✦ Christmas is a time to indulge and none more so is this true than with food and a range of delicious, delectable treats.
Whether you’re planning to tuck in to a traditional turkey dinner, with stuffing, cranberry sauce, brussels sprouts and all the trimmings, or opting for a lighter al fresco offering of bbq seafood and salad, food very much takes centre stage during the festive season.
Christmas lunch aside, it is also the time of year to enjoy a myriad of desserts and sweet treats such as candy canes, advent calendars, festive themed cookies, family sized boxes of chocolates and rich puddings.
Here we take a look at some of the yummy sweet options that are frequently served up around the world during the festive season which may find their way onto your Christmas menu and will hopefully leave you licking your lips in anticipation!
Arguably the dessert most synonymous with celebrating the festive season is Christmas pudding. Initially, however, it was never intended to be a sweet dish and was created as a way to preserve meat. Often referred to as plum pudding, despite no trace of plums in its recipe, it became adopted as a dessert in 1700s England and really gained popularity during Victorian times. Traditionally it is made from egg, suet, treacle, raisins (known as plums during Victorian times and hence the reference to plum pudding) and several spices for flavouring. It is typically prepared four to five weeks prior to Christmas and is usually served with a thick, creamy brandy sauce.
Christmas Cake is also hugely popular in Britain, as it is in many parts of the world, as it is often regarded as the most symbolic of festive desserts. The traditional recipe sees moist currants, sultanas and raisins soaked in spirits such as brandy, rum, whisky or sherry then covered in layers of marzipan and icing which is then decorated. It is heavy and not to everyone’s taste but many say it wouldn’t truly be Christmas without at least one serving during the festive season!
In France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Switzerland and several former French colonies such as Canada, Vietnam, and Lebanon it is the yule log cake known as ‘Bûche de Noël’ that gets served up at Christmas. A sponge cake is baked in a shallow pan, frosted, rolled into a cylinder, then rolled again to give it an appropriate log looking shape. They are often served with one end cut off and set atop the cake to resemble a chopped off branch and a bark-like texture is made by dragging a fork through the icing with powdered sugar sprinkled to resemble snow.
Germany is one of several countries to often enjoy the splendours of a white Christmas and they have several sweet treat offerings to match. The traditional Christmas dish Stollen is arguably the most famous, a fruit bread of nuts, spices, and dried or candied fruit, coated with powdered sugar or icing sugar and often containing marzipan. Variations on the recipe include Mandelstollen (almond), Mohnstollen (poppy seeds), Quarkstollen (quark), Nuss-Stollen (nuts), Butterstollen (high butter content), Dresdner Stollen and Marzipanstollen.
Another popular Christmas treat in Germany is Lebkuchen. Invented by monks in the 13th century, it is remarkably similar to gingerbread, with common ingredients such as honey, spices and nuts meaning the taste can range from sweet to spicy. Hard and soft versions of the cookie are popular and can be found at many Christmas markets around the country. Its popularity has transcended the festive season, however, as anyone who has been to Munich’s much celebrated annual Oktoberfest will attest to, where Lebkuchen hearts are frequently seen dangling from the necks of women wearing traditionalal dirndl dresses.
Cookies are popular year round all around the world but particularly so at Christmas. In Denmark butter cookies known as Vaniljekranse, or ‘vanilla wreaths’, are an essential part of the festive season. Simple and sweet with a crisp exterior, they have become so popular that nowadays they are exported all over the world and have found their way into many people’s favourite Christmas treat list.
Norway has a very similar variation of this recipe known as Sandbakkelse, which literally translates as ‘sand tarts’ and in Iceland the deliciously chewy pepper cookies similar to gingersnaps known as Piparkokur are a popular Christmas staple. Pierniczki Świąteczne is Poland’s variation on the Christmas cookie and Pfeffernusse cookies are also extremely popular with the Danes at Christmas time, as they are in Germany and the Netherlands. Made with a mix of molasses, anise, pepper and seasonal spices, they are a chewy cookie dusted with confectionary sugar that make for a delicious treat. In Malawai they adopt a slight twist by making the hugely popular Sweet Potato Spice Cookies, combining shredded sweet potatoes, butterscotch chips, pecans, coconut and spices.
Another Scandinavian country that has a unique offering is Finland where Sekahedelmäkeitto is all the rage in the lead up to Christmas. However, this dish is slightly different to those of their neighbours in that it is a fruit soup where a mix of fruits and spices are soaked and boiled and often mixed with canned fruit or berries to add extra flavour!
A variation on the traditional British Christmas cake that is very popular during the festive season in the Caribbean is rum cake. The recipe is almost identical to its British counterpart although this version ramps up the alcohol content and concentration a fair few notches with the fruits soaked in rum for several months before the assembly of the cake even starts. Especially popular in the likes of Jamaica, Puerto Rico and St. Vincent and the Grenadines, it is a sweet dessert that sure packs a punch and has often left many that over indulge feeling rather intoxicated!
With the third largest Catholic population in the world, it is safe to say that Christmas is a big deal in the Philippines. During the festive season revellers feast on Bibingka, a spongy rice cake made from rice flour and coconut milk that incorporates a variety of toppings to provide a sweet treat that is commonly sold outside churches in the lead up to Christmas.
Over in Mexico doughnuts are the order of the day, or bunuelos to be precise. The dough is deep-fried, filled or covered with syrup then dusted with spices and sugar. While they are popular at Christmas, these sweet delights are also gobbled up in numerous Spanish-speaking countries during other holidays and festivals throughout the year such as Easter, Hannukah and Ramadan.
Turrón is another popular Christmas dessert consumed in many countries in Latin America. Originating in Spain in the 16th century and believed to have originally been derived from the Muslim recipe for turun, this nougat confection is typically served in a round or rectangular form made from sugar, honey, egg white and toasted almonds or other nuts.
In the Middle East Burbara is a popular dessert that is enjoyed on December 4th to celebrate Saint Barbara’s Day and to mark the official countdown to Christmas. A bowl of wheat grains, pomegranate seeds, raisins, anise and sugar is soaked overnight then boiled before being topped with a variety of seeds, nuts and spices. In a similar vein to Halloween, it is offered to children who go house to house dressed in traditional costumes.
Last but not least we come a lot closer to home to celebrate the pavlova, a staple in Australian and New Zealand Christmas menus. Light, chilled and easy to consume to complement the warm climate, the perfect pavlova recipe is all aout the crunchy, chewy meringue shell and the soft marshmellow centre, matched with fresh fruit toppings such as strawberries, raspberries, kiwifruit or passionfruit. Delicious!
Have a Merry Christmas!
Love from the Brilliant Team
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