Traveler’s Advent Calendar: Christmas sweets from around the world

I must admit that I’m enjoying writing these Advent Travel Calendar entries like a little girl. First of all, I’m learning a lot about how Christmas is celebrated in other countries and soaking up the traditions that take place in faraway places that I haven’t visited yet… but which I hope to see someday with my own eyes!

One of the things that stands out when talking about Christmas parties in any country in the world is undoubtedly food. I thought turrón was the traditional Christmas candy par excellence but after documenting myself to write this post, I realized that I still have many things to try!

Easter Bread in Chile

Chile is one of my favorite countries in the world, so beautiful and with endearing people. All that sweetness translates into one of the most interesting Christmas desserts on the list: Easter Bread.

Similar to a German stollen, this is a sweet dough (or as the Chileans say, a queque, which is one of the best words they have in their vocabulary) with the aroma of ginger that carries among its ingredients frosted fruits, nuts like walnuts and almonds, raisins and a lot of honey to sweeten. It is also similar to the Italian panettone, and Chileans accompany it with “punch a la romana” (which includes champagne and pineapple) or with the classic “cola de mono” (monkey cola) made with coffee with milk, pomace and spices.

Although many Chileans prepare it at home, it can also be bought in many shops in Santiago de Chile, such as the artisan bakery of Castaño, where they have been baking this Christmas candy for almost a hundred years.

Buche de Noel in France

With its characteristic Christmas tree trunk shape, it is a rolled sponge cake, usually filled with cream and covered with chocolate… and it is delicious. The best bakeries in Paris produce their own versions of Noel’s crop: La Maison du Chocolat has an artistic and creative version every year, Fauchon makes his own interpretation of this dessert and the classic everyday baker, Chez Paul, prepares the traditional version every year.

This sweet has one of the most interesting origins: some historical archives dating back to 1184 tell how during the winter solstice, families burned a log of wood in their chimneys to attract light. The trunk had to have a considerable size, since it had to last a variable number of days and, in addition, a piece of wood was conserved that had not been burned completely because it had magical properties: among other things it served to cure the pain of teeth or the chilblains produced by the cold.

Different countries have their own versions of this tradition, such as the sweet yule log from the United Kingdom or the cagatió from Catalonia (which although it is not eaten, is shaped like a trunk and eats gifts!).

Lebkuchen in Germany

German pastry has several specialties that are taken at Christmas but my favorite is the Nuremberg biscuit which is known as “lebkuchen”. This is a forceful preparation with marzipan, nuts, honey, citrus frost, flour, eggs, sugar and a lot of spices among which are some of my favorites such as aniseed, cardamom, cinnamon and cloves among others.

The story goes that the original recipe was invented by baker monks in the 13th century and reached absolute glory when the emperor invited all the city’s children to his palace (several thousand) where he gave them the famous biscuits with his portrait. With its eleven centimeters in diameter, I’m sure that with one cookie for each child they had more than enough, although they were still a bunch of cookies…

A lot of years later, lebkuchen are still sold and eaten and have evolved into different flavours and shapes: the miniature biscuit of Hansel and Gretel’s house is made of lebkuchen; and at fairs it is sold in the shape of a heart.

Mince pies in United Kingdom

The mince pies are a kind of crispy dough tart filled with mince meat. If we were guided only by the name, we would think that this Christmas cake is not very recommendable for vegetarians, since “mince meat” is translated as mince meat. Minced meat in a sweet cake? Evidently today they no longer have meat but a delicious blend of raisins, spices and a touch of alcohol. However, in the original time in which they were created, the Middle Ages, they were actually meat pies to which a lot of sugar was added to help preserve them.

All the supermarkets have a wide range of different flavours and sizes; in many of London’s Christmas markets you can find them handmade and of course, in any self-respecting British house, they are baked to take freshly made, which is when they are at their richest. They are tremendously easy to do and very grateful, so much so that this year I was encouraged to try them myself!

This is the thirteenth door of our traveling Advent Calendar, the equator of all these entries that bring together two of the things I like the most: Christmas and Travel. We stopped to get some energy and taste some of the Christmas sweets that are used in Chile, UK, Paris and Germany; we imagined how the houses of the people who live there will smell and personally, I was delighted to see that spices and dried fruits are present no matter where you go.

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