Celebrating with Sugar: Festive Desserts from Around the World

November 20, 2012 by Lydia Clarke
Category: Culture
alfajores

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, here are some holiday desserts from around the world that we’re particularly grateful for:

Two Canadian confections you’re likely to see at Canada’s Thanksgiving are butter tarts (essentially butter and sugar baked in a tart shell) and nanaimo bars, pictured below, a no-bake dessert of buttercream sandwiched between two layers of chocolate.  These decadent bars are named after the city of Nanaimo, which is also known as the "Bathtub Racing Capital of the World". Chocolate and bathtub racing? We're definitely putting this city on our short list of travel destinations.

Nanaimo Bars 

For Germans, Christmas means Christstollen, a fruitcake blanketed in powdered sugar. Formed to resemble the swaddled Christ child, it was originally made with turnip oil until a bishop petitioned the pope to lift the Advent ban on butter.

Swedes have to endure a very long and dark winter, so their annual Midsommer celebrations tend to be all-nighters. And nothing says summer like Jordgubbstårta, the classic Swedish strawberry cake made with the first fruits of the season.

Mooncakes, shown below, make their appearance at bakeries all over China (and the world’s many Chinatowns) for the Mid-Autumn Festival. The little cakes with their sweet, dense filling are so popular that the holiday is often called the Mooncake Festival.

Mooncakes

At traditional Japanese festivals, known as matsuri, you can find many delicious (and calorie-laden) foods, among them taiyaki, a fish-shaped cake made from waffle or pancake batter stuffed with red bean paste.

Korean food doesn’t traditionally include dessert, so special occasions like weddings or a child’s first birthday are a time to indulge in the rainbow-colored rice cake known as mujigae ddeok.

In Brazil, no child’s birthday party is complete without brigadeiros, the fudgy treats made of cocoa powder, butter and condensed milk elegantly displayed below. Named after a popular presidential candidate in the 1940s and ’50s, brigadeiros are often rolled in coconut flakes, nuts or sprinkles.

Brigadeiros

Chileans celebrate their country’s independence, or Fiestas Patrias, on September 18, known as Dieciocho. They finish off their traditional meal of empanadas with alfajores, pictured at the top of this post, two cookies sandwiched together with manjar (the Chilean word for caramel made with condensed milk).

During Mexico’s Día de los Muertos, altars honoring the dead are filled with candy skulls (calaveras de azucar) and pan de muerto, a sweet, eggy bread often sprinkled with sugar in knobs and stripes to represent skulls and bones. 

Asure, or Noah’s pudding, is a Turkish dessert served during Muharrem, the tenth day of the first lunar month. Made of grains, fruits and nuts, asure symbolizes the way Noah fed everyone on the Ark by combining all the food together.

For Diwali, the Hindu festival of light, Indians partake of gulab jamun, a doughnut-like dessert that dates back to the Mughal conquerors, which rounds out our display of tempting photos. To make gulab jamun, boil milk into a solid paste, fry it and then soak it in rosewater and cardamom syrup.

Gulab Jamun

As befits a month of daytime fasting and nighttime feasting, Ramadan has many special desserts. In Morocco, you might celebrate the end of Ramadan with sellou, an unbaked sweet made of sesame seeds, almonds and fried flour, or chebekia, a fried cookie soaked in honey and sprinkled with sesame.

Whatever, wherever, and whenever you celebrate, we wish you a sweet holiday filled with sugary goodness.

Photo attributions:

Nanimo bars: jazzijava

Moocakes: roboppy

Brigadeiros: tstadler

Gulab jamun: jypsygen

Alfajores: surecat

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