This is more than a dessert: in Lebanon it is traditionally prepared to celebrate a birth and also for Christmas (because baby Jesus). Ground caraway and even aniseed are not regular fare in Western supermarkets but you’ll find it in spice shops, Middle-Eastern shops, and if all else fails, try eBay, or just grind the whole seeds, which seem to be more common.
I’ll admit that this is not my favourite, but I love making it for friends who just had a happy event, and it is meant to be good for the mother after giving birth, with all these energy-packing nuts.
This cake which probably originates in Nicaragua is popular all over Latin America. Whole milk can replace the cream in step 6, especially if you’re planning on frosting the cake with whipped cream!
A traditional orthodox Christmas dessert from Bulgaria, oshav is relatively austere, but delicious and certainly a healthier option. Sugar can be left out altogether as the fruits’ own sweetness is drawn out.
In Hungary, the day-old, dry bread used for this recipe is kifli, a crescent-shaped bread roll (npothing to do with a croissant!) but any stale bread will do. It’s actually a good way to use bread left over from the holiday meals, if you’re happy to have it for Boxing Day instead, or it can be a way to use bread for breakfast similar to pain perdu (French toast).
The poppy seed roll is traditional all over Central and Eastern Europe under various names, such as cozonac in Romania, magonmaizite in Latvia, wienerbrød in Denmark, etc. The poppy seeds can be substituted with finely chopped walnuts (skip 6-7).
Christmas in Italy? Forget the panettone and have a go at this decadent fig cake from Sicily for a change. It is genuinely a meeting of cultures, as a Middle-Eastern influence can clearly be discerned in its list of ingredients.
These cinnamon starts are allegedly THE German Christmas cookie. The vanilla sugar that is required is simply a way of adding a vanilla flavour without using liquid. You can make your own (well in advance) by simply placing a vanilla pod in a jar and filling it with sugar, which after a few weeks will be infused with the spice.
Also known as finikia, these cookies are closely related to Lebanese maakaroun, though the latter are far less elaborate. They are an essential part of a Greek Christmas, but leftovers will comfortably last for a few weeks after, thanks to being soaked in syrup! Do not refrigerate, as that makes them harden.
This “sweet porridge” is traditionally served in Armenia from New Year’s Eve up to Christmas, which falls on January 6 in the Eastern tradition. Plan ahead, as it needs to thicken overnight. Replace the honey with sugar to make it vegan.
Ghraybeh are widespread in the Levant, but in Palestine are made specially for Christmas.
Note that the finished shortbreads are quite brittle and should be handled with care!
This “Christmas nougat” dates back to the turun of Moorish Spain. This variety is made with only three ingredients, and as it contains only honey and no sugar, the result is not too hard. You can add some extra flavour in step 6 such as orange blossom water or cinnamon.
Apparently Cuba has its very own, unique Christmas cookies, and they’re a piece of cake to make.
These Scandinavian treats used to contain a lot of pepper, hence the name; the spices were toned down with time. While heart and star shapes are popular, the traditional shapes comes straight from the pagan past: pigs, goats, horses and people.
Here’s an Old World alternative to eggnog, a Dutch seasonal tipple that is thick as custard! You can drink it (with a spoon), or use it as a cake filling, or ice cream topping, and so on.
Here’s a lovely change from toppings such as maple syrup, that you can make from local honey and, this time of year, poppy seeds from the garden.
This is probably one of the first desserts I used to make as a child! So simple to make. If you’d rather cut down on fat, you could leave out the knobs of butter and serve with yogurt instead of a drizzle of cream.
An Italian dessert, known in France as sabayon. Surprisingly quick to make, and you can use frozen berries, after thawing them.
Don’t throw away the egg whites! You can whip them up with leftover vegetables or cheese into a lean omelet.
A light and subtly spiced Indian dessert. Although it needs to be made ahead, or even the previous evening, that takes only a few minutes!
This is a very rich dessert that involves no added sugar at all. Other fruits can be used, for instance raspberries go equally well with dark chocolate. The heavy cream can actually be replaced with coconut cream, which whips equally well, if you like the additional coconut taste. You can also replace the butter with coconut oil to really minimize the dairy/animal fat (you’ll only be left with what the chocolate contains). Either way, pour into small cups as you won’t need a big portion to feel satisfied.
Another classic Lebanese dessert that I’m sure is also known to other cultures under other names. It’s understated, which is really nice, not too sweet, and you can always play around with the flavour, for instance replacing the orange blossom water with vanilla extract, or lemon extract, amaretto and so on. I have not tried it with non-dairy milk but I think it would work, as the rice powder is the thickener. It won’t thicken a lot in step 3, but after a night in the fridge it will be thick enough to eat with a spoon.
It’s amazingly simple to make your own delicious fresh lemon curd, or any citrus curd you fancy: orange, blood orange, grapefruit… With the bigger fruits, you’ll only need 2-3T of the juice (which is the average yield of a lemon).
Crumbles are wonderfully easy and forgiving, and you can use almost any fruit. Apricots in particular have a honey-sweetness with a tangy accent that have me hooked!
One of the promises I made regarding this blog is there would NOT be paragraphs of Proustian moments (or dozens of photos) before you can get to the recipe. Instead I give you the root of all Proustian moments — the madeleine itself! Such a lovely little cake, not overly sweet, and very, well, French. It does dry out after the first day, and that makes a big difference, so I only make them for gatherings. Madeleine are usually made in specialized baking tins to give them their scallop shape, but mini cupcake tins work just as well, or use regular-size cupcake tins and underfill them.
Summer is back and I’ve been collecting poppy seeds wherever I encounter dry pods on my walks. They are such a joy! To celebrate their return, here are easy biscuits to make and share.
This can be a bit tricky to get right. Too hot and it’ll be hard, not hot enough and it won’t caramelize. If you’re familiar with candymaking, the idea here is to reach a “firm-ball” stage (118-121ºC/245-250ºF on a thermometer).
Sfouf is a plural (meaning “rows”, referring to how they’re cut), just like “brownies”, and as much a classic of Lebanese homebaking as brownies are in the US (as far as I know). Although again, the attraction of western things is such that sfouf have been somewhat left by the wayside while brownies and co. are widely available in coffeeshops and restaurants. Ah well.
Sfouf have a dense texture, are not too sweet (at least with this recipe), and have a startling orange colour due to the turmeric, which also gives them a particular taste hard to describe. To make them more nutty, you can pour half the batter into the pan, sprinkle nuts liberally, then pour the second half before creating the grid.
Below is the original recipe, followed by a vegan version!
Brownies typically let me down because they are too sweet. These, on the other hand, are chocolate-intense and simply irresistible. As sugar is included in the recipe, you can go as dark as you like with the chocolate!
The first time I made this cake, it didn’t look like much and I was a bit self-conscious bringing it to a party. But not a crumb was left, and six months later I was still hearing about “THAT cake”! At the time I used a blood oranges as that’s what I had on hand. Lemon could be substituted as well.
Prepare the glaze (steps 5-6) towards the end of the baking, so that both are warm when it is poured over.
A lovely and foolproof cake recipe for last-minute needs. I expect substituting pecans or almonds would yield an equally interesting result! For the double boiler, I use a heatproof mixing bowl placed over a small saucepan half-filled with water.