fine food - Just desserts
Written by Craig Butcher
At this festive time of the year, celebrated desserts from around the world come to the fore. Rich, sweet, and so typical of their origins, each one is as individual as its maker.
Mince pies – England
Not to be confused with beef mince, nor large pies, this historic English snack is a festive-season mainstay. Originally filled with mincemeat in the 13th century, these pies were, by the late 19th century, much sweeter and celebrated recently discovered spices. A butter-pastry casing is filled with spiced raisins and currants in a sweet syrup filling accented with cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg. They can remain ‘open topped’ or enclosed in a pastry lid and dusted with icing sugar. They are usually enjoyed hot, and often.
Bûche de Noël – France
What the French so elegantly call bûche de Noël is often known elsewhere simply as a yule log. Made with a rich yellow sponge, which is then frosted with chocolate buttercream and rolled in the style of a roulade, it is then topped again with chocolate buttercream. The pièce de résistance, however, is the way it’s served – one end is deftly sliced off and placed atop the main ‘log’, adding to the tree-like appearance. The effect is completed with a dusting of snow-like icing sugar and red berries.
Certosino – Italy
The Certosino Christmas cake hails from the same northern Italian city that gave the world spaghetti bolognese, Bologna, and is named after the medieval monks of Certosa, who it‘s thought were first to make it. Also known as pan speziale or ‘spicy bread‘, it is similar to a Western European fruit cake, though drier. Often accented with star anise or cinnamon, Marsala dessert wine, and pine nuts, this round cake is steeped for several weeks, topped with candied fruits, and is enjoyed with a sweet dessert wine.
Kourabiethes – Greece
Buttery shortbread biscuits served throughout Greece, Turkey, and neighbouring regions, kourabiethes originate from 7th-century Iran. Shaped either into half-moon crescents or balls, these light desserts are often, but not always, flavoured with almonds.