‘Tis the season to stuff your face with flour and sugar, and everybody in the world knows it.
Here’s how the global village will be attempting to give themselves diabetes this holiday season – behold, our comprehensive list of Christmas cakes from around the world. And if you need a warming drink, check out our list of the best winter drinks.
Let’s get the list’s eponymous cake out the way first. Popular in England, and any other country where people love things in life covered with unnecessary sugar-coating, Christmas cake is similar to stollen but covered in a thick layer of icing that attempts to mimic snow. Essentially it’s for people who enjoy both building their own version of Tracy Island and feeling like their teeth are disintegrating.
We’re getting into the festive spirit in the Whitefurze office, Christmas cake anyone?? pic.twitter.com/cjOuBSJvBk
— Whitefurze Ltd (@Whitefurze) December 10, 2014
Originally an Italian creation, these days the panettone is beloved by the well-to-do of many European nations. They see boxes of this fruity sponge cake piled up in the window displays of their overpriced Italian deli and can’t help themselves from buying five on the spot for each of their neighbours.
do you know the #Xmas cake of #Milan ? #panettone !candied orange peel, flour,wheat germ,raisins,vanilla,acacia honey pic.twitter.com/qAqfLrwVrq — I Love Made in Italy (@ilovemadeitaly) December 18, 2014
Also popular in Italy at Christmas is the lighter and fluffier pandoro. It’s yeasty and sweet and usually dusted with vanilla icing sugar. Sometimes people like to slice it and fill the layers with cream or gelato for added decadence.
— Bravoitalia (@BravoitaliaEis) December 18, 2014
A German stalwart that’s very popular around Europe. This sweet bread baked with fruit inside has a few varieties out there but apparently the only “real” stollen comes from Dresden.
Limited original Dresden Christmas stollen. pic.twitter.com/b1NjPwdfQG
— MarcAtHome (@MarcAtHome76) December 9, 2014
Bremer klaben is a type of stollen from Bremen. The main difference is the lack of powdered sugar on it, so it’s vaguely like a diet version for health-conscious Germans watching their Yuletide figures.
Pan de Pascua
In Chile, pan de pascua is similar to stollen but it’s all batter. And no, there are no chillis in it, smart alec.
— Nestlé Chile S.A. (@NestleCL) December 5, 2014
One of the main reasons to head to Spain during Christmas has to be turron. This thick glutinous white brick is sometimes brittle and sometimes soft as brie, but it’s almost always stuffed with almonds.
This French dish, otherwise known as buche de Noel, tends to make its way into the Christmas dessert menus of all countries with even the smallest link to France. It’s an extremely odd dish when looked at objectively – an almost unbelievably chocolatey aberration malformed to look like a log, with small trees shoved on top of it to make it seem more real. Except in reality, trees don’t grow on giant logs, so who knows what that’s about.
— ITV News Central (@ITVCentral) December 18, 2014
Kransekake is popular in both Denmark and Norway – perhaps it was first shared across the massive Oresund Bridge that connects the two countries? The cake itself is made up of layers of concentric rings, forming something like a huge spongy wedding cake. The name means ‘wreath cake’ but holly is not one of the ingredients.
These middle-eastern doughnuts are probably the most Christmassy treats on our list – they’re associated not only with Jesus’ birth but also his circumcision. We’re guessing the name is onomatopoeic.
— Maya Oryan (@MayaOryan) December 4, 2012
Popular in many European countries at Christmas time is the plain old fruitcake. It’s always struck us as odd that an ostensibly banal cake is a euphemism for somebody who’s a bit crazy. Fun fact: in Poland, fruitcake is called ‘keks’, which in northern England is slang for underpants.
In Georgia (the country, not the state…), the traditional Christmas dessert of gozinaki inadvertently makes a perfect last course for people who like to claim they’re on the paleo diet. It’s made almost entirely out of nuts and honey, so none of that gluten that makes your private parts explode or whatever it is it’s supposed to do.
— Jenny Holm (@eatwithpleasure) January 11, 2014
In Finland, joulutorttu are very popular at Christmas time, with families baking these stars in ovens across that appropriately wintry country. Oddly, paranoid detractors have said they look like swastikas, possibly because they’re stupid.
These crumbly shortbread delights from Spain were traditionally a Christmas thing, but not so much any more. Originally introduced by the Moors in the middle ages, polvorones were seen as an Arabic dish – in the 16th century, the Spanish Inquisition forced bakers to start making them with pork fat as a way of detecting Muslims and Jews hiding in southern Spain. These days you can get them with cow fat instead or even olive oil for veggie types.
— Riley Wofford (@mydailymorsel) December 15, 2014
Germany’s archetypal gingerbread sweets aren’t strictly cakes, but they are if you make massive ones. Don’t forget to decorate them with holly and other Christamassy symbols.
In Greece, the shortbread balls known as kourabiedes are traditionally made with spicy cloves. A whole clove in each. Sure, it’s tasty, but make sure you chew properly before you swallow.
— Natalia Alexander (@thegreekglutton) December 23, 2014
These pastries from the Netherlands have almond paste in the middle. So they’re a bit like mini-apple turnovers, but, you know, not with apple. Bankets are usually associated with St Nicholas’ Day at the start of December, so it may be a little unseemly to have them at the Christmas Day dinner table itself.
Also from the Netherlands, this stollen-like bread has a tonne of fruit in it as well as a generous dollop of almond paste that seeps out of every slice. They just love almonds, the Dutch do.
kerststol uit eigen oven 😛 pic.twitter.com/Et9IU8KHAE
— bart-jeroen croll (@bartjeroencroll) December 25, 2013
This all-sugar lebkuchen is from Berne, the capital of Switzerland. It’s pales in comparison to the city’s haselnusslebkuchen, which is almost entirely made out of hazelnuts and fit for a king. On the plus side though, no two honiglebkuchen ever taste exactly the same – every bakery uses its own spice mix.
