Christmas around Europe

by Anna Brejwo Lobianco
In most of the European counties Christmas is a very important cultural and religious event. The preparations for the holiday season start already weeks before and food and drink always play a major role. Each of the countries has developed their own specific Christmas dishes, traditions and customs. With this simple Christmas Calendar we would like to share some of them with you. Feel invited to try out the recipes and we would be more than happy to see results of your culinary efforts. Enjoy the reading!

Visit the Christmas markets in Germany and taste the “Glühwein”

Christmas in Europe lasts much longer than just few days. In fact, in many countries the holiday season will be inaugurated by Christmas markets or fairs, which usually open on the beginning of December or even by the end of November.If you plan to visit some of them (especially in Germany or Austria) we recomend you to try the most popular drink in this season: the Glühwein. Glühwein is a hot spiced wine also known as mulled wine. This delicious drink is especially great to warm up the body during the long cold winter days.


3/4 cup of water
3/4 cup of white sugar
1 cinnamon stick
1 orange
10 whole cloves
1 (750 ml) bottle red wine

In a pot combine water, sugar and add the cinnamon stick. Bring it to boil, reduce the heat and simmer. Cut the Orange in half, squeeze the juice into the simmering water. Push the cloves into the outside of the orange peel, and place the peel in the simmering water. Continue simmering until the liquid gets thick (around 30 min).

Pour the wine and heat until steaming. Be careful, the liquid should not simmer! Remove the oranges peels. Serve in glasses, that have been preheated in warm water.


Stir the pudding and make a wish

Traditional Christmas puddings were made already four of five weeks before Christmas – most of the times on the Sunday before the Advent. This way the day became known as “Stir-up Sunday”. Traditionally everyone in the household, or at least all children, needed to help stirring the mixture and while doing so, they could make a wish. Another common practice was to include a silver coin in the mixture, which should guarantee wealth and good luck in the coming year.

Traditional English Plum Puddings

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2 lb currants
2 lb raisins
1 lb sultanas
1/2 lb mixed peel
2 lb grated suet
2 lb soft dark brown sugar
1/2 lb almonds, chopped
1 lb flour
2 lb breadcrumbs
Grated rind of 2 lemons
3 nutmegs, grated
12 eggs
1 wineglass brandy
Milk or ale to moisten

Sift the flour, mix in the grated nutmeg, add the fruit, peel, suet, sugar, almonds, breadcrumbs and grated lemon rind. Beat the eggs thoroughly and add them to the mixture with enough milk or ale to moisten, add the brandy and mix all very thoroughly together.

When boiling the puddings, have ready a large boiling pan and enough greased pudding basins to contain the mixture. Put the pudding in the basins, cover with greaseproof paper, and tie pudding cloths over the top of the basins. Stand the basins in boiling water in the boiling pan – the water should come one third the way up the basins – and boil steadily for 8 hours, replenishing the water with more boiling water as it evaporates.

When done, take out the puddings, remove the wet cloths, and leave to cool, covered with a dry cloth. When they are cold cover them with foil and store them in a cool place until they are needed – which could be in a year’s time, for, up to a point, the longer they are kept the better they will be.

When you wish to use the puddings, boil them again for between 2 and 3 hours, according to the size of the puddings.

Glass plate mono negativeImage courtesy of

Slovenian Christmas means – it’s time for Potica

In Slovenia you may be entitled calling yourself a cook if you’re able to make the Potica. This traditional Slovenian pastry rolled with diverse fillings was first mentioned by the end of 16th century. The word was derived from “povitice” meaning “to wrap in”. Originally Potica was a upper class food and a ritual Christmas dish, but soon it was considered obligatory for all holidays and family celebrations. Walnut Potica is the most common and popular type in Slovenia.

Slovenian Potica
Ingredients for the dough:
500 g white flour
30 g yeast
120 g butter
80 g sugar
3 yolks
250 ml milk
lemon or orange peel
vanilla essence

Put flour in abowl, sifted if you like, add salt. In a cup dissolve the yeast in water or milk and in another cup mix the eggs, sugar, rum, vanilla essence, lemon or orange peel. Healt milk, melt fat.

