Panettone or pandoro? Every year in Italy it’s open war at Christmas, but the same doesn’t happen in the rest of Europe. Each nation (and in some cases region) has its own peculiarities, traditions and – of course! – its favourite Christmas sweets.
Today we discover some of the best-loved!
In England and Ireland (as well as in other Commonwealth countries), Christmas Pudding is eaten (as the name suggests!) at Christmas. It’s a pudding containing all the ingredients that were once considered precious: dried and candied fruit, spices and brandy (or rum).
Tradition dictates that it should be prepared at the beginning of Advent and eaten only on Christmas Day, soaked in warm brandy and briefly set alight as it’s brought to the table. It’s served with a spoonful of custard, clotted cream, or any other type of sweet cream.
In Germany, the favourite dessert is Stollen (Christollen or Weihnachtsstollen), made from a soft dough with cinnamon, ginger, dried fruit (mainly almonds), sultanas and candied fruit. The original Dresden version (the Dresdner Christstollen) is protected by PGI status, based on precise ingredients and method of production; in the rest of the country there are many regional variants such as the addition of marzipan.
A very similar recipe also exists in the Netherlands: Kerststol. This sweet bread is filled with almond paste, sultanas and candied orange and lemon peel.
In both the Netherlands and Belgium we often find Speculoos (or Speculaas), spiced biscuits associated with St Nicholas Day (6 December). This tradition is similar in Sweden, where at Christmas they enjoy Pepparkakor, biscuits with ginger, cinnamon and cloves, and Lussekatter, sweet rolls with saffron and sultanas.
In France it is called Galette des Rois, in Spain Rosco de Reyes, in Portugal Bolo Rei: ‘the Three King’s cake’ unites three European nations, albeit with their own variations.
Galette des rois is a frangipane cake that can be filled with cream (pastry or chocolate), jam or seasonal fruit. Roscón de Reyes and the Bolo Rei have a similar dough but shaped like a doughnut and differ from each other in that the Spanish version is flavoured with orange blossom water, while the Portuguese variety contains sultanas, dried fruit and candied fruit. Both are often filled with whipped cream.
In Poland, the same cake is served both at Christmas and Easter: Makowiec is a kind of strudel filled with poppy seeds (which according to tradition bring good luck), walnuts and sometimes sultanas. The same cake in Hungary is called Bejgli and sometimes contains a filling of chestnut cream and a dash of rum. In Ukraine, on the other hand, we find Perekladanets, made from a similar dough but served in the form of layered cakes, similar to our Italian Diplomatica.
In short, every place has its own Christmas cake. Of one thing we are sure: we would like to try them all!