How to make cascarones, and why the confetti-filled eggs remain a beloved Easter tradition
For many Texas families, cascarones are a staple in their children’s Easter baskets. These colorful and painstakingly handmade confetti eggs have just one purpose: to be smashed on someone’s head.
With the hollowed-out eggs as ammunition, my family would stage what was tantamount to a friendly battle royal, with everyone trying to catch another off guard for an opportunity to crack a cascarón atop someone's head. We weren't alone in this tradition.
“We would crack the Easter eggs on people's heads, and it was all in fun,” says Norma Elia Cantú. “There were some mischievous kids and adults who put stuff in them like flour. And you never knew who was going to get that one.”
Cantú is the Murchison professor of the humanities at Trinity University in San Antonio where she teaches Chicano and border studies, folklore and literature. She says cascarones are a tradition that many Mexican-American families have, going back generations.
“Well, like most South Texans and Northern-Mexico Mexicans,” she said, “we have a tradition during Easter of preparing the cascarones during Holy Week, dyeing them, stuffing them with confetti, covering them up, decorating them. And I have very fond memories of my childhood when my aunts from Mexico would come visit Laredo and help us decorate the eggs.”
I remember watching my mom and grandmas delicately crack the tops of each egg at breakfast, setting the shell aside to dry out and eventually be decorated and filled weeks later. All these memories got me thinking, why not share this tradition?
How to make cascarones
If you want to join in the fun, here are directions for making your own cascarones:
- Large bowl
- Cupcake pan
- An empty egg carton
- Colorful tissue paper
- Paints, egg dye, markers or crayons for decorating
Step one: Crack the eggs. The trick is to crack only the top of the egg on the side of the bowl. Then, put your thumb in the broken piece and lift it off like a lid.
I set the egg yolks aside for a frittata and even separated some egg whites for a meringue. They're not needed for the cascarones but I didn't want to waste food.
Step two: Rinse and dry the eggs. After the egg contents are emptied, rinse the eggshells with water to get any remnants out. It's OK if there is a little layer of egg white still inside; it will dry out.
Traditionally, you’d collect these eggshells over the weeks leading up to Easter, but if you're making the cascarones all in one day like I did, you’ll need to put them in the oven to dry them out.
Set the oven low, to 275 degrees Fahrenheit, and place the newly emptied shells in a cupcake pan and into the oven. This will only take five minutes, so set a timer and keep an eye on them.
After five minutes, pull out the eggs and let them cool before moving on.
Step three: Decorating. This part takes a delicate touch. I tried finger paints, crayons and colored pencils but found markers worked best. Egg dye is an option too, but you may not have that on hand.
Get as creative as you want, but also remember to be gentle while decorating; the eggs are delicate. I drew stars and flowers on my shells.
Cantú says the origins of this egg artistry is unclear but that it's a tradition in many cultures.
“In fact, Ukraine has a very rich tradition of hand-painted eggshells, and also into Germany and Austria,” she said. “But they would not stuff it with confetti and hit it over people's heads because they're precious.”
There's some evidence that hollowed-out and filled eggs originated in China. And explorer Marco Polo reportedly brought the tradition to Europe. But cascarones as we're celebrating them here really took root in Mexico.
Step four: Fill the eggs. This is the family prankster’s favorite part. Though confetti is customary, some people will sneak flour or glitter into the eggs, which can require several shampoos to remove! (Anything except confetti was strictly forbidden by my mom.)
Step five: Cover the eggs. All this takes is a bit of Elmer's glue and squares of tissue paper. Make a little line of glue along the edge of the eggshell’s jagged opening. Next, place a square piece of tissue paper over the hole and press down lightly, connecting the paper and the glue.
And now you have your own cascarones to crack this Easter!
Putting homemade cascarones to the test
To make these truly cascarones, they need to be tested. As a childless millennial with no backyard, I borrowed my co-worker’s kids.
Austin residents Clara and Allen Hah tested my homemade cascarones with 5-year-old Scout and 7-year-old Henry.
Scout and Henry hunted eggs in the Hahs' backyard, putting found ones in their Easter baskets. Moments later, the cascarones battle began. Henry went to higher ground to try to crack an egg on his dad's head. Scout took a few tries to break one on Clara, leaving paper confetti and eggshells scattered across the yard. My cascarones were a success.
A tradition beyond Easter
Cascarones are all about sharing and having fun with others. And in Texas, they show up not only during Easter but also at birthday parties and festivals, like Fiesta San Antonio. Cantú says the blend of cultures in Texas brings about traditions that are more than the sum of their parts. The cascarón is one example of that.
“We exist in this in-between space that brings together different, sometimes opposing, cultures into a unified expression," she said. "And in some way, I would even say the cascarón is a site of such fusion.”
If you’ve never had a cascarón in your basket before, we invite you to try it out.
Cantú's advice is to be gentle with the eggs: “You don't hit the cascarón on someone's head. You break it in your hand over their head.”
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