Hark, what’s that you hear? It’s the sound of your sweet tooth gearing up for the annual holiday sugar-fest that many of us indulge in at this time of year. We all have our favorites — from traditional sugar cookies to rugalach to gingerbread galore. Because let’s face it, dessert is one of the highlights of the holidays. But there is always room to try something new (come on, undo that top button), and luckily, there are as many interesting international treats to choose from as there are countries to inspire you. Here, we outline some of the traditional holiday desserts from around the world, and fill you in on where to find them and how to make them.
“No English person would have Christmas without Christmas pudding; it would be like having Thanksgiving without the turkey,” says Helen Wells, the owner of Jolly’s British Food & Good Grub Groceries in Saugerties. No doubt. While the ingredients — and even the name — can vary (it’s sometimes called plum pudding or figgy pudding), these steamed puddings have certain common characteristics, including a cake-like consistency, a dark color, and the fact that they are stuffed with dried fruits and spices. Brandy is also a common element in this type of dessert, which is traditionally made on the first Sunday in Advent but served on Christmas Day.
At Jolly’s, you can buy a one-pound Christmas pudding for $26. The shop also sells Christmas cakes — a fruitcake with a marzipan covering and white icing on top — and mini mincemeat pies.
Chef Dieter Schorner of the Culinary Institute of America shares a recipe for figgy pudding:
Serves 6 to 8
Special equipment: Pudding mold or molds and a steamer large enough to hold the molds
Italian desserts, clockwise from left, include panettone, a rich bread similar to fruitcake; ossi di morti, a cinnamon-flavored cookie; and struffoli, fried dough balls covered in honey
Ossi di morti courtesy of Savoring Time In The Kitchen
Originally from Naples, struffoli — balls of dough which are deep-fried then coated with honey — are a Christmas staple in every southern Italian home; Italophiles here in the Valley also clamor for them come this time of year. You can find them in good Italian bakeries everywhere; at Poughkeepsie’s Caffè Aurora, they serve a healthier version, in which the dough is baked instead of fried, then rolled in honey.
Starting on All Soul’s Day in early November and continuing through Christmas, the bakery also sells three traditional southern Italian cookies. Ossi di morti, which translates to “bones of the dead,” are cinnamon-based cookies that look like bones; mostaccioli is a spiced soft cookie coated in a chocolate cinnamon glaze; and rococo is a crunchy, donut-shaped sweet composed of a blend of hazelnuts and almonds, and flavored lightly with cinnamon and cloves.
The Dolce Italian Bakery in Lagrangeville is one of the few local places where you can find two Italian Christmas classics that are still beloved by the older generation, but not as popular with the younger set. Panforte di Siena, which has its roots in 13th-century Tuscany, is a dense concentration of honey, spices, candied fruits, and almonds. Panettone, an Italian bread which originally hails from Milan and is similar to fruitcake, “is very rich,” says Dolce owner Alex Portale. “There are a lot of eggs and honey and no water at all. It’s more elastic than pizza dough.” Portale makes two flavors: golden raisin and chocolate chip. “It’s a lot of work, it takes 12 hours to make,” says Portale. “I start at six in the morning and do not get finished until seven at night.”
Chef Schorner shares a recipe for the hard-to-find panforte di Siena:
Nuts to you: An Italian holiday favorite, panforte di Siena combines almonds, honey, and candied fruits
Photograph by Michael Polito
Yields one 8- or 9-inch cake
The French classic bûche de Noël, literally translated as “yule log,” can be traced back to a pagan tradition celebrating the winter solstice. Originally made of thinly rolled sponge cake filled with jam or cream, today’s bûche de Noël is a highly decorated dessert that comes in a wide variety of flavors and presentations.
At Jean-Claude’s Patisserie & Dessert Cafe in Warwick (there is also an outpost in Greenwood Lake), renowned pastry chef Jean-Claude Sanchez crafts his famous cylindrical cakes in five flavors: orange, Grand Marnier, hazelnut, double chocolate, and lemon. He also shares a recipe with us. Ooh la la.
Serves 10 to 12 people
Ganache filling (prepare one day ahead of time):