Tis the season for sweet treats and special family moments. Holiday traditions and foods vary from country to country and even from family to family. Instead of attempting to cover the globe myself, I asked for help and was overwhelmed with the response. Read on for the holiday desserts that 19 travel bloggers love to eat.
Australia & New Zealand
Jean @ Traveling Honeybird
No Christmas event in Australia is complete without a pav. Acutally I’ll go as far as saying that no major celebration in Australia is complete without a pavlova. It’s our own little way of bringing a delicious slice of white Christmas into our celebrations. Now I’m not going into the origins of the pavlova as honesty I don’t care. Australian? New Zealand? Who cares!
It’s a delicious meringue based dessert, topped with whipped cream and an assortment of delightful toppings. Most commonly you’ll see an array of colourful fruits. The more outrageous chef will add smashed peppermint crisp and chocolate to the topping.
Side note – the modern pavlova began life as a German torte, eventually travelling to the US where it evolved into its final form. Like most things the Aussies & Kiwis took ownership and improved on the pavlova.
Andrew @ Pygmy Elephant
The Brigadeiro is a bite sized dessert found in Brazil. A traditional brigadeiro is made from condensed milk, butter and chocolate powder. It is usually served in a round or ball shape and covered in chocolate confetti. Its texture, when cold, is softer than fudge yet harder than mousse.
Rumor has it that the brigadeiro was invented after World War 2, when fresh milk was scarce. Today, the brigadeiro genre has expanded to include a number of different bite size treats based on condensed milk that can include fruit, nuts and alcohol. The brigadeiro can be eaten after a normal meal, however it really shines when eaten at formal occasions. Parties can have several different types, and the displays can be quite intricate as well. For example, at Brazilian weddings, there are often tables that feature row upon row of different styled brigadeiros. It is a delicious dessert that looks great as well!
Betty @ Betty Travels
In Bulgaria for Christmas Eve we prepare at home a pumpkin pastry called Tikvenik. According to the Bulgarian tradition on 24th of December we need to serve vegetarian meals and the number has to be 7, 9 or 11 meals. This is the last day of the fasting period before Christmas. This dessert is easy to prepare. You need pumpkin, pastry, sugar, cinnamon, walnuts and oil or butter.
How do you make it? In half of the oil you stew the pumpkin. Later you mix it with the walnuts and the cinnamon. On each layer of the pastry you sprinkle a soup spoon of hot oil and you put little bit of the mixture. You sprinkle a soup spoon of sugar and roll it over. Put the rolls in an oily cooking pot. Bake it at a medium hot oven and after it cools down, put powdered sugar on top. Bon appetite!
Lena @ Travel Monkey
Risalamande (from french riz à l’amande translating as “rice with almonds”) is basically a rice pudding with whipped cream, almonds and vanilla served with cherry sauce on top.
Traditionally, it is eaten on Christmas day after the big dinner.
The fun part behind the serving is that one whole almond is mixed into the dessert and whichever person finds it gets a small prize prepared in advance. The point of the game is to hold the secret of getting the whole almond until everyone is finished, making sure that everyone eats their portion.
Nicci @ Travels with Boys
Around two weeks before Christmas, many Danish families begin the great baking period where they spend hours cooking their favourite recipes that have been handed down from generation to generation. Aebleskiver (meaning apple slices) is one of these and although the original recipe contained little pieces of apple, today’s recipe is typically baked without.
These small balls of mouthwatering goodness from Denmark are an absolute winner for Christmas gatherings. Similar to a pancake, aebleskiver are traditionally served with jam and a sprinkling of icing sugar throughout the Christmas period.
Legend has it that aebleskiver date back to the time of the Vikings, when after a hard fought battle, the Vikings returned to their ship to recover and cook pancakes over the fire using their shields that were dented from battle. Whether or not this is true, we will never know as it is lost in thousands of years of Danish folklore.
For a copy of the recipe, go to Travels with Boys.
Claire @ The Curious Explorers
During Christmas in England most families will serve the traditional ‘Christmas Pudding’, sometimes referred to as ‘figgy pudding’ or ‘plum pudding’. It originates back from Medieval England but became popular during the Victorian era. Most families will have a recipe that has been passed down from previous generations.
Originally a savoury dish as a way of preserving meats and dried fruits, it has since changed to a sweet dish. Although some refer to the dish as ‘plum pudding’, there are no plums in a Christmas Pudding. The reason for this is that in Victorian times the word plum meant raisins.
While recipes vary, a Christmas Pudding generally contains dried fruits such as raisins, figs, prunes, as well as citrus zest and nuts. Eggs, breadcrumbs and suet (beef fat) are used to hold the mixture together. Quite often brandy, or other alcohol, is used to give the dish moisture. It is then steamed for several hours until cooked.
Christmas Puddings are so common in England that the supermarkets offer a wide variety of puddings to buy for those that do not want to make them.
