Christmas is an extremely important part of our cultural identity as a society. Food and baking underscores much of our heritage, but what does the festive food scene look like for other countries and cultures?
An iteration of Christmas began in the United Kingdom in around 10,000 BCE, the Neolithic period – the same time as Stonehenge was built. They celebrated the midwinter with great feasts, eating several types of meat and dairy. In the year 1038, ‘Christ’s Mass’ (Christmas) was first used, so during the Medieval Period, traditions were established which still resemble ours today. Yet, it is the Victorians who really developed the traditions which we still use today, such as Christmas trees, Boxing Day, Carols, and Christmas Cake.
The one thing that has been constant, are the feasts and food celebrations around the world at Christmas time. We are all aware of the decadent Christmas pudding and succulent mince pies, but what goods are baked outside of the United Kingdom? Let’s find out:
In Germany, Stollen (or Christstollen) is a bread baked with candied peel, dried fruit, nuts and spices. Dated back to the 1300s, it is dusted with lashings of icing sugar. Stollen wasn’t originally a beautiful sweet treat however, due to the infamous butter ban, which as the name indicates, banned the use of butter and milk. This ban was lifted for everyone when Saxony became Protestant, and Stollen can now be made as we know it today.
Lebkuchen are beautiful German Christmas biscuits. What is essential to authentic Lebkuchen is Lebkuchengewürz, a German gingerbread spice mix. It is hard to come by outside of Germany, but you can still make a version of these biscuits at home that taste wonderful. The biscuits contain nuts and candied peel, coated in chocolate. A truly delicious festive treat.
Cuccidati are Italian fig biscuits, sometimes called buccellati, which originates from the Latin for “bites”. The process for making these biscuits involves soaking dried figs and blending them up to create a soft fig filling – in a similar way to the British Fig Roll. Cuccidati also contain walnuts, almonds, dark chocolate and raisins, and are often covered with icing.
Marron Glacé are candied chestnuts from Northern Italy. The recipe is relatively simple; with the only ingredients being chestnuts, sugar, water, and vanilla. They would make a great Christmas time treat, and would look picture perfect at the centre of a coffee table. The method is a little trickier, involving precise heating/cooling and peeling of chestnuts. It’s certainly a great festive activity to try out on a cold winter’s day.
What we might think of a Yule log originated in France, as the Bûche de Noël. It is thought that the Bûche de Noël originated from a medieval Christmas tax called the “right of the log”. Everyone was ordered to print a large piece of wood to the feudal lord’s manor. This was adapted and people started bringing logs into their own homes. They’d decorate it, add wines and oils to make it smell nice, before burning it. The cake element of the Bûche de Noël is said to originate from Napoleon I. As he demanded all chimneys must be closed during the winter months, he had no way to burn the log. So a Parisian baker created the Bûche de Noël as a symbolic alternative. With the current iteration dating back to the Edwardian era, a Bûche de Noël is a sweet roulade, which gets fed with alcohol in a similar way to a Christmas cake.
Classic French Chocolate Truffles are always a hit at Christmas. Whether you want them for your coffee table or to make as a homemade gift for someone special, they’re the perfect chocolate-y treat. French truffles are theorised to have originated in Savoie, Southeastern France. Using really good quality chocolate is imperative to make sure the sweetness and texture of the truffles is perfect. The ingredients list couldn’t be any more simple: double cream, chocolate, vanilla extract, and cocoa to roll them in. Truffles are a wonderful blank canvas to add your own flavours to, like alcohols, and extracts.
Fancy something different to the classic Christmas cake? Why not try a Caribbean Black Cake. It is so well loved that it is also a wedding staple, and with its rich dark colour resembles a chocolate cake. Maybe not one for the kids, it is an extra boozy fruit cake, containing almost one litre of rum! Featuring lots of spices and Christmassy dried fruit and peel, this is sure to be a hit during December.
Arroz Doce, otherwise known as Portuguese Rice Pudding, is a sweet cinnamon-y dessert.. Using two types of cinnamon, lemon, milk, sugar, and eggs, it is pure comfort in a dish. Sometimes finished with an elegant criss cross pattern of cinnamon on top, it is a great sharing dish for the centre of the dinner table.
Piparkokur (pepper cookies) are one of Icelands’ most popular biscuits. A little spicy, but still suitable for children, they make for a great treat with a coffee or tea. They are perfect as you can make a batch of dough that can be made in advance and frozen. They’re not normally iced, but I could imagine them with some royal icing and hung on the Christmas tree. Very easy and tasty, they’re definitely a must try for Christmas.
Czech Republic –
Pernik na Figurky are beautiful spiced biscuits, featuring cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, allspice, and ginger. They are commonly found in Christmas markets, and a true staple of a Czech Christmas. The true beauty of these biscuits is in the decoration. They are cut out into a variety of shapes, and decorated with anything you can imagine: nuts, yoghurt, chocolate…whatever takes your fancy. Containing all these spices, alongside honey and a splash of rum, they truly encapsulate the comfort of Christmas, and are part of the rich scene of Czech vanocni cukrovi, or in English, Christmas cookies.
The information in this article is correct to the best of our knowledge at the time of publication. Hides Fine Foods takes no responsibility for the subsequent use or application of the information provided in this article.