. Sometimes random designs. Sometimes a single color. Always completely covered with candy and the ears never match.

Sometimes our bunny smiles. Sometimes frowns. Sometimes has an open mouth. He’s even had tears. What else would you call yellow jellybeans below red eyes? He’s had eyebrows and purple jellybeans whiskers and bugs in ears. Black jellybeans do look like bugs.

“Gran, don’t forget. The bunny is chocolate. Not that yellow cake,” I was told. One year, I absentmindedly baked a yellow cake. You just don’t mess the flavor of the bunny cake. But maybe we could change the other Easter dinner dishes. Anyone like to suggest a menu?

Easter Eggs




Brown eggs don’t dye pretty colors like white eggs – except for purple.  Brown eggs dipped in purple water turn a beautiful dark wine color.  Most colors – yellow, green, blue – made brown eggs look like a clod of dirt.  Granny’s chickens laid brown eggs and Mom certainly never considered taking only wine colored eggs to the church Easter egg hunt.  That’s why, when I was a kid, Mom bought white eggs to color.


Each church family took colored eggs for the egg hunt.  On Saturday afternoon before Easter Mom boiled several dozen eggs – some white from the grocery store and some brown from Granny’s henhouse.  Mom and I, and my brother if Mom could rope him into helping, (teen-age boys think they’ve outgrown such childhood activities) colored each egg.  We used the Paas dye – tablets that dissolve in water.


Mom didn’t like plain one-color eggs.  We did half blue and half green eggs and tri-color eggs.  We’d color an egg all yellow and then dip each end in blue or red.  Using a paraffin pencil we’d draw designs that wouldn’t absorb color before dunking an egg in a color solution.  We decorated with glitter and sequins —anything to make an egg look fancy.


We colored a few brown eggs in red and purple liquid dyes and used crayons to draw designs on most.  Mom drew rabbits and simple flowers.  My favorite way to color brown eggs was with multi-colored stripes and zigzag lines and circles.  We spent what seemed like all afternoon sitting together at the kitchen table.


I dyed eggs with my children and now with my Grands.  Next week I’ll throw a plastic tablecloth over my kitchen table and bring out boiled eggs and coloring supplies.  The box of Paas dye hasn’t changed – except for the price – in 50 years.  And I’m glad.  There’s something magical about dropping a small colored tablet into three tablespoons of white vinegar and making brilliant colors, before diluting the solution with a half-cup of water.


And ever year, someone asks, “Why do you have to add the vinegar?”  Because the directions say to isn’t a good enough answer.  The vinegar creates an acid solution so that the colors bond with the calcium in the shell. And sometimes there’s more ‘why’ questions.


I know that plastic eggs are cheaper than real eggs and prizes or candy can be put inside each plastic one, but I like real Easter eggs.  The ones you boil and color.  And in the process, it’s a time to talk and laugh and create.  It’s not just about coloring eggs; it’s about the shared experience.


A few days ago, my seven-year-old Grand asked, “Gran, when are we going to color Easter eggs?”  I like that.  She didn’t ask, “Are we going to color Easter eggs?”   She asked, “When?”  Then she said, “I’m going to draw designs with crayons on some.”   Good, because I have some brown eggs to be colored and I don’t like Easter eggs that look like a dirt clods.