Add hot milk to the flour, stir and add the mixture of eggs, sugar, rum and aromas. Stir again, add dissolved yeast and fat and stir into a medium thick dough. Knead until it is elastic inside and smooth on the outside. Make sure the dough does not stick to the bowl and that it is not too hard. Cover the dough with a PVC sheet and leave to rise. Dough should always rise at room temperature. With rising the quantity of the dough should double. Knead it once and roll it out and spread it with the filling.

Ingredients for the filling:
500 g ground walnuts
100 g sugar
100 g honey
100 ml milk
2 eggs
vanilla essence
ground cinnamon
ground cloves
lemon peel

Melt honey in tepid milk, and then add one half of walnuts, sugar, eggs, aromas, spices and rum. Spread the filling on the rolled-out dough and sprinkle with the other half of walnuts. The temperature of the filling should be equal to that of the dough. Roll tightly, put in a mould, prick and leave to rise. Before baking, coat with a thin layer of milk and egg mixture – make sure the holes are not stopped.

Bake 50 minutes at 190°C.


Image courtesy of KAMRA available through Europeana

Maltese Christmas delicacy sweet as honey!

This Maltese sweet was traditionally made in Christmas time in the past, and although its name in English is “Honey Combs”, the recipe in itself contains no honey. The name “Honey Combs” might have originated from a process which involved the melting down of honey combs after the honey had been extracted. The “qastanija” (substance that resulted from this process), was used as part of the filling.

Qagħaq tal-Għasel (Honey Rings)

For the Pastry
500 g plain flour
3 egg yolks
50g margarine

For the filling
250 g of black treacle
150 g golden syrup
400 ml water
180 g of semolina
the grated rind of a tangerine ( preferably locally grown) and lemon
one tablespoonful of aniseed liquor
one tablespoonful of mixed spice
one teaspoonful of cinnamon power
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
3 tablespoons orange flower water

1. The pastry is made in the same way as the sweet short crust pastry.
2. Whilst the pastry is resting, prepare the filling.
3. In a large saucepan put all the ingredients, except for the semolina and slowly bring to the boil. You have to stir all the time.
4. When the mixture boils add the semolina VERY SLOWLY, stirring all the time.
5. Bring again to the boil. Cook for a further 5 minutes. It is VERY IMPORTANT that you stir all the time; otherwise the semolina will stick to the bottom of the saucepan.
6. Remove from heat and put in a large bowl. When the mixture has cooled cover the bowl with stretch and seal and leave overnight in the fridge.
7. The next day, cut the pastry into eight pieces. Roll out each piece and give it a rectangular shape.
8. Preheat the oven 180°C (Gas Mark 4).
9. Lightly dust a table top with semolina. Take spoonfuls of the filling and curve them into S shapes that resemble snakes. The shapes have to fit the rectangles.
10. If you find that the filling is rather sticky, just add more semolina on the table top.
11. Place one of the S shapes on each rectangle of pastry. Roll it like a small Swiss roll. Place it cut side down and lightly moisten the ends with water. Bring the ends together to form a ring. Pinch ends together to seal. With a sharp knife, make a series of decorative slashes on the top.
12. Put pastry rings on a baking tray that has previously been well dusted with semolina.

Bake about 15-20 minutes, or till the pastry is a very light beige colour. In the case of these pastry rings, the pastry should never turn a golden brown.

honey rings

Sharing the bread with your next

Polish Christmas is full of warm hospitality and family atmosphere. As in many other cultures preparations already start weeks before. Even 24th December is usually a very busy day. But when finally the evening comes and the first star appears in the sky everything gets calm and peaceful: the Christmas dinner is about to begin. All the family gathers at the table and is starting the Christmas celebration with bread breaking. The small, white and flat bread called “opłatek” is not considered as a dish but it is an inherent part of the Christmas Eve meal. The “opłatek” will be broke in as many pieces as there are family members and guests gathered around the table and distributed among them. Finally everybody is sharing his own piece of the bread with all the another guests, what is always accompanied by a flood of personal wishes for the upcoming year. You can imagine, that in greater families this procedure might take some minutes…
Centuries ago landlords and farmers used to share their bread also with their most important domestic animals, believing that in this special night the Christmas spirit will make them speak the human language.
OPLATEK2Photo: Bianca Czaderna

Belgian ‘kerststronk’ or ‘bûche de Noël’

The Belgian ‘kerststronk’ (Dutch) or Bûche de Noël (French) is a traditional Christmas dessert. It is said to go back to an old, pre Christian tradition of burning a log to welcome the longer days. It became a dessert during the first half of the twentieth century. Most people buy the ‘stump’ readymade, but off course you can prepare it yourself as well! Enjoy and don’t forget to share your results with us!

