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.
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.
The Slovak Christmas Eve supper consists of twelve meatless dishes representing the twelve Apostles, and these bread balls sweetened by honey are one of them. It seems however that they predate Christianity, and in the central European Pagan tradition were made around the winter Solstice to communicate with the ancestors.
Ground walnuts can replace the poppy seeds; in which case, skip step 8!
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.
Christmas in Provence is famous for its thirteen desserts, symbolizing Christ and the twelve Apostles. The exact items tend to vary from place to place or even family to family, but they typically include nuts, dried and fresh fruits, calissons (marzipan-like candy), quince paste, black and white nougat, and the crown of them all, the sweet bread known as pompe à huile.