The start of the holiday season also signals the start of dessert season. We’ve scoured the area for the most festive international desserts and traditions. This season, try introducing something new to your dessert table. We guarantee you’ll like it!
Deep-fried balls of dough coated with honey and often topped with rainbow nonpareils, these are a Christmas staple in Italian homes. Originally from Naples, you can find them in Italian bakeries throughout the Hudson Valley, including Torino Bakery in Newburgh and Caffè Aurora Pastry Shop in Poughkeepsie, where they serve a healthier version in which the dough is baked instead of fried.
Other Italian holiday sweets available at Caffè Aurora are ossi di morti or “bones of the dead,” a specialty biscotti made to resemble remains and available between All Souls’ Day and Christmas; cuccidati, a short dough cookie filled with figs, raisins, and apricots; and mostaccioli, a spiced soft cookie coated in a chocolate cinnamon glaze. “Mostaccioli are very traditional, especially in southern Italy,” says Lou Strippoli, owner of Caffè Aurora.
It’s not uncommon to see kourabiethes (koo-rah-BYEH-thes) on a Greek dessert table during the holidays. These bite-sized, snowball-esque treats are rich butter cookies topped with a generous amount of powdered sugar. They are somehow lighter than most shortbread cookies and melt in your mouth. If you don’t plan to make them yourself, you can find them at Anna’s Restaurant in Newburgh, and most of the larger Greek diners in the area also sell them.
Sufganiyot / Photo courtesy of Boxer Donut & Espresso Bar
At By The Way Bakery in Hastings-on-Hudson, owner Helen Godin prepares thousands of sufganiyot — a tasty dessert that has recently become a new Hanukkah tradition. Godin’s sufganiyot are baked, not fried, and plumped up with tasty fruit jelly and topped with sugar. Everything at By The Way is gluten-free, dairy-free, and certified kosher pareve. The bakery will be fully stocked with sufganiyot throughout the eight days of Hanukkah.
Across the river in Nyack, Boxer Donut & Espresso Bar will also be selling sufganiyot, but these treats will be deep-fried. Eric Brown, owner of Boxer Donut & Espresso Bar, tells us he used somewhere between 50 and 75 pounds of jam for the 400 sufganiyot they sold last year.
Florida Bakery and Deli sells traditional Polish desserts using Old World recipes. During the holidays you can pick from many different flavors of babka, a braided swirl bread, and makowiec, the poppy seed roll known as one of Poland’s most popular sweet foods. Makowiec is eaten year-round, but especially for Christmas and New Year’s because Poles believe poppy seeds bring good luck.
No matter how you celebrate the season, The Cakery in Fishkill can create a beautifully decorated sugar cookie for you. Last year, the boutique shop handcrafted nearly 1,500 holiday cookies, says baker and owner, Ashley Russell. “We can’t sacrifice quality for quantity, which is one of the things that sets us apart from larger bakeries. We are a small team and make everything from scratch,” Russell says.
Get in on the fun at one of The Cakery’s many December classes. There’s something for everyone, including an adults-only sugar cookie house class (their twist on the classic gingerbread house), and a cookies for Santa class for kids of all ages.
The holidays are all about fruitcake, especially at Los Hornitos Bakery in Wappingers Falls. This isn’t a traditional fruitcake that receives eye rolls instead of gratitude; this is Pan de Pascua, a tradition that owners Monica and Hector Lorca brought with them from Chile. Making it from scratch, the Lorcas use ingredients like dried fruit, walnuts, raisins, vanilla, coffee, and a little cognac to create a rich, sweet dessert that’s part bread and part cake. During the holidays, the Lorcas prepare around 300 Pan de Pascua for customers.
Gingerbread House / Photo by Julia Tenesace
Created in 16th-century Germany, this crafty confection is now enjoyed by revelers of all nationalities. Susan O’Keefe of Baked By Susan in Croton-on-Hudson makes custom gingerbread houses (right) from scratch using real gingerbread cookie dough. “We use as much candy as we can fit,” says O’Keefe, who adorns her houses with Necco wafers for the roof, gumdrops to resemble lights, thin mints for the sidewalk, plus mint leaves, M&M’s, Snow Caps, and more! O’Keefe can even add gingerbread people to represent your family. If you prefer to make your own, she will also be selling smaller DIY kits throughout the season.
You may be hard-pressed to find a Scottish Dundee Cake anywhere in the Hudson Valley besides The Alternative Baker in Rosendale. “It wouldn’t be Christmas without it for me,” says owner and chef Essell Hoenshell-Watson, who has been making this cake for more than 30 years. The favorite holiday treat for many — including Winston Churchill — is made with dried fruits that have been marinated in dark rum for 11 months and topped with whole almonds to resemble cobblestones. Order yours early, because they always sell out.
The French classic Bûche de Noël, literally translated as “yule log,” was originally made of thinly rolled sponge cake filled with jam or cream. Today’s Bûche de Noël is a delicious roulade sculpted from soft rolled layers of sponge cake, mousse, and meringue, then beautifully decorated to resemble a forest log. At Jean-Claude’s Patisserie & Dessert Cafe in Warwick and Greenwood Lake, renowned pastry chef Jean-Claude Sanchez crafts these cakes in a variety of flavors like double chocolate, orange Grand Marnier, and mocha.
Gelt photo courtesy of Samuel’s Sweet Shop, John Traver
How could we leave out this Hanukkah treasure? Head to Samuel’s Sweet Shop in Rhinebeck, where they have chocolate foil coins in every color to help you celebrate the season.
Candy sticks have a history in many countries, but candy canes acquired their current form and Christmas association in the good ol’ U.S. of A. For nearly 25 years, Commodore Chocolatier in Newburgh has been delighting sold-out crowds at their candy cane demonstration and make-your-own events. “We’ve been doing these events for longer than I can remember,” says Gus Courtsunis, proprietor and third-generation chocolate maker. Those who are lucky enough to score a coveted ticket to this event will be treated to a visual and hands-on experience, covering the entire candy cane-making process from start to finish.
Germans enjoy a spiced gingerbread cookie known as Pfeffernüsse throughout the entire Christmas season. The name Pfeffernüsse means “pepper nuts.” Pepper refers to the white pepper that is added to the dough which gives these cookies a very unique and flavorful touch, and the nuts part refers to their walnut-like shape.
In Germany you can find Pfeffernüsse in any grocery store throughout the holidays. A little closer to home, Pfeffernüsse is available at Deising’s Bakery in Kington, along with other traditional German treats like stollen (also known as Weihnachtsstollen or Christstollen at Christmas)— a fruit bread of nuts, spices, and dried or candied fruit, coated with powdered sugar or icing sugar.