By Abby Humphreys
Christmas cookies and eggnog are usual sights in December in the United States, but other countries celebrate the Christmas season much differently. Try experiencing the flavors of Christmas from Italy, Japan and many other places around the world with the recipes below.
1. Ris à la Mande—Denmark
Although its name sounds French, this dish is purely of Danish origin. Its name comes from the French-sounding “riz à l’amande”, which means “rice with almonds.” It consists of rice pudding, vanilla flavoring, milk, chopped almonds and whipped cream with a sweet cherry sauce on top.
According to its Wikipedia entry, rice pudding was rarely made in Denmark until after World War II due to its high cost. However, Danes took to mixing rice pudding with whipped cream after it became more widely available in order to make the rice last longer, which gave birth to the dish.
You can find an easy recipe for ris à la mande here. (Fun fact: in Sweden, the dish can be made without almonds, but the person who finds a hidden whole almond in their pudding is expected to be married within the year.)
2. Christmas Pudding—England/Ireland
If you’re interested in trying something new, England’s plum pudding is for you. (“Plum” in this case refers to raisins, not real plums, due to how the word was used at the time of the recipe’s creation.) The first recorded recipe of the dish reaches as far back as the 18th century.
Plum pudding is made by soaking bread in a mixture of alcohol (typically cognac or brandy) and spices, then steaming it for several hours. You can find a traditional recipe here. If plum pudding doesn’t sound very appetizing, you can try this easy lemon steamed pudding recipe instead.
Vanillekipferl are small cookies made with almonds and dusted with powdered sugar. The batter is simple to make, and many variations can be found across Germany, Romania, Slovakia and Germany during the Christmas season.
Legend has it that the cookies get their shape from the Turkish flag’s crescent moon shape, which celebrates a historical Hungarian military victory over the Turkish (as “Kipferl” has been adopted to mean “endearing fool” in German). You can find a basic recipe here, but many other variations can be found across the Internet (such as this recipe, which uses walnuts instead of almonds).
4. Pavlova—Australia/New Zealand
How the Pavlova got its name is an interesting tale. The dish is named after Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova after she toured in Australia and New Zealand in the 1920s. It consists of meringe, whipped cream and fruit.
Though fruit is often thought of as a summer garnish to desserts, Pavlovas are especially enjoyed during the Christmas season in the more temperate climate of Oceania. A recipe for an easy Pavlova can be found here.
Panettone is a holiday sweet bread that goes perfectly with a cup of coffee, hot chocolate or tea. A single bakery created the recipe after World War I, and the bread quickly gained popularity after WWII due to its low cost. The process of making panettone is very similar to making bread from scratch, but fruits like currants are added to the mixture before baking. One recipe for making panettone can be found here.
Surprisingly, many South American countries have their own take on the panettone, in which local fruits like papayas are used instead of more traditional fruits like lemons. Try adding in your favorite fruits to experiment with different flavors and textures.
6. Christmas Cake—Japan
According to an article from NPR, Japan’s Christian community makes up only 1 percent of the entire country’s population. However, this doesn’t mean Christmas hasn’t been appropriated by the primarily atheist and Buddhist country as a reason to celebrate during the blustery winter months.
Similar to other desserts around the world, many ingredients that were previously scarce and only available to the upper class were made available in Japan after WWII. This led to the creation of a sponge cake by the middle class that is still being sold on every Japanese street corner in December.
The cake requires only a few ingredients to make, with strawberries and whipped cream being the only toppings. The simple recipe can be found here.