250 g red fruits (frozen)
a spoon crème de framboise (raspberry cream)
500 ml cream
100 g dark chocolate
3 eggs
75 g sugar and 1,5 spoon of sugar
75 g flour
2 spoons of cocoa

defrost the red fruits and collect the juice
put the cream in a little saucepan, heat (don’t cook) on a gentle fire
crumble the chocolate and melt it in the hot cream. stir with a whisk
let the mixture cool, first in the kitchen, later in the fridge
whip the cold chocolate mixture until it becomes a light mousse

preparation of the ‘stump’
crack the eggs in a bowl, add the sugar and whip until you get a smooth and light melange
sift the flour and add to the dough. then add the cocoa and whip
preheat the oven (210°C)
cover a baking tray with baking paper
spread the dough on the baking tray and put in in the oven for 7 to 8 minutes
carefully turn the baking tray upside down, remove the biscuit, remove the baking paper and let the biscuit cool down
take a saucepan and stir the juice of the red fruits with 1,5 spoon of sugar. let it cook gently until it becomes a kind of syrup. add the crème de framboise.
put the biscuit on your kitchen work top, with the shorter side facing towards you
divide the fruit syrup on the biscuit (leave some biscuit blank at the other short side)
divide ¾ of the chocolate mixture on the syrup
divide some of the red fruits over the chocolate mixture
roll up the biscuit with its topping until you get a ‘stump’. start rolling closest to you
coat the stump with the remaining chocolate mousse
use a fork to create ‘wood nerves’
you can decorate the stump with some sugar paste, plastic figures or crumbled meringue (snow!)

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Italian Christmas Bread

The golden, sweet light bread with raisins and candied citrus peel is without doubt most popular Christmas goodie in Italy. The story behind the bread goes back to 15th century, where on the court of Ludvico Sforza in Milan a young kitchen assistant was in charge of watching the oven. However, the young boy fell asleep and the desserts backed in the oven burned. In panic he decided to prepare a new desert with any ingredient he could just find in the kitchen. The creation was known as Pan de Toni. Today Panettone is one of Italy’s most recognisable products.

Recipe by Paul Hollywood

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500g/1lb 2oz strong white flour
7g salt
50g/2oz caster sugar
2 x 7g sachets instant yeast
140ml/5fl oz warm milk
5 free-range eggs, at room temperature, plus extra for egg wash
250g/9oz unsalted butter, softened, plus extra for greasing
120g/4½oz dried cherries
120g/4½oz dried sultanas
120g/4½oz dried currants
100g/3½oz whole blanched almonds

1. Place the flour, salt, sugar, yeast, milk and the eggs into the bowl of a free-standing mixer fitted with a dough hook.
2. Mix slowly for two minutes, then increase the speed to medium and mix for a further 6-8 minutes until you have a soft dough.
3. Add the softened butter and mix for another 5-8 minutes. Remember to scrape down the bowl periodically to ensure that the dough mixes well. It will be very soft.
4. Add the dried fruit and nuts. Mix until all is incorporated.
5. Tip the dough into a bowl, cover with clingfilm and chill overnight until the dough has firmed up enough for you to able to shape it.
6. Prepare a 18cm/7in panettone tin by brushing the inside generously with melted butter.
7. Remove the panettone dough from the fridge.
8. Knock back the dough, shape into a ball and place into the tin.
9. Leave to prove at room temperature for a further 2-3 hours, until the dough just starts to dome over the top of the tin.
10. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4.
11. Brush the top of the panettone with egg wash and bake for about 25 minutes. Reduce the temperature to 150C/300F/Gas 2 and bake for a further 35 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean. Check the panettone periodically in case of oven hot spots. Bear in mind that the sugar and butter in the dough could brown too much before it is actually fully baked.
12. Remove the panettone from the tin immediately and allow to cool.

