As Svitlana knows, I have a minor obsession with baking, and I've been curious about Ukrainian korovai for awhile now. I decided to take this opportunity to find out a little more about this ancient Slavic tradition.
Korovai are intricately designed breads that are baked for and historically have been served at Ukrainian weddings. These days, a simple bread (and perhaps a more modern, Western-style cake) may be served to the happy couple and their guests, and the korovai may be mostly for display purposes. Some couples go so far as to dry out and/or varnish their korovai so that they can display them around their houses for years to come.
As you can see from the photo, korovaii have incredible detail and display many of the same symbols found on the similarly intricate pysanky. The bread itself is made of wheat, and the wreath wrapped around it is typically made of periwinkle, a symbol of love and purity. The bread may also be adorned with berries, flowers, and ribbons. However, what's perhaps most impressive about a korovai are the carefully crafted bread figures that adorn it. Doves represent the couple, and the 'tree of life' in the center of the cake symbolizes the newlyweds' building a nest, in this case, home and and family, together. Other prominent symbols include suns, moons, flags, flowers, and elaborate braiding.
The baking of korovai is perhaps as interesting as the finished result. In the past, an odd number of women (in Eastern Slavic cultures, odd numbers are luckier than even ones, and you shouldn't offer a bouquet containing an even number of flowers unless at a funeral), usually seven, would gather to make the korovai. These korovainytsy would provide the ingredients needed to make the bread: seven eggs, seven cups of flour, water from seven different wells, etc. They'd make the bread together, singing traditional songs that accompanied each step of the baking process.
Ultimately, the korovai is symbolic not only of a new couple united, but a new couple welcomed into a community.