During the festive season, one item is on everyone’s lips: Christmas biscuits

Treats aplenty await you in the Christmas bakery. From Hungarian Kifli to French Bûche de Noël or Polish Pierniki: Christmas biscuits are a culinary tradition in many places. Let’s immerse ourselves in the World of Christmas treats.

Christmas biscuits

What's it all about?

🍪 A surprise in the Hefering (braided sweet bread)
🍪 Different countries, different Christmas treats
🍪 Bake or buy?


Traditional Portugese Pateis de Nata

Popular in Portugal as well as in Düsseldorf: Portugese puff pastry tartlets Pasteis de Nata

Europe is rich in culinary traditions, and Christmas pastries are no exception. Christmas biscuits and cakes are firmly enshrined in its various cultures. Which countries are more fond of biscuits, and which lean more towards cakes and bread? Let’s embark on a culinary journey to discover the various origins of Christmas biscuits.

Candied sweet bread with a surprise

Portugal is not just popular with surfers and tourists, it’s also a gourmet destination. Pasteis de Nata, the Portuguese puff pastry tartlets with vanilla cream, have long been known beyond the country’s borders. They are a big hit at Düsseldorf’s Café Casa Nata, too. But at Christmas, the tartlets are upstaged by a royal cake. Bolo Rei is a ring of leavened sweet bread sprinkled with candied fruit, nuts and sometimes chocolate and sugar. Why do the Portuguese bake the traditional Christmas cake in a ring shape? They do it so that they can place a surprise in the centre of the cake, for example, a dried bean or small figurine. ‘Another Portuguese Christmas delicacy that is very popular with our guests is the Tronco de Natal chocolate cake’, adds Marta Piller, who runs the Düsseldorf café together with her husband, André.

Christmas is a big deal in Lisbon, Porto and other major cities in the southern European surfing paradise. The streets are decked out in festive fineries, and bustling Christmas markets draw crowds of locals – just like in Germany, where Christmas markets originated in the 14th century. The only difference is the scent. While spiced gingerbread biscuits and speculoos create the typical Christmas scent in Germany, Bolo Rei fills the air in Portugal.

Do you prefer Christmas biscuits, gingerbread or Christmas stollen?

Let’s take a look at our local Christmas pastries: gingerbread, filled or chocolate-covered, speculoos in butter or spice varieties, decorated biscuits in various festive shapes and shortbread biscuits baked by grandma. The variety is huge. And there are plenty of regional specialities, from Aachener Printen (sweetened gingerbread), Nuremberg gingerbread and Ulmener Maar-Stollen (fruit cake) to Vanillekipferl (vanilla crescents), cinnamon stars, Bethmännchen (marzipan pastry), macaroons, Heidesand (shortbread biscuits) and Spitzbuben (jam biscuits). Germans love Christmas biscuits. But their love for festive treats does not stop at biscuits. They also enjoy a variety of Stollen (fruit cake), which have a long tradition in this country.

 

Bolo Rei von Casa Nata

Traditional Portugese Cristmas Cake: Bolo Rei by Casa Nata

Recipe for a Bolo Rei (about twelve servings of cake)

Ingredients:

125 g mixed dried fruit (e.g. plums, figs, apricots, dates and raisins)
3 tbsp port wine (alternatively orange juice)
40 g walnuts
25 g candied cherries
25 g each: diced candied orange peel and candied lemon peel
1 tbsp pine nuts
Grated zest of ½ organic orange
75 ml milk
½ cube of fresh yeast (21 g)
75 g sugar
2 eggs (size M)
350 g flour
1 pinch of salt
80 g soft butter
Flour and butter to work the dough
Candied fruit and nuts for decoration
1–2 tbsp icing sugar

Preparation:

Dice the dried fruit, then combine and drizzle with port wine. Leave the mixture to soak for about 30 minutes. 
Chop the walnuts and candied cherries and combine them with the candied orange peel, candied lemon peel, pine nuts and orange zest. 
Heat 75 ml milk to lukewarm, then dissolve the yeast and 1 tbsp sugar in it. Let the dissolved yeast rise for 15 minutes.

Prepare the dough:

Separate one egg and chill the egg yolk. Knead the egg white with one egg, 350 g flour, 60 g sugar, salt, 80 g butter and the yeast milk.
Drain the dried fruit, add the nut/fruit mixture and knead both into the dough. 
Cover the dough and let it rise in a warm place for about two hours.

Baking:

Knead the dough on a floured surface and shape it into a ball. Place the ball on a baking tray lined with baking paper and press a hole in the centre. Place a greased, ovenproof cup or small tin in the centre so that the wreath shape remains intact during baking. 
Cover the dough and let it rise for another 30 minutes.
Heat the oven to 180 °C (conventional setting). Whisk the chilled egg yolk with a tablespoon of water and brush the Bolo Rei with it. Decorate with candied fruit and nuts. 
Bake in the preheated oven for approx. 40 minutes. Halfway through baking, cover the Bolo Rei with baking paper to prevent it from getting too dark. 
Take the Bolo Rei out, remove the cup or tin and let the cake cool. 
Dust with icing sugar before serving.

 

Chocolate or candied fruit – Christmas cake and bread

Let’s travel further south-west. In France, the chocolatey sponge roll Bûche de Noël, also known as Christmas log, is steeped in tradition. In addition to this buttercream cake, the spiced Pain d’épices is another essential element of French Christmas celebrations. Let’s stay in the south and look at Italy, where the traditional Milanese pastry ‘panettone’ originates. The fluffy Christmas cake with candied fruit and raisins is very popular during the festive season. Bakers and confectioners actually compete against each other to choose the best panettone. Other popular Christmas biscuits in Italy are biscotti, crunchy almond biscuits.

Christmas biscuits in the shape of croissants

Italy and Greece have something in common: Christmas biscuits with almonds. The Greeks call these almond biscuits rolled in icing sugar ‘kourabiedes’ (qurabiya in other parts of the world). After adding a shot of high-proof spirit, such as ouzo, they shape the shortcrust pastry into crescents, balls or bows. They often place an almond directly in the centre; spherical varieties may contain a whole clove. Crescents or croissants are also a Christmas tradition in Hungary, where they are known as ‘Kifli’. Hungarian Kifli are crescent-shaped shortcrust pastries filled with jam or nuts. Speaking of filled Christmas biscuits, our next destination, Austria, has its own take on the traditional biscuits: Linzer Augen (Linz Eyes). In addition to Christmas biscuits filled with redcurrant jam, other popular varieties include vanilla crescents and cinnamon stars.

From spiced to traditional gingerbread

We travel from Austria via Poland to Scandinavia. In Poland, we come across the Pierniki Christmas biscuits. Polish gingerbread is flavoured with honey and spices such as cloves, cinnamon and ginger. Let’s stick with gingerbread, but change the country and name. In Sweden, Pepparkakor, spiced gingerbread biscuits, often baked in the shape of hearts and stars, are part of the Christmas season. Incidentally, the German name ‘Pfefferkuchen’ (pepper cake) originated in the Middle Ages (first mentioned in Ulm in 1296) when any spices were generally referred to as ‘pepper’.

Christmas biscuits – homemade or bought?

Christmas without Christmas biscuits? Unimaginable. But 41 per cent of Christmas enthusiasts don’t want to be hobby bakers during the festive season. They prefer to buy their Christmas biscuits. If you don’t want to spend several hours baking, METRO has a large selection of Christmas biscuits – from butter speculoos and gingerbread to panettone. A plethora of treats are available at a special bulk price.

 

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