Once upon a time there was a Christmas dessert


December 19, 2013 | BY Valentina Romano

This Christmas, let us tell you all about the history and traditions of the most popular sweet treats.

When streets are coloured with people walking around carrying all-sized presents and the warm tropical air is framed with ringing bells. When bright and fluorescent lights adorn houses and shops, and kids run around screaming with joy: that is the sign that Christmas is approaching. Big lunches and dinners cover the city during this worldwide celebration, which reunites families and old friends all around the same table. Kitchens begin to fill up with recipes, and everyone frantically starts working on making the best Christmas dessert. Indeed, the most important course of a Christmas meal is the ending: dessert, which should be accompanied by a warm tea or by a fresh wine as well as by the youngest loudly unwrapping their gifts. 

Every family has a Christmas traditional cake or biscuit that decorates the lively table and completes the tasty meal with a sweet and playful touch. Among all the desserts that are made during this big celebration, let us tell you the story of the three most popular ones: the Christmas pudding, gingerbread biscuits and Yule log.

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Christmas Pudding

Let’s pretend we are in a time machine and that we have the possibility to choose the exact year of the epoch we want to go to. Make sure you have your seat belt on and that you are holding on tight to the handles on your sides. Don’t worry about how to start the machine; we will take care of that. Be prepared to jump into the past to discover the origins of the Christmas pudding. There is a blinding flash while bright colours surround us. We are travelling through time, until we reach England in the 18th century. We are now in the royal kitchens of King George I and it is 1714, just after the king’s coronation. 

The Christmas pudding is almost 300 years old and since it's first appearance as a dessert to celebrate the 25th of December, this cake has strongly carried on a tradition to date. King George I, who did not have English origins but was a German-born royal, imposed the pudding as a dessert to inaugurate his first Christmas in England. As a result, in 1747, the cake was given the name of 'Christmas pudding', and began to be included in cookbooks. This dessert, which is easy to prepare, consists of several dried fruits cooked together with an egg. Flavoured with cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and other spices, the Christmas pudding is usually prepared in a juice of citrus fruits, brandy and other types of alcohol, such as beer.

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Yule Log

It’s now time to leave England and the Christmas pudding, to jump into the origins of a different dessert: the Yule Log. Are you back in your seat? Seat belts fastened? Ready to leave again? A blinding flash, bright colours around us, and we are back in the temporal whirl which is going to take us to the 17th century. Don’t worry if you feel a bit dazed, it’s normal when travelling in time. We are now in Northern Europe, during the cold and snowy winter festivities, which were celebrated to commemorate the days becoming longer, and the end of the freezing winter. 

On the 25th of December, families would bake cakes made of marzipan, calling them 'Yule logs', from the name of the festivity, which would take place around a pile of burning logs decorated with holly. The official “birth” of this dessert can be dated back to 1615, when for the first time the recipe of the cake appeared in cookbooks. This dessert is deliciously cooked with pure cocoa powder, egg, milk and flower and it is usually decorated with snow (icing sugar), santa claus’s, Holly leafs and reindeers (marzipan).

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This time we will need to use the time machine more than once, as the origins of the gingerbread cannot be dated back to just one year, but in order to better understand the history of this dessert, we must take a look at different centuries. First stop will be 1400; so get back on your seat and be ready to travel again. A blind flash, bright colours around us, and we are in Sweden in 1444. At that time gingerbread was a typical Christian food that nuns and priests would usually bake to decorate windows of their monasteries: the traditional gingerbread was a white biscuit garnished with paint. Now let’s move a few centuries forward and reach 1600, when the first written documentation of the use of gingerbread as a Christmas dessert was originally found. This biscuit was made and sold for mainly high street businesses, as ginger and the various spices used to bake the gingerbread were quite rare, and consequently, very expensive. 

Another quick time travel will forward us again to Europe in the 18th century where we will finally see this dessert as a traditional Christmas food used by both rich and poor, as its ingredients became affordable to everyone. This playful dessert is cooked with ginger, honey and molasses, and it is usually decorated with any sorts of sweets: candies and chocolate bars for gingerbread houses and colorful icing sugar for other shapes, such as men, snowflakes or Christmas stars.  

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