As the Carnival season comes to a close in preparation for Lent, the 40-day period leading up to Easter, you may have noticed some uncommon treats in your local bakery, with names like king cake and paczek.

Each culture that celebrates Carnival — also known as Shrovetide — does so in unique ways, with their own traditions and foods. However, while Carnival treats across the world may look and taste different, they do generally have one thing in common: they are full of sugar, fat and other indulgent ingredients.

Dedicated observers give up animal-based products for the 40 days of Lent, and many choose to give up additional indulgences such as sugar, soda and even social media. Pre-Lent goods serve as delicious ways to use up the last of your butter, eggs, milk and sugar and enjoy them as a last hurrah before giving up such treats for the rest of the season.

Here are a few of the most popular pre-Lent baked goods.

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Paczki are a type of fried doughnut enjoyed year-round in Poland, but they are especially ubiquitous during the pre-Lent season. Their dough is much richer than a traditional doughnut, with lots of eggs, butter and milk. They are usually filled with jam or custard, although nowadays you can find a paczek stuffed with anything from lemon curd to Nutella.

Polish YouTuber Karolina Żebrowska dedicated a video to this sweet treat, showcasing her country’s dedication to eating piles of them on Fat Thursday, the last Thursday before Lent. She says it’s the best day of the year in Poland, although it often ends in a stomachache.

King cake

King cake is found in many forms, although it is often shaped like a wreath with a small ceramic figurine representing the baby Jesus baked inside. Traditions differ, but generally, the person who unearths the “king” in their cake is blessed with good luck for the coming year.

A variation of this cake is found throughout the world under a number of similar names — galette de rois, rosco de reyes — but it is usually eaten on Three Kings’ Day, which celebrates the Wise Men’s arrival in Bethlehem.

However, in the United States, king cake is a central part of Mardi Gras festivities before Lent. It is generally made with a yeasted sweet dough similar to a cinnamon roll and topped with colored icing in the traditional Mardi Gras colors of purple, green and gold.


This Swedish delicacy consists of a sweet bun spiced with cardamom, sliced in half and filled with whipped cream and almond paste.

Opinions abound on the best way to eat a semla: you can bite into one whole like a hamburger, eat each half separately or use a fork and knife to dig in.

Fastelavnsboller (Norway)

This next treat is quite similar to semlor, as it hails from the neighboring country of Norway. You can use the same sweet buns and whipped cream to make these, but instead of almond paste, fastelavnsboller are filled with a raspberry jam.

Fastelavnsboller (Denmark)

A third Scandinavian country has its own take on this treat. The Danish version shares a name with the Norwegian one and uses the same sweet cardamom dough, but it is filled with a vanilla pastry cream and topped with melted chocolate.


If you don’t have time to make a dough, a simple pancake recipe will do. In fact, the Tuesday before Lent is sometimes called Pancake Tuesday.

Different types of pancakes abound, from Russian blini to French crepes. No matter the kind you choose to make or buy, the simple act of eating a pancake can connect you to millions of Carnival celebrants around the world.