Christmas Desserts from around the World
Updated: Apr 22, 2020
Destinations may differ on when and how they celebrate the holidays, but they do have some common ground — through making and serving special treats. Desserts can reflect cultural significance or religious observances such as Christmas, Hanukkah or Three King’s Day, and the techniques with which they’re baked are passed down through generations. From hot or cold servings, to sweet or spicy ingredients, or to a shape that’s round, folded over or bite-sized, go ahead and savor this collection of holiday desserts and the places that they’re linked to.
Christmas Pudding - Great Britain
This quintessential British dessert originated in Medieval England as a porridge called “frumenty.” Over time, this thick gruel would include bread, dried fruits such as prunes (which were referred to as plums), and spices. It became the dish we know today during England’s Victorian era, where it would go from being boiled in a cloth to getting shaped in a mold and be given the name Christmas Pudding in a recipe by 19th-century cookbook author Eliza Acton. Recipe here.
Bûche de Noël - France
A cylinder-shaped sponge cake, this dessert is a nod to the ancient European tradition of burning a Yule log on a hearth to mark the winter solstice and later on the tradition became a part of Christmas celebrations. As for the cake itself, the recipe’s origin seems to date back to the 19th century. Recipe here.
Panettone - Italy
As one of Italy’s most recognized food exports, panettone originated in Milan, but its full history is unclear. A popular legend says that in the 15th century, a lavish Christmas cake was to be served at a Christmas Eve feast for the powerful Duke of Milano, Ludovico il Moro. The cake was scorched and, with no time to spare, the desperate pastry chef turned to his young cook, a boy named Toni, to use his pillow-like loaf of bread and added in citrus and raisins. Recipe here.
Diples - Greece
Getting their name from the Greek word “fold,” this crispy dessert served during Christmastime is aptly named. Thin sheets of dough are folded and cut into various shapes and sizes. They’re then fried in oil until they’re golden in color and then drizzled with a honey syrup. Recipe here.
Christstollen - Germany
Made in Dresden, the recipe for this raisin laden cake has been passed down for centuries. Its preparation starts off with a heavy yeast dough that requires ingredients like butter, sweet and bitter almonds, candied orange, and lemon peel. When finished baking, the Christstollen is completed with a covering of butter and sugar. Recipe here.
Chräbeli - Switzerland
Coming from Baden, these dainty cookies have a thorny shape and get their licorice flavor from toasted anise seeds. Their name also reflects their form; it’s derived from a dialect word “chräbel” meaning “claws of cats, dogs and birds.” Recipe here.
Risalamande - Denmark
This Danish Christmas dessert is a rice pudding with whipped cream and blanched chopped almonds that is served cold and accompanied by a cherry sauce. Eaten after the Christmas Eve dinner, risalamande incorporates a custom in which a whole blanched almond is placed in the middle of its bowl. Whoever ends up finding this almond gets what’s called the “almond gift.” Recipe here.
Piernik - Poland
In the northern Polish city of Toruń, these gingerbread cookies have been produced since the Middle Ages, thanks to the surrounding wheat fields, sources of honey, and the city’s position on the spice route from Asia, which gave them ready access to ginger. Toruń bakers had their own recipes for piernik and guarded them well. A single defining version for Toruń came about in the 16th century through an agreement with fellow gingerbread producing city of Nuremberg to share their recipes; this finalized how Toruń’s piernik is made. Recipe here.
Tortell de Reis - Spain
In Spain’s Catalonia region, this ring-shaped cake is prepared for and eaten on Three Kings Day, or the Epiphany, on January 6. Tortell de Reis is commonly filled with marzipan or whipped cream or a pumpkin jam calledcabell d’àngeland gets adorned with candied fruit, nuts and a sugary icing. A golden crown made of cardboard is placed in its center. The cake also contains two hidden surprises: a broad bean and a figurine resembling one of the Three Wise Men. Recipe here.
Biscochito - New Mexico, US
In New Mexico, the biscochito is more than a traditional treat—it’s the official state cookie. Though it was made official in 1989, its culinary history in New Mexico goes back much further. Biscochitos evolved from a Spanish pastry called bizcocho, which was brought by the early Spanish settlers who came to this southwestern region in the 16th century. Today, this state cookie is often made with butter or lard and gets its flavoring from anise and cinnamon. Recipe here.