Homemade_panettone_with_bread_machine,_December_2010_(5232148128) Photo: (Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Szaloncukor, the Hungarian Christmas Candy

In Hungary no Christmas tree is complete without szaloncukor, a traditional Christmas candy wrapped in a twist of brightly colored foil tasseled at both ends. It’s very much a seasonal candy, so you know that Christmas is around the corner when stores begin selling szaloncukor by the kilo. The origin of szaloncukor is surrounded by uncertainty, but we know that it was originally a soft, hand-crafted fondant made from flavored candied sugar. Some date it back to 14th century France when, according to sources, French chefs mastered the technique. The tradition to decorate Christmas trees with szaloncukor dates back to the Habsburg Monarchy, when wealthy families started to erect Christmas trees decorated with candies in their ‘salons’. Candy is Zucker in German, hence the name Salon Zucker or szaloncukor in Hungarian.

Szalon Cukor Candy
Measure 4 cups of sugar into an aluminum pot. Add 1 cup of cold water. Boil ingredients over medium heat about 20-25 minutes until mixture thickens. Do not stir mixture while it is heating. Test mixture for thickness by inserting a loop of thin wire into the pan. If it is possible to blow a sugary bubble with the mixture adhering to the wire loop, then the syrup is ready to be removed from the heat. If not,continue the heating process. While the candy syrup is still cooking, prepare two large platters (flat surfaces) onto which the mixture is poured. Rinse the platters with cold water, leaving surfaces damp. When the mixture is ready, remove candy from the stove. Divide it into two portions right away. To one portion add 1/3 cup of ground hazelnuts or pecans and one teaspoon of vanilla. Start stirring that portion right away with an electric mixer. To the second portion, meanwhile, add 1 teaspoon of vanilla and 1 teaspoon cocoa or moccha coffee powder. Stir with a wooden spoon until mixture hardens. Both portions should be stirred until the candy hardens, but with enough suppleness left that it can be poured out onto the platters. After the candy is poured, flatten it with dampened hands to a thickness of 1/2″. Cut the candy into pieces.
Recipe of Annie Nagy from San Antonio, TX, quoted in Allan O. Kownslar, The European Texans, Texas A&M University Press, College Stattion, TX, 2004, pp. 151-52.

szaloncukor kép

Kūčia, a special Lithuanian Christmas dish

Christmas Eve is a traditional Lithuanian celebration held on the 24th of December. It is a family celebration which invites all family members to sit together at the table during Christmas Eve dinner. Usually one seat is left empty for those family members who are no longer here, but it is believed that their spirits sit together with the whole family on this particular evening.

As a part of Christian tradition twelve dishes are served on the table. The dish named “Kūčia” (pronounced „kootchia“) takes a special place among them giving the name to the Christmas Eve itself known as Kūčios in Lithuanian. Kūčia is a traditional farmers’ dish having roots in preistoric times and relating to old agricultural rituals. Written sources indicate that this dish was served on every table on Christmas Eve, including farmers, peasants, as well as noblemen and lords. This is one of the oldest Lithuanian dishes which was described in written sources in the 16th century. The name itself „Kūčia“ has Greek origins coming from Constantinople and dates back to the 11-12th century.

To make Lithuanian Kūčia you will need: 1 glass of wheat, 0,5 glass of peas, 0,5 glass of poppy seeds and 4 spoons of honey. We suggest to buy all ingredients at local ecological food shop in order to have a healthy and nutritious dish. Firstly, wash the wheat and peas twice and soak them separately in water for about 10 hours. Boil them and pour off the water leaving them dry. Mix them with minced poppy seeds and honey. You can eat Kūčia together with poppy milk. Some variations of it also include nuts to make it even more tasty.


Greek Melomakarona

Melomakarono is a dark, egg-shaped cookie immersed in honey syrup and sprinkled with walnuts or sesame seeds. This delicius cookie with delicate notes of cinnamon, clove and orange is totally worth trying! (We dare you to eat to just one.)

