TRADITIONAL HOLIDAY DESSERTS AROUND THE WORLD
Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year. The joyous gathering of family and friends—and food! Every family has their favorite recipes passed down from generation to generation. And every culture has its own unique traditional desserts to share during the holidays. Let’s explore some sweets from around the world starting with our neighbors to the north.
Canada: Nanaimo Bars
The Nanaimo Bar is a dessert which requires no baking and is named after the city of Nanaimo, British Columbia on Vancouver Island. It consists of a wafer crumb-based layer topped by a layer of custard flavored butter icing which is covered with melted chocolate. Many varieties exist, consisting of different types of crumb, icing (mint, peanut butter, coconut, mocha), and chocolate.
Samantha Knowlton lives in Tulsa but grew up in Canada. She says, “My Mum was a fabulous cook and we always knew the holidays were approaching when she busted out the Nanaimo bars. As a kid growing up in Vancouver, I always thought it was a coincidence we had a local port named Nanaimo that shared the name. Ironically, it turns out to be their origin! Later as an adult I tried a couple times to make them for dinner parties, but it was never the same as my Mum made.”
Buñuelos are crispy, flaky, golden fried treats covered with cinnamon and sugar. They are popular in Mexico and Latin American countries. They can be round or disc shaped and will usually have a filling or a topping. In Mexican cuisine, it is often served with a syrup made with brown sugar. In Latin America, buñuelos are seen as a symbol of good luck.
Greece: Melomakarona Cookies
Melomakarona is an oval shaped, honey-dipped Christmas cookie topped with crushed walnuts. It is an oil-based recipe that creates a fluffy and almost cake like cookie with intense flavors such as orange zest, cognac and/or brandy, cinnamon and, of course, honey. To add additional flavor and texture to the cookie, it is dipped into a hot syrup made from honey and sugar before being sprinkled with walnuts for extra crunch.
Ireland: Christmas Pudding
The Christmas dinner in Ireland is celebrated with a large meal of turkey, ham, chicken, stuffing, potatoes, vegetables, and meat pies. But the crowning jewel is the Christmas Pudding. It is lovingly and painstakingly prepared months in advance. Usually eaten later in the day after the main meal, the pudding is served with cream, custard, or a whiskey or rum-based sauce. Brave guests may pour alcohol on the pudding and set it on fire!
Germany: Stollen Bread
Baking Christmas Stollen is one of Germany’s long held traditions dating back to the 15th century. More than 2.5 million Stollen are purchased in German stores each year and countless more are made in homes. Stollen bread is made with yeast, water, butter, and flour, and includes candied orange and lemon peel, rum-soaked raisins or currants, almonds, and spices such as cardamom and cinnamon. The finished bread is sprinkled with powdered sugar.
Traditional Italian Christmas cake fritters known as struffoli or pignolata are made with honey dough and wine. Tulsa Lifestyle magazine publisher, Kathy Slemp, says the holiday foods remind her of her grandparents.
She says, “As a kid I loved struffoli because it was sweet from the honey. It was special because Grandma only made them once a year and shaped them like a Christmas tree that was about 18 inches high sprinkled with pine nuts and colored confetti.”
Another treasured family memory is of the nougat candy shown in the picture on the right.
“My great grandfather used to hide us in the pantry and sneak us little tiny boxes of nougat so my great grandmother wouldn’t know he gave us candy before dinner,” she says.
Africa: Pilau Rice
Christmas in Tanzania is a special time for Christians. The Christmas night dinner typically consists of pilau (rice dish), grilled chicken, lamb, or seafood, beans or eggplant, fresh fruit, and rice or potato pudding.
Deb Marshall from Bixby has lived in Tanzania since 2011 where she is an advisor for Unite the World with Africa Foundation, Inc.
She says, “Fruit is a luxury so it’s always special to have it during the holidays. Our Christmas meal includes pilau, rice seasoned with warm spices such as cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, garlic, black pepper, cumin, and coriander. Often there is a small amount of meat cooked in (beef or goat aka n’gombe and mbuzi in kiswahili).”
Referred to as the Festival of Lights, the miracle of Hanukkah is that only one vial of oil was found with just enough oil to illuminate the Temple lamp for one day, and yet it lasted for eight full days. This wonder is celebrated through the lighting of the menorah and in the traditional foods that are eaten. Deep-fried in oil, latkes (fried potato pancakes) are the most popular food topped with applesauce or sour cream. Hanukkah desserts may include decorated holiday sugar cookies, cupcake menorahs, and most importantly, traditional sufganiyot (jelly doughnuts).
The Japanese culture celebrates the changing of the seasons with wagashi, a traditional sweet that looks more like works of art than dessert. Usually served with tea, the small sweets are made with ingredients such as anko (sweetened red bean paste), mochi, agar agar jelly, chestnuts, and rice. For Christmas, the usual flower and fruit shapes turn into snowmen, reindeer, and Santas!
Christmas in Australia is in the middle of summer, so a holiday feast typically consists of salads, seafood, and cold meats. Seasonal fruits such as mangos and fresh cherries appear in everything from fruit salads to cocktails. The preferred holiday dessert is a Pavlova, made with a meringue base, topped with fresh cream and fruit. The dessert was named after a Russian dancer, Anna Pavlova, while touring in either Australia or New Zealand—and is still a source of contention between the two countries.
In Oklahoma, families will be making fudge, baking loaves of pumpkin bread, decorating sugar cookies, and drinking eggnog. (See our favorite sugar cookie recipe in the side bar.)
What traditional holiday desserts do you make each year?