CHRISTMAS is the time of year that many people across the world look forward to for many reasons, one of which being the quintessential Christmas foods that are traditionally served during the season.
For some, no celebration is complete without the sweet treats associated with the yuletide season, from fruitcake to gingerbread biscuits and candy canes.
With Christmas just around the corner, we decided to look up fun facts about some of the most popular Christmas treats out there.
Origin: Ancient Rome
Probably the oldest dessert on the Christmas dinner table, the modern fruitcake is nothing like its ancestor. The ancient Roman recipe called for a mix of pomegranate seeds, pine nuts and raisins to be mixed into barley mash. As time went on, more ingredients were added in such as honey, spices and preserved fruit in the Middle Ages and alcohol during the Victorian Era, increasing its richness. Fruitcake is also popularly known for its outstanding shelf life.
Gingerbread exists in many forms but is today overwhelmingly used to make gingerbread biscuits. It is difficult to pinpoint precisely where gingerbread originated from, but several European countries brought gingerbread biscuits to prominence sometime in the late Middle Ages. Its most popular shape today, as gingerbread man, is most strongly associated with the court of Queen Elizabeth I of England, who had the treat served to visiting foreign dignitaries.
Despite the recipe calling for mincemeat, most mince pie recipes today do not actually contain meat. One story goes that the idea of combining meat, dried fruits and spices came from European crusaders returning from the Holy Land. The use of beef or mutton suet in the recipe persisted well into the 20th century, but it has since been gradually phased out as many thought that it was too sweet for their taste.
Closely related to the fruitcake, stollen is a type of bread made with candied and dried fruits, nuts, spices and powdered or icing sugar. In the earlier days, stollen was tasteless and hard because Advent, the Christian season leading up to Christmas, was considered a time of fasting in the 15th century and the use of butter was banned during the season until much later. Today, the city of Dresden organises Stollenfest every year where an oversized stollen is ceremoniously cut and distributed to the public.
Trifle evolved out of a similar 16th century English dessert called a fruit fool. Today, trifle is made with layers of fruits, sponge finger biscuits soaked in a sweet wine, custard and sometimes whipped cream and jelly. This is by no means the only recipe though, as there are numerous ways to make trifle and non-alcoholic versions may use a sweet juice instead.
The popular legend surrounding the peppermint-flavoured candy cane says that in 1670, the choirmaster of the Cologne Cathedral asked a local candy maker to make some sugar sticks to keep children quiet during the Christmas Eve nativity play. To justify giving candy to children during church services, the candy was shaped to look like a shepherd’s crook, like the ones in the nativity story.
Sometimes known as plum pudding in the United Kingdom, this traditional Christmas dessert does not actually contain plums. “Plum” was a pre-Victorian word that referred to raisins. Made of dried fruits, egg, suet (beef or mutton fat; vegetarian versions exist), treacle or molasses, spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and ginger, and sometimes alcohol as a preservative, the pudding was traditionally boiled or steamed in a pudding cloth.
Called the “buche de Noel” in France and its former colonies, the original yule log recipe dates back to the 19th century. The yule log is essentially a sweet roulade, made from genoise (sponge) cake and iced inside and out to look like an actual wooden log. By 1945, “yule log” more popularly referred to this dessert after its namesake, an old Germanic tradition of burning a wooden block throughout the 12 days of Christmas, had fallen out of use.
This tall and fluffy Italian sweet bread loaf rose to prominence in the early 20th century as a result of the competition between rival Milanese bakers Angelo Motta and Gioacchino Alemagna. With such large quantities produced, panettone became cheap enough for everyone to afford by the end of World War II. Panettone is made with bits of candied orange, citron, lemon zest and raisins, and is something that people either love or hate with a passion.
Origin: Australia and New Zealand
This sweet meringue-based dessert was named after Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova, invented in honour of her when she was on tour in Australia and New Zealand in the 1920s. The country of origin remains a constant point of dispute between Australia and New Zealand. But despite its popular association as a dessert that is served cold around Christmas time, when the Southern hemisphere experiences summer, pavlova is eaten all year round.