Preparation time: 30 minutes


1 1/2 cups of olive oil
1/2 cup of sugar
juice of 1 orange
4 tablespoons of brandy
1 teaspoon of baking soda
1 teaspoon of baking powder
1/2 cup of Vermouth
1 1/2 teaspoons of ground cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons of ground cloves
6 cups of all-purpose flour

1 cup of white sesame seeds
1 tablespoon of honey
1/2 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon of ground cloves

2 cups of honey
2 cups of sugar
2 cups of water
1 stick of cinnamon

1/2 cup of sesame seeds


Dissolve the baking soda in the brandy.
Combine the ground cinnamon and cloves in a bowl and mix well for the dough.
Combine the ground cinnamon and cloves in a bowl and mix well for the filling.

In a mixing bowl, beat together the oil and sugar for about 5 minutes. Add orange juice, brandy with baking soda, baking powder, combined ground cinnamon and cloves, and Vermouth. Continue beating and add two-thirds of the flour mixture, 1/2 cup at a time, beating on low speed until well blended. Change to dough hooks, or use hands when needed.

Add remaining flour 1/2 cup at a time, kneading with hands at the end. Dough is ready when it no longer sticks to the hands, about 5 minutes of kneading (the dough will be oily).

Combine all filling ingredients in a bowl.

Use a handful of dough to make each cookie, forming into a log shape. Flatten it out, place a small teaspoonful of filling in the center and close the cookie, sealing the filling inside, in a long oval shape (see photo). Continue until all dough and filling is used.

Preheat oven to 355°F (180°C).

Place cookies well spaced on a lightly greased or nonstick cookie sheet (or on baking parchment paper). Bake at 355°F (180°C) for 30-35 minutes until nicely browned.

Make the Syrup
The cooled cookies will be dipped in hot syrup, so don’t start the syrup until the cookies are cooled. Combine all syrup ingredients in wide pot (like a deep frying pan) and boil gently for about 15 minutes. Remove the stick of cinnamon. Leave the syrup on the stove over the lowest heat possible during dipping.

Put in cookies (as many as will fit on the bottom in one layer) into the hot syrup and use a spatula if needed to hold them down for 30 seconds to 1 minute. Once the cookies have been soaked, remove them with a slotted spoon, letting excess syrup drip, place on a large serving plate in layers, sprinkling each layer with sesame seeds before adding another layer on top.

Melomakarona are not refrigerated. Cover them well with plastic wrap or store in tins so they don’t dry out, and they’ll last for several days – if they aren’t eaten by then.

Yield: about 3 dozen Melomakarona Cookies with Sesame Centers.

MelomakaronaImage courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

ΓΕΝΝΟΠΙΤΤΑ (GENNΟPITTA) – Cyprian “birth pies”

Gennopitta is the Greek name for “birth pies”. During the 19th and 20th centuries, kneading “birth pies” was an essential activity during the Christmas season in Cypriot households, as they symbolized the birth of Christ. For the preparation of these pies they used high quality extra fine wheat flour and the dough was enriched with spices and aromas such as cinnamon, anise and mastic gum. They used to consume these pies during the meal that followed Christmas morning liturgy, along with the traditional festivity soup. In some villages they used to place the “birth pies” on the table with some olive oil, wine and olives on Christmas Eve, to be blessed by Christ.

2kg high quality extra fine wheat flour
2 cups sugar
3 teaspoons mastic gum
3 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon anise
2 teaspoons salt
½ cup olive oil
Juice of ½ lemon
2 sachets yeast
1kg sesame
1½ cup raisins

1) Place the sesame in hot water with some lemon juice to soak for a few minutes.
2) Dilute the yeast in moderately warm water.
3) Add the flour with the salt, the sugar, the anise, the cinnamon and the mastic gum and we mix.
4) Add the olive oil and we rub the mixture gently with our fingers.
5) Add the water and we knead the mixture well so the dough becomes very soft.
6) Shape the “birth pies” in the size of small circular breads.
7) Sprinkle them with sesame.
8) Add some raisins on top.
9) Use a sharp knife, a fork or the back of a cup to decorate the pie with shapes (a cross, circles and other motives).
10) Put the pies aside in a warm place for about half hour.
11) Bake them in the oven in 200 for one hour.

