Holiday Recipes from Around the World
Happy Holidays! We asked Classic Journeys guides around the globe to share their favorite holiday recipes, and show us how we can bring their country cooking traditions into our homes this season.
France: Bûche de Noël
“You may also hear this called a yule log!” says Frederique, our guide on the ground in France. “Some people decorate a ready-made Swiss roll, but the French version uses a very light genoise sponge, freshly made and gently rolled up. The tradition of a log-shaped cake comes from the middle ages, when it would be made to celebrate the winter solstice. It evolved into the bûche de Noël we love today, in the hands of creative Parisian chefs.”
Ingredients for a French bûche de Noël
4 cups of chocolate buttercream: Buy ready-made, or make it yourself and add your own flavors (I recommend espresso powder, or orange oil).
Powdered sugar for dusting.
Any festive decorations you like, such as berries or holly leaves, moe chocolate…
For the cake:
4 large eggs
2/3 cups of sugar
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
A pinch of salt
How to make a French bûche de Noël
Preheat the oven to 400F.
Take a 10 x 15 inch baking sheet (not flat, needs a rim). Grease and line it, then spray with cooking oil (the cake is so delicate, you do not want it stuck to the tin!)
Beat the eggs using an electric whisk for three to five minutes until thick and fluffy. Add the sugar, vanilla and salt, continue whisking for two more minutes.
Fold in the flour, using a spatula, a tablespoon at a time. Be careful not to overmix.
Spread the cake mix into the pan and smooth down gently.
Bake for 10 minutes, until springy and golden.
Tip onto a clean kitchen towel and carefully peel off the paper.
Lightly score an inch in on the short side of the cake, then carefully fold and roll. Leave to cool in the roll.
Get the buttercream ready.
Unroll the cooled cake carefully. Spread on the buttercream about a quarter inch thick, leaving an inch border around the edge. Roll it back up. Trim the ends of the roll. Cover with the remaining butter cream. Decorate however you like! You can add an extra layer of meleted chocolate, drag a butter knife or fork over gently to make the tree bark effect, sprinkle with powdered sugar, like snow, add grated chocolate, berries, holly leaves, whatever you like!
Iceland: Laufabrauð (leafbread)
Classic Journeys guide Atli in Iceland says “Laufabrauð making is a winter tradition in Iceland that brings families together around the dining table. It uses a simple dough, rolled very thin, as thin as a leaf—hence the name! The rule is that you have to be able to read a newspaper through it. Flour used to be so difficult to get hold of in Iceland, that it was used only on special occasions and even then, stretched as thin as possible to make a little go a long way. The fun part is cutting the shapes out of the dough, we used to call it snowflake bread! We have a special tool called a Laufabrauðsjárn, but I imagine they are almost impossible to find in America, so a fork or knife works too.”
Ingredients for Icelandic leafbread
3.5oz whole milk
3 tablespoons of water
1 tablespoon of unsalted butter
1 cup + 1/3 cup flour
4 tablespoons of cornstarch
Half teaspoon of baking powder
2 teaspoons of sugar
Pinch of salt
Olive oil (or any vegetable oil) for frying
How to make leafbread
Melt together the milk, water and butter, in a pan or in the microwave.
Mix together the dry ingredients in a bowl.
Pour the melted butter mix into the dry ingredients. Knead into a dough, keep kneading for about 7 minutes.
Cover and leave to stand for 10 minutes.
Divide into 12 equal pieces.
Recover. Take one piece and roll it until it is very thin (remember you should be able to read the newspaper through it!) and about 6 inches diameter. You can cut around a side plate to make it perfectly round.
Continue with the other pieces, placing paper towel between each one.
Decorate by making cuts on the surface using a fork or sharp knife. Place back under a sheet of paper when cut.
Heat a saucepan of oil to 345F. Add the bread for a few seconds on each side, until golden.
Place between paper towel to drain the oil.
Once cool, you can eat or store in a tin and enjoy!
England: Mince Pies
“Mince Pies are enjoyed throughout advent here in England” Diane, our England guide, tells us “with a cup of tea at any time of day, after a Boxing Day walk with family, at carol concerts…the list goes on! We also leave a mince pie or two out for Father Christmas on Christmas Eve! These pies are basically pastry filled with mincemeat – a mixture of dried fruit and spices. You can eat them warm or cold, alone or with custard or cream.”
Ingredients for British Mince Pies
Powdered sugar for dusting.
1lb shortcrust pastry: Buy it ready made from a grocery store, use a packet mix or make your own from scratch, I use Paul Hollywood’s recipe, (anyone who watches the Great British Baking Show will know who I mean!) https://www.paulhollywood.com/post/sweet-pastry
1 jar of mincemeat: Americans can buy Borden None Such Classic mincemeat in big grocery stores, or you can make your own. My mincemeat recipe makes 4 jars (which last for months, so you can make it in advance, and don’t have to cook it all at once!)
How to make mincemeat
Gently heat the following in a pan for 10 minutes:
8oz of suet or butter
8oz of apples (peel and core removed, grated)
4oz of candied orange peel, chopped
8oz of golden raisins
8oz of raisins
8oz of zante currants or dried cranberries
6oz of light brown sugar
1 tsp mixed spice
1 orange, grated zest, then juiced
Cool, then mix in:
2fl oz of brandy or sherry
Store in sterilized jars.
How to make mince pies—
Preheat your oven to 400F.
Roll out the pastry to about 1/8 of an inch. Cut into circles (about 3-4 inches) that fit into your muffin tin and fill the sides.
Fill each pie ¾ full with mincemeat.
Cut a pastry star and place on top. You could also cover with a round of shortcrust, or puff pastry if you prefer.
Bake 20 minutes. Dust with powdered sugar. Enjoy with a lovely cup of English tea!
“I know elsewhere in the world, Sufganiyot Jelly Doughnuts are a Hanukkah staple. Here in Morocco,” says Saida, “we have sfenj! They are also a very popular street food, you will smell them before you see them in medina food stalls, a delicious doughy sweetness in the air! These doughnuts are not like Krispy Kremes, they’re more rustic and uneven, lovely and crispy on the outside, then chewy on the inside. I like to eat them with a hot cup of Moroccan coffee.”
Ingredients for Moroccan sfenj
2 teaspoons of yeast
¼ cup, and separately 1 cup of warm water
3 cups of all-purpose flour
1 pinch of salt
Vegetable oil for frying
Powdered sugar for dusting
How to make sfenj
Dissolve the yeast in the ¼ cup of water, put to the side for 10 minutes.
Mix the flour, salt and cup of water in a larger bowl. Add in the yeast and stir everything until a smooth, thick batter.
Cover with a towel, let it rise for 3 hours, or until it has doubled in size.
Pour the oil into a deep pan, about 3 inches, then heat until 350F to 400F – very hot!
Then take a golf ball amount of dough and make a hole in the middle using your finger. Stretch it until it forms a ring. (My grandmother’s tip – wet your hands with water each time you pick up dough, it stops your fingers getting sticky!)
Carefully place in the oil using a spoon. Repeat with more dough, I usually do three or four at a time. Cook, turning until both sides are golden brown.
Drain the oil on paper towel. Dust in the sugar (Another tip – I sometimes add cinnamon too). Eat hot!
Costa Rica: Melcolchas de Natilla
“I’m telling you” our Costa Rica guide, Kenneth, insists “it isn’t a Tico Christmas without Melcolchas de Natilla! Many people buy them ready made, but our family like to make them every year, and give them as gifts. Imagine a packed kitchen, loud Latin music, kids running around, and the rest of us forming an operation line making Melcolcha. They only need 2 ingredients, one of them is Costa Rican natilla (like a custard), but you can also use sour cream or Mexican crema.”
Ingredients for Costa Rican Melcolchas de Natilla
1 cup of natilla, Mexican crema or sour cream
3 cups of granulated sugar
How to make Costa Rican Melcolchas de Natilla
Boil both ingredients in a pan, stirring constantly, until they become golden. Pour out onto a large sheet and leave to cool. Roll into a ball, knead and stretch. Some families roll into a rope then cut (like the ones you buy in a store), others make rounds or ball shapes, we cut them into cubes. Get creative! Then share and enjoy.
Classic Journeys Norway guide, Vibeke, tells us “We make a lot of gingerbread in Norway during the holidays! In Bergen, we even have a gingerbread city, with hundreds of different buildings! Pepperkaker (it translates to pepper cakes) are spicy, snappy cookies. They’re very easy to bake and you can make any shape, stars, hearts, snowflakes, people… When my sons were younger, we would make and decorate gingerbread houses. This year, I made hearts, and hung some in my windows for decoration!”
Ingredients for Norwegian Pepperkaker cookies
1 cup + 2 tbsp unsalted butter
2 cups of granulated sugar
1/4 cup + 2 tbsp light syrup (you can use a mix of light corn syrup and maple syrup, but golden syrup on Amazon is best)
A third cup of heavy cream
3 cups + 1 tbsp flour
2 teaspoons of baking soda
1 tablespoon of ground ginger
1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
Icing: use a ready made cookie icing pen, or make your own, with 1 tablespoon of lemon juice, 4 cups powdered sugar and water (to thin if needed.)
How to make Norwegian Pepperkaker cookies
Melt butter the butter, syrup, heavy cream and powdered sugar together in a saucepan, or in the microwave, stirring every 30 seconds, then leave to cool for a few minutes.
Add the flour, baking soda and spices. Mix into a dough, then cover and chill (2 hours minimum, ideally overnight).
Pre-heat oven to 350F and line two cookie sheets.
Roll out your dough on a floured surface to about a quarter inch thick. Cut out using cookie cutters, or shape however you like with a knife. If you’re making cookies to hang on your tree, remember to make a hole for the ribbon!
Place on the cookie sheet and bake for 10 minutes.
While the cookies cool, mix the icing ingredients in a bowl and pour into piping bags, or take your ready-made cookie icing and decorate your cookies however you please!
“I promise you” says Marinella in Greece, “mention the word ‘melomakarona’ to any Greek at any time of year and their eyes will glaze over with fond memories and they will say “aaaah!” These Greek honey cookies are soft, sweet, bites, and also dairy free. Every home in Greece smells like these (sugary, citrusy, delicious!) in December.”
Ingredients for Greek Melomakarona cookies
2 cups of extra virgin olive oil
1 cup of sugar
Half a cup of brandy
Half a cup of orange juice
Zest of 1 orange
2 teaspoons of cinnamon
7.5 cups flour
2 teaspoons of baking powder
1 teaspoon of baking soda
1 cup of walnuts, chopped
(for the syrup)
1 cup of honey
2.5 cups of sugar
1 and 1/4 cup of water
How to make Greek Melomakarona cookies
Heat the oven to 350F.
Mix together the oil, brandy, orange juice and zest, cinnamon and sugar.
Separately mix the flour, baking powder and baking soda.
Stir the flour into the bowl of wet ingredients, one spoon at a time, then knead the dough lightly, don’t over knead it!
Roll into small balls, press flat into an oval, and place on a cookie sheet. With a fork, lightly press each cookie (you’re making little holes for the honey to soak through later.)
Bake for 25 minutes. Flip upside down and leave to cool.
In a pan, heat the honey, water and syrup, then pour it over the cookies, completely covering every cookie. Sprinkle with the chopped walnuts, then leave them to sit for a couple of hours, then enjoy!