Leipäjuusto ja lakkahilloa or Bread cheese with cloudberry jam
Evan Kristine @ Pretty, Wild World
Leipäjuusto ja lakkahilloa or, in direct translation, means bread cheese with cloudberry jam is a traditional after-meal food from Finland. Leipäjuusto or bread cheese is a sort of cottage cheese that is baked in open fire and typically served with cloudberry jam and sometimes vanilla ice cream. This dish is well-loved by the Finns and is usually served with coffee during dinner parties. I love this dish because it is unusual and the odd combination of sweet and salty is something that truly gives this dish its distinctive characteristics that you’ll never find elsewhere. Plus, it is a tradition in Finland to pick cloudberries and make your own cloudberry jam specifically for this dessert!
Bûche de Noël
Jennifer @ Luxe Adventure Traveler
The French have desserts that will make you think you’ve died and gone to heaven and the Bûche de Noël is no exception. It’s a heavenly flourless chocolate cake that is rolled with whipped cream or chocolate ganache to resemble the shape of a Christmas yule log. Confectioners then decorate it with elaborate sugary Santas, angels, mini gingerbread houses and whatever else strikes their fancy.
No one really knows who actually made the first Bûche de Noël, but it dates back to the early 1600s. The name literally means yule log and is a nod to the tradition that families would burn a yule log in their hearth on Christmas Eve. The hearths were the perfect size for also baking the rolled cake while the log burned, and so the tradition of enjoying a Bûche de Noël at Christmas came to be.
Raksha @ Solo Passport
A milk based solid fried balls dipped in sugar syrup, is famous in South Asia, particularly in India. It is derived from fritter that Persian speaking invaders brought to India. The word ‘gulab’ means rose, referring to rose water and ‘jamoon’ is derived from an Indian fruit with a similar size and shape.
Gulab jamoon is a dessert often eaten at festivals or birthdays or any major celebrations. Gulab jamoons come in various types and shapes and each variety has a distinct taste and appearance.
Gia @ Mismatched Passports
Filipinos love their sweets during the holidays. During Christmas dinner (Media Noche), one of the most anticipated desserts is the leche flan. A decadent mix of sweet caramel and sweet egg custard, leche flan is a rich dessert that is loved by the whole family. Traditionally made with llaneras (oblong aluminum tins), the leche flan is made with the right mix of sugar, eggs yolks, evaporated milk and condensed milk and steamed. I found this similar dessert during my trip to Spain and it’s amazing how this delicious treat has been celebrated and enjoyed in the Philippines even after the Spanish had left. Next time you visit the Philippines, make sure to keep a look out for a holiday celebration and try the delicious leche flan.
Melissa @ Parenthood and Passports
My husband’s family is Polish, so Szarlotka was one of the first dishes I learned to make when we got married. Szarlotka is a Polish apple pie with a crumbled pastry crust. Unlike its American counterpart, Szarlotka is less sweet and has a tart apple taste. The filling consists of cooked apples and spices, like cinnamon and nutmeg. The dough is soft and flaky, and also has much less sugar than the dough used in traditional American pies. Instead of a pie crust on top, Szarlotka is topped with crumbled dough pieces before it is baked. Finally, it is garnished with a sprinkle of powdered sugar or whipped cream, which I’ve been told is a modern addition to the traditional Polish dessert. It is a staple in most Polish bakeries and can be found on dessert menus at most restaurants around the country.
Maria @ The Wanderers Chronicles
Christmas is coming! And for me, this time of year rhymes with cold weather, warm coats, gloves, lights in the streets, the smell of pine, imagining what to do for Christmas dinner. Something different that will surprise my guests, but also the things that are traditional and expected. Rabanadas (a sort of French Toasts) are, by excellence, the Holiday desert in Portugal.
At my parents’ home, Rabanadas have always been a tradition on the 24th. The all process starts days before, with the order of the appropriate bread and, on the afternoon, all logistics must be set up: one dish with warm milk, another with egg battery, paper to drain the fried slices, a plate with sugar and cinnamon… This has always been a work for mother and daughter, moving the slices of bread from plate to plate, then to the frying pan and, when finished, the first ones, still hot, eaten with a cup of coffee.
These were the best, with the kitchen vibrant with cinnamon smell! The second best are the ones I eat on Christmas morning, just after I wake up. They are already cold and all the sugar is now melted. Sitting on the sofa with a blanket and sticky fingers, I’ll eat two or three, at least. It’s Xmas!
Hannah @ GettingStamped
If you’re heading to the Christmas Markets in Europe you’ll be in for some tasty treats. Some of the best holiday desserts I found were at the Christmas markets in Prague. One of my favorite things to do in Prague is wander around the Christmas markets eating Trdelník after Trdelník. Trdelník is a sweet pastry, where the rolled dough is wrapped around a stick and grilled then topped with sugar/cinnamon/etc. In Prague a few vendors would slather the inside with Nutella, everything is better with Nutella. In Budapest, they have something similar and they call it Kürtőskalács, Germany and Austria call it Baumkuchen, but often for short they are called Chimney cakes.
