Iconic Christmas desserts and dishes

The Christmas specialities so inextricably tied with this festival evolved over the centuries in different countries into the delicious cakes and puddings that we enjoy today.

Andy Williams’ song, ‘It’s the most wonderful time of the year’, Christmas lights and trees at every corner, and puddings and plum cakes on bakery shelves usher in the festive vibe across the globe at this time of the year. But the holiday spirit can never be truly imbibed without recreating customary treats rooted in centuries-old tradition. Many countries have an iconic dish or dessert without which Christmas is incomplete. Let us delve deeper into some of the most popular ones.

Christmas pudding, Britain

The christmas pudding began as a porridge but has evolved over the centuries. Image: shutterstock
The Christmas pudding began as a porridge but has evolved over the centuries. Image: Shutterstock

Synonymous with Christmas in many countries, this popular fruitcake traces its origins to Britain where back in the 14th century it was eaten as a plain, porridge-like dish called Frumenty made with hulled wheat. Later, meats such as mutton and beef found their way into the dish but it was only some 300 years later that it became truly rich and sweet with the addition of dry fruits like raisins, currants, spices, prunes and wine. Over the years it became a tradition to make it with 13 ingredients representing Jesus and his 12 disciples. The ingredients of a typical Christmas pudding today include lemon peel, brown sugar, orange peel, milk, eggs and, of course, a topping of brandy. For those who want to taste it the way it is made in the kitchens of Buckingham Palace, take a look at the secret recipe shared by the Royal Family last year.

Stollen, Germany

Germans love their stollen at christmas. Image: shutterstock
Germans love their stollen at Christmas. Image: Shutterstock

This rich, buttery fruit bread is relished across Germany during Christmas. Also known as Christstollen, the oblong-shaped bread-cum-cake is made with marzipan (almond flour), stuffed with raisins, nuts, dry fruits, citrus and lemon peel, and coated with butter and powdered sugar — reminiscent of the snowy Christmas landscape. When it was first made in the 1400s in Dresden, it was a hard bread made of oats, flour and water because it was forbidden to use certain items during Advent, the period that precedes Christmas. Later, however, the rules were relaxed and bakers were given the go ahead to add richer ingredients like butter and raisins, thus giving the traditional bread a new avatar. Like other Christmas fruit bread recipes, stollen can be made weeks in advance and stored.

Buche de Noel (Yule Log), France

Yule logs are moist and creamy. Image: shutterstock
Yule logs are moist and creamy. Image: Shutterstock

This traditional French Christmas dessert takes its name and shape from a log of wood. The light, airy sponge cake looks similar to a Swiss roll and contains a filling, usually of chocolate buttercream or chocolate ganache. These days, of course, there is more choice — the fillings can vary from blueberry, cherry, raspberry, mocha, peanut butter and hazelnut to even tiramisu. Resembling the bark of a tree, the dessert was created in the 19th century by bakers who based it on the Yule log tradition in which families would burn a log of wood on the shortest day of the year in France — that tradition has died but the cake went on to become a rage in many parts of the world.   

Panettone, Italy

The centrepiece of the italian christmas is panettone, a tall, dome-shaped fruit bread. Image: shutterstock
The centrepiece of the Italian Christmas is panettone, a tall, dome-shaped fruit bread. Image: Shutterstock

This sweet bread cake that Italians love eating at this time of the year is now relished at Christmas time around the world. The tall, dome-shaped bread made with raisins, almonds and candied fruit comes from the city of Milan. Cut into thin slices, it can be had in many ways — with morning coffee, as a dessert after dinner, with a glass of sweet wine or with something rich and creamy. If you want to enjoy it with a traditional Christmas touch, then have it with eggnog or hot chocolate. There are many stories about how this much-loved fruit cake was born — one says it was the accidental creation of a chef who hastily put it together with whatever he had in the kitchen after his dessert to be served at a Duke’s banquet got burnt while he romanced a nobleman’s daughter outside the kitchen!   

Plum cake, England

Plum cake is popular around the world at christmas time. Image: shutterstock
Plum cake is popular around the world at Christmas time. Image: Shutterstock

Call it plum cake or fruit cake, this popular Christmas dessert may have earned a global name for itself, but it all started from England during the medieval times when people would eat a porridge with spices, dry fruits and honey on Christmas Eve to keep warm. Over the years, many things were added to this porridge including flour and eggs — and that is how the cake was born. Now bakeries across the world start making this days before Christmas and each one has its own version.