Source: CFM database


Images courtesy of Mrs Pitsa Protopapa

Portuguese Bolo Rei

The traditional Christmas cake in Portugal is the ‘Bolo Rei’ (King Cake). Traditionally a broad bean and a gift (coin or token) are put in the cake. The person who finds the gift in his/her piece of cake is allowed to keep it, however the person who finds the broad bean, is obliged to pay the ‘Bolo Rei’ in the next year.

Bolo Rei


25g active yeast
2 tsp granulated sugar
100g all purpose flour
75ml warm water

250g finely chopped assorted crystallized fruit
100g seedless raisins
1 tsp finely grated lemon rind
1 tsp finely grated orange rind
2 tablespoons port wine
1 tablespoon rum
150g butter
150g granulated sugar
3 eggs
2 egg yolks
600g all purpose plain wheat flour
75ml warm milk
50g chopped almonds
50g chopped walnuts
25g pine nuts
a dried broad bean (fava) wrapped in greaseproof paper (optional)
a small coin or other trinket (wrapped in greaseproof paper (optional)

Crystallized fruit of your choice, such as pineapple, cherries, or figs
1 egg
icing sugar


Prepare the yeast mixture: In a small bowl mix together the yeast, sugar and flour and enough warm water to create a smooth dough. Cover and set aside to rise in a warm place for about 30 minutes or until it has doubled in size.

For the dough: In another bowl add the chopped cristalized fruit, raisins, grated lemon and orange peel, port wine and rum. Leave the fruit to soak up the liquid while you prepare the dough. In a large bowl beat the butter and sugar together with an electric mixer until smooth and creamy. Beat in the eggs and egg yolks one at a time, adding a little of the flour now and then if you feel the mixture will curdle. Using a spoon, gradually beat in half of the remaining flour and the milk. Then add the yeast mixture to the dough making sure it is evenly blended together. Add the almonds, walnuts and pine nuts and the cristalized fruit mixture. Lightly mix in as much of the remaining flour as you need to create a sticky bread like dough and until all the fruit and nuts are evenly covered by the dough. Cover and leave to rise in a warm place for about one hour or until it has doubled in size. Take the dough and knead for about one minute, then shape into a round loaf and place on a greased baking tray. Using your thumbs, open up a hole in the middle of the dough so that you are left with a wreath shape, or crown, about 25cms wide. You can grease a small empty food jar with vegetable oil and place it in the middle of the wreath to keep the hole open while you work on the topping. Make a hole with a knife on one side of the wreath and push the wrapped broad bean into the dough. Choose another spot on the wreath, make a hole with the knife and push the wrapped coin into the dough.

Topping: Decorate the wreath with a few cristalized fruits. Beat the egg and brush over the wreath. Cover and let rise in a warm place for about one hour or until it has doubled in size. Remove the food jar and bake in a preheated over at 190 degrees C for about 40 mintues or until golden brown. Cool and dust with icing sugar.


Czech Christmas customs

The traditional Czech table should be prepared for an even number of guests. An odd number could bring bad luck. If the expected number of guests is odd, an extra plate will be put on the table to even out the number of guests. Additionally another extra plate should be prepared in case of an unexpected guest. The Czech tradition considers certain plants, spices and foods to have special meaning and make them important part of the Christmas celebration. E.g. garlic is an essential part of Christmas that should not be missing at any Christmas dinner. It is believed to provide strength and protect the family. In this case bowl of garlic will be placed under the dinner table. Honey has similar qualities. It is believed to guard against evil and usually a pot of honey will be placed on the dinner table. Another meaning has the Czech Christmas Bread, the vánočka. Feeding a piece of vánočka to the cows on Christmas Eve will ensure that they will give lots of milk all year through. Putting a few vánočka crumbs in front of the bee hive will make sure that the bees will produce enough honey the next year. Throwing a piece of vánočka into the well will ensure good quality of the water.

VanockaCzech vánočka
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons