Take a festive eating tour around the world without leaving your kitchen thanks to these traditional drinks, sweet treats and side dishes.
Panettone is quite simply the bread of Italian legends. Its origins are spiritedly contested – as the best recipes tend to be – and all date back to the Middle Ages. Perhaps the most romantic of these tales purports that a penniless baker by the name of Tonio (pane di Tonio meaning Tonio’s bread) created the recipe in lieu of a more traditional dowry when his youngest daughter fell in love with a rich nobleman.
Tonio may well have been on to something: made the right way panettone is the sort of bake that you simply can’t put a price on. It combines light, flavourful, airy yet rich dough studded with dried fruit and slivers of candied peel all encased in a gorgeous, gleaming brioche-like outer layer. If you want to achieve this ambrosial end result you’ll need to dedicate yourself to the pursuit of panettone perfection and that means first nurturing a sourdough starter and then navigating the lengthy fermentation and mixing times. For those keen to embark on a Christmas holiday project this might be just the thing, but if you fancy a less intensive dabble in the world of panettone-making, the recipe that follows features all the classic flavours associated with the festive bake in mini muffin form.
Christmas chocolatada (Peru)
Cast your mind back to the hot chocolate of your childhood: rich, creamy, gently soothing and downright delicious. Now try to imagine a drink that delivers just a little bit more on the flavour front. Before you dismiss that idea as being beyond the realms of possibility, let us introduce you (by way of a sprinkling of Christmas magic) to chocolatada.
This Peruvian drink is hot chocolate elevated to a new, altogether more grown-up level. Water infused with cinnamon and cloves forms the base of this beverage and gives it a clarity of flavour that sets it apart from other similar drinks. Good quality dark chocolate provides a sophisticated, ever-so-slightly bitter note and the evaporated milk bring a textural richness and silky smooth mouthfeel that will leave you questioning if you’ll ever use regular milk to make hot chocolate again.
Although Christmas falls in the middle of the hot Peruvian summer, the drink is still consumed with gusto in December and is very much associated with this time of year. What’s more, people hold ‘chocolatadas’, where friends and family gather to celebrate the season, exchange gifts and enjoy the drink accompanied by slices of panettone. It’s also very common for charities, church groups, schools and other organisations to host charity chocolatadas to provide a treat for underprivileged children.
Rotkohl – sweet and sour red cabbage (Germany)
Cabbage might be a rather unassuming looking vegetable, yet in one form or another it finds its way onto festive tables in countries around the globe. In Lithuania sauerkraut makes up an important part of the meat-free 12-dish kucios meal enjoyed on Christmas Eve and much like Brussels sprouts and bread sauce, crispy roast potatoes and cranberries, many in the UK would consider the Christmas table bereft without a bowl of slow-cooked, gently spiced red cabbage.
It is rotkohl, Germany’s version of this dish, that might well be the most delicious though. Although it is served as an accompaniment throughout the year, during the festive period rotkohl really comes into its own, partly because its sweet-sour tang provides a lovely counterbalance to the rich roast meats eaten at this time of year. Red grape vinegar adds an essential tartness to this recipe, while apples offer a fruity note and the dried cranberries give a further festive nod.
As well as matching well with roast duck, grouse and game, rotkohl is often eaten with grilled sausages and potato salad and would make a fantastic addition to a buffet-style meal made up of Christmas leftovers. Served at room temperature (rather than hot from the hob) this might just be the condiment that makes this year’s Christmas cheeseboard the most memorable yet.
“Panettone dates back to the Middle Ages, where according to legend, a penniless baker by the name of Tonio (pane di Tonio) created the recipe as a dowry for his youngest daughter who fell in love with a rich nobleman.”
Cocoa-dusted chocolate truffles (USA)
While elaborately prepared, exquisitely presented desserts certainly have their place, sometimes just a mere mouthful of something sweet is the perfect way to end a meal. At this time of year when thoughts of diets tend to go out the window and seasonal eating takes over, this is more true than ever: a dinner without pudding seems parsimonious but equally the thought of another custard-drenched finale is a bit much.
Rich, delicate dark chocolate truffles might just be the answer. They offer a shot of sophisticated sweetness without being cloying and they feel special too – particularly if you make your own. While there’s no need to reveal this to the recipients, truffle-making is surprisingly effortless; once you’ve prepared the ganache (essentially a melted butter, chocolate and cream concoction) you can either keep things simple or add extra flavours (think coffee, orange zest or peppermint), before chilling in the fridge. Then it’s just a case of forming the chilled mixture into balls and rolling them in your chosen coating. A dusting of cocoa is simple and classic, but crushed pistachios, desiccated coconut, icing sugar and finely chopped hazelnuts will all look and taste fantastic too. Store these little beauties in an airtight container and they’ll keep in the fridge for two weeks or for a couple of months in the freezer.
Smoked salmon pâté on brown bread toasts (UK)
There’s something about smoked salmon and Christmas that just feels quintessentially British. The fish adds a decadent sense of luxury to all manner of dishes, whether served at breakfast with scrambled eggs and toast (quite the most indulgent way to start the day), paired with nutty brown bread and a smear of the finest salted butter or draped artfully over blinis and enjoyed with pre-dinner drinks.
The very best smoked salmon has a bright, clean taste, a firm texture and a delicate flavour that manages to combine the smoke, cure and fish itself without ever being overpowering. With that in mind, it’s well worth splashing out and treating yourself to premium-quality smoked salmon – it is Christmas after all. Do so and you’ll want to get the most of out the fish, which is where our pâté recipe comes into its own. Considering the amount it makes the quantity of smoked salmon required is relatively small, yet thanks to the thin strands tumbled through the pâté at the end and the delicate garnish it still delivers on flavour, texture and visual appeal.
Melomakarona – Christmas Honey Cookies (Greece)
Should you be lucky enough to find yourself in Greece around Christmastime whether you’re visiting the homes of friends and relatives, perusing the wares at a bakery or enjoying a leisurely meal in a favourite taverna, you can almost certainly look forward to encountering melomakarona.
These little honey cookies (also known as finikia) are one of the most widely observed edible holiday traditions in the country. Although recipes vary, traditionally melomakarona are made without butter or eggs (so that those abstaining from dairy for religious reasons can still enjoy them) and are most often flavoured with the festive trinity that is cinnamon, cloves and orange.
The lovely thing about these golden nuggets is that as well as being extremely tasty, they’re really rather easy to prepare. The base is made from an olive oil, flour and semolina dough which is kneaded briefly before being formed into small egg-shaped pieces and baked. Once cooked the hot-from-the-oven biscuits take it in turns to be dunked in a honey-spiced syrup. Not only does this ensure that they remain lovely and moist, the warm cookies drink up the syrupy flavour beautifully. A liberal dusting of finely chopped walnuts provides the finishing touch.
PHOTOGRAPHY & PROP STYLING: SUKAINA RAJABALI
WORDS, RECIPES, & FOOD STYLING: SARAH PRICE