Bibingka, Philippines

In the philippines, bibingka, a street food dish, is inextricably tied with christmas. Image: shutterstock
In the Philippines, bibingka, a street food dish, is inextricably tied with Christmas. Image: Shutterstock

If you do not associate Christmas with street food, then visit the Philippines to see this rice cake being prepared and consumed around this time. Made with coconut milk, eggs, milk, sugar and butter, it is usually cooked in a terracotta dish lined with banana leaves and baked in a clay oven with coals below and on top. Before Christmas arrived with the colonial era, these were traditionally offered to local deities. Some find the aroma of Bibingka baking as enticing as the cake that is now inextricably intertwined with the Filipino Christmas experience. It is usually enjoyed as a breakfast item after mass — so it is common to see a lot of pavement sellers around churches at Christmas time.

Christmas roast, United Kingdom

Turkey is the preferred roast for christmas. Image: shutterstock
Turkey is the preferred roast for Christmas. Image: Shutterstock

An English Christmas is incomplete without a lavish roast dinner. Similar to the Sunday roast that most families tuck into, at Christmas the spread becomes a tad more elaborate. While Christmas feasts were always around, it was only in the 19th century during the Victorian era that the meal as it is had today began to evolve with Queen Victoria ushering in more festive celebrations. Roast turkey is usually the star dish on the table, but there can be other meats like beef, chicken, lamb or pork. This is accompanied with an array of side dishes, popularly known as trimmings. They vary from roast potatoes, seasonal vegetables and sausage wrapped in bacon, pigs in blankets (sausage rolls), cranberry sauce, bread sauce and, of course, the decadent Christmas cake. It is definitely a celebratory feast that is worth waiting for every year.

Suggested read: How did mulled wine become a signature Christmas drink?

KFC chicken, Japan

Believe it or not, come christmas and all they want to do in japan is eat kfc chicken. Image: shutterstock
Believe it or not, come Christmas and all they want to do in Japan is eat KFC chicken. Image: Shutterstock

This custom may sound a bit bizarre and does not date back centuries — nonetheless Christmas is not complete till you have tucked into this deep-fried chicken in Japan. It all started in 1974 when Takeshi Okawara, the manager of the first KFC in Nagoya introduced party buckets of chicken and coined the term ‘Kentucky for Christmas’. It caught on like wildfire and soon became a national phenomenon with long queues seen outside KFC outlets. Over the years it has become a tradition to head out there — some 3.6 million Japanese tuck into this party bucket as part of the festive spirit. In fact, now people start booking their meals from early November but even then queues outside every KFC in Japan around Christmas are an almost inevitable sight.   

Buñuelos, Mexico

Deep-fried fritters dunked in sugar syrup and rolled in sugar — what's not to like about buñuelos? Image: shutterstock
Deep-fried fritters dunked in sugar syrup and rolled in sugar — what’s not to like about Buñuelos? Image: Shutterstock

For Mexicans, Christmas is incomplete till you’ve eaten buñuelos — deep-fried fritters that are dunked into sugar syrup and sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar. The versions vary regionally — while some add cinnamon, anise, and cloves others make it plain and simple. Usually available at Christmas carnivals and fairs and at street stalls, they go perfectly with ponche, a warm fruit punch. Now there are savoury versions as well, like with cheese.

Pavlova, Australia and New Zealand

Down under where it's summer at christmastime, they prefer pavlova. Image: shutterstock
Down under where it’s summer at Christmastime, they prefer Pavlova. Image: Shutterstock

It is summer during Christmas in the southern hemisphere so celebrations there are somewhat different from the colder countries. Think barbecues, which they can only have in the warmer months when it is possible to enjoy the outdoors. But the showstopper at Christmas time is a dessert called Pavlova, a delicate cake inspired by the famous Russian ballerina, Anna Pavlova. She became a sensation during her dancing tour to New Zealand and Australia in the 1920s and so this dessert was invented and named after her. This delectable meringue cake usually has whipped cream on top and summer fruits like berries. It’s crisp on the outside and soft inside, perfect when the Christmas vibe is warmer.     

Read more. 

Christmas movies of 2021 that will make you want to travel!