Who Does The Best Christmas Treats?

Christmas Treats. Caption: Image by Freepik

At this time of year, the many foreign residents who call Spain their home are starting to prepare for Christmas. It’s a time to celebrate with loved ones and friends and slip on the expando-pants to indulge in all the festive treats. The question is, which country’s yuletide treats are the best?

We explore some of the best Christmas treats from a selection of the nations of Spanish foreign residents and thoroughly recommend that, for true objectivity, getting one’s hands on every single one of them for a taste test is an absolute must.

Austria: Vanillekipferl

A plate of vanillekipferl
Vanillekipferl. Credit: commons.wikimedia.org

These little bundles of sweetness originate in Vienna and are popular in several Northern European countries, though they are a signature Christmas treat in Viennese coffee shops. Vanillekipferls are made with nut flour; either walnut, almond or hazelnut and are heavily dusted with vanilla powdered sugar once baked.

The biscuits are said to be shaped like a Turkish crescent moon to mark The Holy League’s victory over the Ottoman Empire in the Great Turkish War in 1683.

Belgium: Speculaas And Speculoos

Speculaas on a board
Laas or Loos? Credit: Zimt at commons.wikimedia.org

No, it’s not an alternative spelling, Speculaas and Speculoos are different biscuits. Speculaas are shortcrust biscuits spiced with cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, ginger, anise, cardamom and white pepper and often moulded into traditional images such as houses.

Speculoos are a biscuit made from wheat flour, butter, cinnamon and caramelised sugar and it’s said that Specaloos came about as a cheaper version of Speculaas which used a lot of spices that were traditionally expensive. These days, almost every cup of coffee drunk in a hotel or cafe comes with a mass-produced Speculoos (most notably, Lotus brand) on the side.

Denmark: Risalamande

bowl of Risalamande
Danish rice pudding. Credit: Lashauli at commons.wikimedia.org

Served as a dessert with the Christmas lunch or dinner, Risalamande is a very decadent rice pudding that’s mixed with whipped cream, sugar and vanilla and often topped with cherries and almonds. It can be served cold or warm and is often made on Christmas Eve ready for the next day.

Finland: Joulutorttu

Plate of Joulutorttuja

These buttery little parcels known as Yule Stars feature puff pastry made into the shape of a star or pinwheel that is traditionally stuffed with prune jam, though more modern variations feature apple, and are then dredged in icing sugar. It is reckoned that Finns eat 18 Joulutorttus a year each, so they must be good.

France: Bûche de Noël

Bûche de Noël on a plate
Yule log. Credit: Jebulon commons.wikimedia.org

The Yule Log is a sweet treat that began life in France and has since become popular the world over. The popularity is no real surprise considering the Bûche de Noël features a delectable chocolate sponge roulade stuffed full of chocolate buttercream or ganache and then slathered in chocolate buttercream icing or chocolate that’s textured to look like a yule log.

Of course, there are many variations and here at EWN we rather like shoving a snifter of rum or brandy in ours.

Germany: Stollen

plate of stollen from above
Stollen. Credit: commons.wikimedia.org

Is it bread or is it cake? Who cares, it’s delicious. The bready-cakey loaf is rammed with candied citrus peel, cherries, almonds, raisins and the all-important squidgy marzipan centre. As soon as the Stollen comes out of the oven it’s brushed with melted butter and rolled in sugar, then drenched with icing sugar.

The really decadent Stollens use dried fruit that’s been soaked in rum or have a marzipan centre heavy with rum.

Ireland: Irish Trifle

bowl of Irish trifle
Irish trifle. Credit: goodfoodireland.ie

Ireland and the nations of the United Kingdom share a number of Christmas treats such as Christmas pudding, iced Christmas cake and minced pies, but in Ireland, they also like a good trifle at Christmas. 

The classic traditional trifle is a base of sponge squares sandwiched together with raspberry or strawberry jam, given a good bathing in sherry. A layer of homemade egg custard then goes on and the sponge and custard layers are repeated until near the top of the bowl, at which point the whole glorious thing is topped with whipped cream and festive sprinkles. Easier versions tend to use shop-bought jam sponge, strawberry jelly, Bird’s custard and squirty cream. Whichever version is favoured, it’s a masterpiece of a dessert.

Netherlands: Banketstaaf

Plate of Banketstaaf
Banketstaaf. Credit: IraDo commons.wikimedia.org

These Dutch sweet pastries are commonly served up from 5th December onwards and were traditionally shaped into letters representing the names of the members of the family. These deceptively simple treats are a butter pastry filled with almond paste that are flaky and sweet.

Italy: Panettone

close up of a Panettone
Panettone. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

These highrise part bread-part cake creation originates from Milan and is possibly as old as the Roman Empire,  but has since become globally popular as a Christmas gift. The dough for a Panettone is a little like sourdough, in that it takes a long time to prove, with artisan examples often being left up to several days to achieve the maximum height and fluffiness. A traditional Panettone contains raisins and candied orange and lemon, though these days there are a myriad of different flavours and fillings available.

Panettone is traditionally served in large wedges with a sweet dessert wine.

