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Holiday Baking that will make you an International Star Chef

For many families, Christmas dinner is not complete without a traditional British boiled plum pudding and hard sauce, or mince pies.

On the other hand, many people – particularly children – can’t stand the taste and want something lighter after a heavy turkey dinner. But how fun it is to try new desserts during the holiday season!

Most countries have unique holiday traditions involving sparkly lights, elaborate decorations and festive music. European Christmas markets add an extra zing with vendors selling local food, artisan crafts and body-warming hot wine to a mix of locals and tourists.

Pannetone (Italy)

Originally baked in Milan centuries ago, Panettone’s popularity has spread throughout Italy and around the world thanks to Italian immigrants and savvy marketing executives. Today, it’s one of the world’s most iconic Christmas breads that doubles as a Christmas dessert.

Less sweet than most Italian desserts, Panettone is Italy’s puffy round version of brioche baked sky high and cooled upside down to retain its height. Beyond its eggy, buttery bread base, Panettone gets its flavor from ingredients like candied fruit, chocolate chips and raisins.

Stollen (Germany)

It’s not that the simple Christmas bread studded with candied fruits and nuts is particularly unique. But, as we discovered in Baden-Baden, versions baked with mandel (i.e. almonds) and marzipan hit our breakfast sweet spot. Plus, its top layer of powdered sugar doesn’t hurt Stollen’s cause.

We weren’t the first to discover Stollen’s charms – its history dates back to the 16th when Stollen was more of savory bread than a dessert. It quickly became popular in German cities like Dresden, a town famous for hosting Europe’s oldest Christmas market as well as an annual Stolllen festival in December.

Pavlova (New Zealand)

Although it sounds like a Russian delicacy, the Pavlova was originally created in New Zealand to honor a visiting Russian ballet dancer named Anna Pavlova. Linking back to its Eastern European inspiration, the base of a Pavlova is meringue prepared with cornflour. However, the addition of fruits like kiwis and passionfruit make the pavlova a true New Zealand dessert.

Adding red berries to the mix transforms the Pavlova into a Christmas confection. Since Christmas occurs during the summer down under, finding fresh berries in December is the opposite of a problem.

Christmas Pudding (England)

Christmas Pudding is proof that all good things, like Christmas, are worth the wait. Made with brandy and a variety of fruit, both dried and candied, this holiday dessert takes time to achieve its unique texture.

Brits have been eating the dark, sticky pudding for centuries and they’re not alone. The dense dessert is also popular in former colonies like Australia, Canada and South Africa. Although it had its moment in America, Christmas Pudding’s popularity in that former colony was as fleeting as the flame that often lights the dessert on fire.

Pain D’Epices (France)

Pain d’Epices (i.e. Gingerbread) is an Alsatian quick bread usually baked with a variety of spices including cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and, of course, ginger. Beyond Alsace, it’s also a local specialty in Burgundy where it’s sold in various shapes and sizes.

It only seems right to eat Pain d’Epices in Strasbourg since the French city is filled with houses straight out of the Hansel and Gretel fairytale. That being said, Pain d’Epices is so popular in Dijon that it’s even used to flavor mustard.

Christmas Cookies (Everywhere)

Christmas cookies are popular around the world and for good reasons. They’re fun to bake at home and swap with friends. They also make excellent hostess gifts and look festive when displayed at holiday parties and dinners. Beloved American Christmas cookies include iced sugar cookies, decorated gingerbread men and chocolate-topped thumbprints. Other countries have their favorites too.

Part of the fun of traveling in December is nibbling on waffle-like Pizzelles in Italy, shortbread Bredeles in France and spiral Spritzgebäck in Germany. However, motivated munchers can find these classic Christmas cookies at specialty bakeries around the world.

I'm sure your family has there own take on Christmas baking. I know myself growing up in a rural farming environment, that there was plenty of homemade treats to be had. Here are a few from my archives.

Christmas Pudding
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Sugar cookies
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Cheers folks, and happy baking!

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