Jana @ Travelville
You may know it as poppy seed dumplings (or bread/dough balls). It is a sweet dish (I wouldn’t call it a dessert though) and it is served in almost every family all around Slovakia. Its recipe and even its name has many variations depends on the region and family traditions. We eat it only once a year, at Christmas Eve. It may be very simple dish, but it is a very special part of our Christmas dinner. And it is believed to be the oldest Christmas Eve meal in Slovakia.
Where did its tradition come from?
Slovakia used to be a very poor, mostly agricultural country. However, even back then, Christmas table had to be rich, full with food that people could provide by their own work. Fish they caught, vegetables and fruits grew. It was very simple, and yet everything on that Christmas table symbolized something. And poppies (not only) on Opekance were seen as a sign of wealth. Even now we sometimes wish someone to have money (wheat in earlier times) like poppies. We don’t eat them anymore to ensure a good harvest in the following year, but they managed to remain an important part of our Christmas Eve dinner.
Verushka @ Spice Goddess
South Africa is a multicultural country with a melting pot of cuisines. Each region has their own typical and traditional dishes. Over the festive season a wide variety of sweet treats are made. Some are new and ever so fancy while some are old family favourites.
Melk Tert loosely translated from Afrikaans into English simply means Milk Tart. This dessert is a baked sweet crusted pastry that is filled with creamy filling of milk, flour, sugar and eggs and the dusted with cinnamon.
This tart has evolved over the years where the pastry base has changed into a biscuit base and individual portions been made. The latest take on this very popular desert which is one of my favourites is a Milk Tart Shooter. To make this delicious shooter, pour the vodka, condensed and evaporated milk into a one-litre bottle and shake well. Chill, shake and pour into glasses or cups. Sprinkle each serving with ground cinnamon and serve chilled, or add a tot or two to a shot of espresso.
Mike @ Live, Travel, Teach
South Koreans absolutely LOVE rice cakes. They make them out of a few different ingredients but it always includes mashed rice. Traditionally its made with a wooden mallet and walked into submission as natural flavors are added. Koreans go nuts for the chewy texture regardless of how they taste and some even prefer the bland white original rice cake known as tteokbokki. You can often find sweeter versions that add fruit or the sweet asian red bean after the rice is sufficiently mushy. If its holiday season then there might even be elaborate decorations adorning these snacks.
Rice cakes can be eaten all year round but they are especially popular around Chuseok (Korean Thanksgiving), Christmas and Lunar New Year. You will see gift boxes of the treats lining every store during busy holiday seasons and rice cakes are found just about every family gathering. I hear they are also popular in other Asian countries but I’m not sure that anyone else has quite the craze over rice cakes that Koreans do!
Nuria @ Where’s Nuria?
Turron is a classic sweet of the Christmas gastronomy in Spain. Any table isn’t settled up without a Turron (or some) on it. As a high-quality of product that it is, and, due to this, pricey, originally was only eaten in special occasions, so Christmas was the only season of the year that people could afford a whim, and this way become a tradition. This dessert is usually made of almond and honey. Although there are two traditional basic types of Turron; Soft Jijona or soft Turron, which is smooth, and the Turrón de Alicante, or hard Turron, which is like a thick almond nougat candy; nowadays we can also find Turron made of everything Spanish chocolatiers can imagine, Turron of any type of chocolate with nuts, fruits, liquors…
Brittany @ The Sweet Wanderlust
In my family, it’s not Christmas until someone opens the Ya-Hoo! Cake. This Texas classic has been a tradition in many families since Miss Eunice King opened her bakery in Sherman, TX in 1944. Baked into the shape of a wagon wheel or the great state of Texas, it’s packed with maraschino cherries, chocolate chips and pecans.
We sit around the tree and open gifts as we eat this pre-baked treat. Family, gifts, and a no-work sweet breakfast? That’s my favorite kind of treat!
Lee @ Eat Travel Cook
Although fancy pastry shops and buying holiday sweets may be common in other parts of the world, America’s tradition of home baked sweets and desserts has an almost religious fervor about it. And that’s no more evident than at the holidays.
This time of year, many American home cooks are entrenched in a baking frenzy in preparation and celebration of Christmas. Cakes, pies, candies, frozen treats, and gingerbread houses are created, often in several-day marathons (or for some, all-night sessions). The one dessert that probably best symbolizes the holidays in the United States is the beloved Christmas cookie. Americans of all baking skill levels embark on the homemade holiday cookie mission – either to serve family, share as gifts to friends and co-workers, trade at a cookie swap, or even eat selfishly (and deservedly, of course!) for their own indulgence.
Whether using a treasured recipe handed down through the generations, or store-bought slice-and-bake, America loves its holiday cookie tradition. Because the US is such a melting pot, you’ll likely find cookies influenced by heritage, but nothing is more typical, or common, than the simple sugar cookie. It might be spritzed or rolled. It might be doused with sprinkles by a child, slathered with frosting, or painstakingly decorated with artistic precision. But one thing is guaranteed: you’ll find sugar cookies on every holiday table across America, and even a plateful waiting for Santa to come down the chimney.