Portugal: Bolo Rei 

close up of a Portuguese Bolo Rei
Bolo Rei. Credit: flickr.com

Bolo Rei, or King’s Cake, is eaten in Portugal from the beginning of December until Epiphany (Three Kings’ Day.) It’s made from a soft, white dough that’s studded with crystalised fruit, nuts, and raisins and flavoured with orange or lemon and a splash of port. The cake is baked into the shape of a crown and traditionally contains a dried broad bean in it somewhere with the tradition being that whoever gets the bean has to buy the cake the next year.

King’s Cake is also very popular in Spain and in France where there are subtle regional variations to the recipe.

Romania: Cozonac

Close up of a Cozonac
Cozonac. Credit: Vvssmmaann commons.wikimedia.org

This sweet yeast bread is rich with eggs, butter and milk and has fillings that differ a little from region to region in Romania. Common fillings include raisins, orange or lemon zest, poppyseeds, walnuts or hazelnuts that have been ground into a paste and spread over the rolled-out dough. The Cozonac can be flavoured with vanilla or the more decadent choice of rum. 

The first Cozonac recipe appeared in written form in 1718 and it’s a popular festive treat in a number of Eastern European countries, with each having its own variation.

Scotland: Clootie Dumpling

close up of a Clootie Dumpling
Clootie Dumpling. Credit: flickr.com

Even saying the name of this treat raises a smile. A ‘clootie’ is a Scottish term for a piece of cloth and it’s relevant to this pudding because the dumpling is bound up in the clootie and simmered in water for several hours.

The Clootie Dumpling could be thought of as a lighter version of the plum (or Christmas) pudding; it’s made with breadcrumbs, flour, suet, dried fruit, sugar and spices and is brought together into a dough with some milk or golden syrup. Served hot with some homemade custard and a wee dram of whisky it’s the perfect treat for a Christmas evening around a roaring fire.

Spain: Turron Nougat

close up of Alicante Turron
Alicante Turron. Credit: Tamorlan commons.wikimedia.org

November isn’t even out before Turron starts appearing in Spanish supermarkets and every year there’s Social Media buzz about the newest limited edition that the big brands release with flavours like strawberry cheesecake appearing on the scene.

The traditional Turron however dates from the 16th-century Manual de Mujeres (Women’s handbook) and is a nougat that has to have a minimum of 60% of its weight in almonds, making it a far nuttier affair than other nougat sold throughout Europe. Classic varieties include the Turron from Alicante which is brittle, often sheaved in rice paper and containing whole almonds, and the variety from Jijona which has the almonds ground into a paste and is soft.

Sweden: Lussebulle

close up of a swedish saffron bun
Saffron Bun. Credit: Jonathunder commons.wikipedia.org

The Lussebulle, or Saffron Bun, is traditionally served on 13th December, Saint Lucy’s Day, but is then eaten throughout the rest of December. Unlike a Saffron Bun from Cornwall, this Swedish delicacy contains no cinnamon so has a much more noticeable saffron taste and is studded with raisins. The Lussebulle are commonly shaped into an ‘S’ with a raisin at each end, but a simple Celtic knot shape is also common.

United Kingdom: Mince Pies

plate of mince pies
Mince Pies. Credit: christmasstockimages.com

A British Christmas treat that often bewilders people from other countries who fear they are about to be served something with meat in it. The filling for a Mince Pie dates back to the time of the Crusades when Crusaders would return from the Holy Land loaded with exotic dried fruits and spices. The mince is a mixture of dried sultanas, raisins, citrus peel, beef suet, cinnamon, nutmeg and mace and generally a good dash of rum or brandy. The mince is loaded into buttery shortcrust pastry cases and baked before being served either warm or cold. 

In this writer’s household, we favour a warm mince pie with a loose lid that can be levered off in order to ram on a good spoon of brandy butter before the top goes on.  And if you’re thinking, what on earth is brandy butter, it’s a pretty much equal amount of butter and caster sugar whipped until it’s light and then drenched in brandy (or rum) and left to set in the fridge.

United States: Christmas Cookies

plate of christmas cookies
Christmas cookies. Credit: Jonathunder commons.wikipedia.org

The US is a melting pot of cultures from all over the world so Americans have the luxury of cherry-picking the best of everyone else’s Christmas treats. One treat that does seem to be more common in the US than anywhere else is the highly decorated, iced Christmas Cookie. 

The cookie part is usually a sugar cookie, sometimes called an Amish cookie, and is a very simple recipe of flour, sugar, butter, eggs, vanilla and baking soda. With quite a plain flavour, bakers then make the cookies into an amazing array of festive shapes and decorate them with flavoured, coloured icing.

Wales: Taffi

welsh taffi
Welsh Taffi. Credit: Black Boy Inn

Taffy was a Welshman as the nursery rhyme goes, but long before that Taffi was hand-pulled toffee that was made for Noson Gylfaith (Toffee Evening), better known as Christmas Eve, when the household would stay up late making and eating toffee in order to stay awake for the 3am church service known as Plygain. 

This simplest of all toffee recipes is simply a mixture of brown sugar, butter, lemon and boiling water which is then brought up to temperature. As it cooled the tradition was to literally pull and shape the Taffi by hand into strands which, as they cooled, would curl and supposedly shape themselves into the initials of the cook’s true love.

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Written by

Emma Mitchell

Emma landed in journalism after nearly 30 years as an executive in the Internet industry. She lives in Bédar and her interests include raising one eyebrow, reckless thinking and talking to people randomly. If you have a great human interest story you can contact her on mitch@euroweeklynews.com