From Hanukkah to Christmas to Three King’s Day, each culture has their own specialty to keep the holiday festivities sweet (or savory) – family recipes passed down through the generations, some more traditional and others with added spice, that have nestled their way into the hearts of their people.
Bibingka in the Philippines
This cake is often reserved for their Simbang Gabi, a nine-day series of dawn masses that lead up to the morning of Christmas Eve. Bibingka is a delicate cake, that is not much taller than an inch or two, made with coconut milk and eggs. Traditional methods include baking this cake in a clay pot that has been lined with banana leaves, for additional sweet aromas and flavor, over preheated coals. However, many families have altered their grandmother’s cooking style to meet modern-day needs by baking the bibingka in regular cake molds in a convectional oven. For serving, the soft cake is tastefully decorated with browned butter, shredded coconut, sharp cheddar cheese, and even duck eggs. Now, that’s a little curveball!
Piernik in Poland
From the delightful exterior, Piernik looks like a typical spice cake, but upon your first bite, you will instantaneously experience an abundance of sweet aromas like none other. Originating in the northern city of Toruń, this cake most resembles the nostalgia of gingerbread cookies through rich ingredients like wheat from local farmers, honey, and fresh ginger. While Toruń bakers hold their family recipes close to their heart and far from the public eye, you can find many modern day bakers adding a little orange zest as their secret ingredient.
Christstollen in Germany
With Germans being well-known for their stollen, a rich fruit and nut loaf, you can be assured that their Christmas-designated stollen will be one for the recipe books. Celebrated by the architecture and art museums of their reconstructed old town, Christstollen was originally made in Dresden, Germany. This cake is a rich yeast dough that has been delicately folded together with sweet almonds, artisan butter, candied oranges, and fresh lemon peel. Want to know their secret to keep the raisins firm during baking? They add them in right before the cake goes into the oven. In fact, all Christstollen must pass inspection with the Stollen Association of Germany to receive its golden seal of authentication before a bakery can begin selling their revised recipe of this beloved German cake.
Pavlova in New Zealand
With a captivating story dating back to 1926, and a long-standing argument between its origin being of Australia or New Zealand, pavlova has made its journey around the world. A cream-filled and berry-topped dessert with a sweet crunchy exterior made from egg whites and a fluffy interior. It requires a little patience but is worth every minute! For those who haven’t tasted the delectable pavlova, imagine an exceptionally light cake that has the robust texture and aromas of a roasted marshmallow.
Sponge Cake in Japan
Unlike the peculiar Japanese savory pancake, Okonomiyaki, the Christmas season brings anticipation for their highly-esteemed vanilla sponge cake. In fact, it’s often decorated like Americans would decorate a July 4th sponge cake. Freshly whipped cream to cover each layer with a few bright red berries to add a finishing touch, this iconic dessert even has its own cake emoji! A little history behind this cake is that it actually became popular when World War II ended on September 2nd, 1945. It gave the Japanese economy enough time to rebound before Christmas, allowing for an increase in sugar consumptions. With a great influence from America’s occupation in Japan during WWII, Japanese were instantly enchanted by the sugary delights of American recipes during this time of celebration for the new economic prosperity. As simple as it sounds, this fluffy white sponge cake has become a treasured memory over the years and traditional symbol of hope.
From Orange Ricotta Cake Rolls handcrafted by Italian grandmothers to the decadent French Chocolate Crepe Cake, keep things interesting this Christmas season by baking a showstopper inspired by one of our many fascinating cultures!