Holiday Sweets Around the World
Nothing says Christmas quite like food, and nothing crowns a festive meal quite like the perfect dessert. Whether you’re traveling this season and are looking for the perfect local bakery or want to bring some new festive traditions to your holiday table, here are some incredible desserts that will put you in the Christmas spirit.
GERMANY - Christmas Stollen
Stollen is a fruit bread loaded with nuts, spices, and dried or candied fruit. A properly-made Christmas Stollen takes time. Raisins and nuts must be soaked in rum, and then added to a sweet yeast dough flavored with citrus and spices. The process of proofing the dough takes several days. A perfectly-executed stollen is a mouthful of rum-soaked fruit, held together loosely with delicate cake. To trace the origins of this Christmas dessert and to enjoy it in its classic form, make your way to Dresden’s Christmas Market where you’ll find the cake for sale in the food stalls.
FRANCE - Bûche de Noël
In France, Christmas dinner culminates with a bûche de Noël, or Yule log. The cake is designed in the style of the Christmas log that families would burn in the fireplace on Christmas Eve. The dessert’s foundation is simple: sponge cake, coated in pastry cream, rolled up and coated again in chocolate or coffee buttercream. Décor of the bûche de Noël can get rather elaborate, with mushroom-shaped meringues and almond paste leaves. If you’re visiting Paris for Christmas, Pierre Hermé’s eponymous bakery offers several modern interpretations of the French classic. Expect original flavors as well as unconventional ones such as rose-litchi-raspberry or black lemon. Pierre Hermé won the distinction of the World’s Best Pastry Chef, 2016.
GREECE - Melomakarona
Mediterranean cuisine is known for its health benefits, and Greece’s Christmas dessert gift to the world is no different. Dripping with honey, melomakarona are made with olive oil, orange juice, sugar, cloves, cinnamon, and cognac, creating a sweet, sticky confection coated in almonds and walnuts. For a modern twist on the old recipe, sometimes the cookie is coated in chocolate. Visit Takis Bakery, one of Athens’s most celebrated bakeries for melomakarona, kourabiedes butter cookies, and Christopsomo Christmas bread—and sample the panoply of Greek Christmas dessert traditions.
MEXICO - Buñuelos
Buñuelos are fried balls of dough or tortillas covered in cinnamon or sugar that are served around Christmas time and New Year’s in many Mexican homes. This dessert is so popular throughout Latin America that there are many variations for you to discover. Find your favorite buñuelos for sale from street vendors and at the many outdoor holiday festivals throughout Mexico. Follow your nose to the buñuelos and you’ll be in for a real treat.
ITALY - Panettone
An authentic panettone is nothing like the Christmas loaves sold in supermarkets during the holidays. A properly-executed panettone melts on the tongue, with a texture reminiscent more of cotton candy than bread. The panettone often gets overlooked because it is so easy to get wrong. The starter needs to be just right, the temperature just so, the mixture, perfect. Even the world’s top bakers struggle to pin down the recipe, which requires a perfect ballet of preparation and execution. When the proofing is just right, the great cupola of the panettone rises like the Duomo of Florence. The recipe comes from Milan, where expert bakers craft breathtaking panettone using time-honored recipes. Stop by Cova in Milan for a coffee and panettone where opera singer Maria Callas once took her coffee, and re-discover this Italian Christmas dessert while sitting in one of Italy’s oldest pastry shops.
UNITED KINGDOM - Christmas Pudding
“Oh, bring us some figgy pudding…” goes the Christmas Carol, We Wish You A Merry Christmas. If you’re in the United Kingdom for the holidays, a staple of any Christmas feast will be the Christmas pudding. The recipe calls for dried fruit, dark sugar, rum, stout, walnuts, almonds, breadcrumbs, nutmeg, cinnamon, and spice. Interestingly, most traditional recipes don’t specifically call for plums nor for figs. The inclusion of the figs derives from the fact that these words were once used in England to denote any kind of dried fruit. Christmas puddings date back to medieval England, when many dishes were made in pudding form so that they could be preserved as long as possible. England’s Marks & Spencer sells a 12-month matured vintage Christmas pudding that is not to be missed.
From the decadent displays of France’s Yule logs to the honey-soaked Greek melomakarona, there’s a Christmas dessert for every destination and taste. If you plan to travel this holiday season, make time to savor these authentic Christmas desserts. When the original recipes of many Christmas classics are put in the hands of local masters, the results are absolutely spectacular.