In Frankfurt, Germany, the almond pastries known as bethmannchen are very much a Christmas tradition. They’re aesthetically pleasing on the eye too, what with their inclusion of three whole almonds round their sides.
— Kimberly Killebrew (@daringgourmet) December 13, 2014
A UK institution that doesn’t actually contain mince, much to the bafflement of all people everywhere. Mince pies did originally contain meat back in the 13th century when the morally-authoritarian invaders of the Crusades brought their prototypes back from the Levant. They may have changed since, but at least mince pies still remain a dessert associated with the birthday of a famous middle-eastern bloke.
During Christmas, people in the Philippines enjoy bibingka, a rice cake made with coconut milk that’s baked wrapped in a banana leaf. The largest ever made was of the cassava variety – it was a kilometre long and made using a tonne of cassava flour.
Visayan Bibingka (Brown Rice Muffins). Traditionally cooked in a makeshift , hot coal oven. pic.twitter.com/ulFnrVXa3j
— Tess Harris (@bisayanqueen) December 17, 2014
Originating in Spain, the king cake can be found in lots of countries with Spanish and French roots. Unsurprisingly, it’s big in New Orleans. King cake is a whirling abundance of ingredients, spoiling the diner as if they were a king. Bakers often hide a little plastic baby in it, because the king referred to in the cake’s name is actually Jesus, not you while you stuff your face.
In Portugal, bolo rei is like a smaller version of Spain’s king cake. It’s more manageable and takes up less space, indeed much like Portugal in comparison to Spain.
— taste it (@tasteitportugal) November 26, 2014
Rosca de reyes
Alternatively, there is a Spanish-only variety of king cake called rosca de reyes. It’s the same smorgasbord of sweets but looks more like a massive doughnut.
In the Catalan region of Spain, the tortell is their very own variety of king cake.
Keep calm and nom, nom, nom Bake up something tasty! How many likes for this Tortell ! It’s really awesome! pic.twitter.com/WxJBXMGk7s
— Casa Paco Qatar (@CasaPaco1) October 17, 2014
In Sweden, sometimes they need a change from all that dough. Knack is made out of hard toffee, like bites of Daim bars poured into paper cups. Essentially, they’re the hardest cupcakes you’ll ever try.
Possibly the densest and richest cake on our list comes from England, a place where so-called ‘black pudding’ is part of a nutritious breakfast. Good job Christmas pudding has the word ‘Christmas’ in it, ensuring it’s restricted to this special time of year.
— Good Housekeeping UK (@GHmagazine) December 9, 2014
England also has a figgier version of Christmas pudding called, cleverly, figgy pudding. And you thought that line from ‘We Wish You A Merry Christmas’ was made up.
In Poland, the crumbly poppyseed cake known as makowiec enables heroin users to get a full hit of poppies at the Christmas dinner table.
— Jenny Jones (@JennysKitchen) December 4, 2013
Sweet potato pie
The US favourite sweet potato pie is basically a cake so it counts for our list. It’s often associated with Thanksgiving, part of “the holidays” as Americans like to call the period which includes Christmas and New Year’s. Seeing as pumpkin pie takes precedence on Thanksgiving, the sweet potato pie probably ends up left over in the fridge for Christmas Day.
Yet another American pie that is big at Christmas / the holidays / any time anybody is a bit peckish. We’re sticking to the story that a pie is like a cake but open at the top. Maybe all desserts are cakes, really, in their heart of hearts.
— Kitchen Daily (@KitchenDaily) December 15, 2014
Following the fashion set by the Christmas cake, England proves its love for thick top layers yet again with the Tunis cake. It’s simply Madeira cake with a ludicrously dense wad of chocolate paste on the top.
In Alsace, France, biscuit-like little cakes known as bredele come in assorted varieties and are all the rage over the Christmas period.
— Bredele d’Alsace ! (@BredeleAlsace) December 15, 2014
Pan de Cadiz
In Cadiz in Spain, the suitably-named pan de Cadiz can split opinions. Do you like marzipan? Because that’ll make all the difference when you try this spin on fruitcake in which most of the flour and dough has been replaced with the white stuff.
Pan de cadiz recien hecho pic.twitter.com/BctPFAQWdL
— PASTELERIA MARIAN (@PASTELMARIAN) December 16, 2014
In some parts of central Europe that were formerly part of the Austro-Hungarian empire, you’ll find plenty of these nutty vanilla crescent biscuits. If you’re not down with your history, we’re talking about Austria, Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovakia, and parts of Germany.
In Italy, the panforte is a bit like a denser version of fruitcake, but with less bread, and more fruit and nuts. Sometimes there’s a tonne of chocolate involved. Panforte is popular at Christmas, but it’s so good that people want it all year round too.
Bolo de mel
This dark and spongy cake comes from the Madeira Islands in Portugal. Bolo de mel is made with molasses which makes it extra rich. People tear it instead of cutting out a slice because they become uncivilised beasts when they see it approaching the table.
In Nicaragua, the rum cake known as pio quinto is a big Christmas dessert. It’s covered in custard and cinnamon. It’s a bit like an alcoholic version of the sponge cake and custard you used to eat for school dinners.
Croatia celebrates Christmas by consuming loads of fritule. These Christmas doughnuts contain brandy, citrus and raisins. This is how all doughnuts should be.
If you put enough gingerbread together, it’s pretty much a cake. Unless it’s in the form of a house, in which case it’s probably a pie suddenly. Or is that a mega quiche? We just don’t know any more – food makes no sense.
(Feature image: Janine)