The beauty of culinary Lebanon lies in its fusion of tastes, flavors, and cuisines. Owing in part to the enduring effects of French imperialism as well as repatriation in the post-civil war era, Lebanese gastronomy incorporates nearly every corner of the globe. This melting pot is best manifested during Christmastime, when international novelties find their place on grocery store shelves and in patisserie windows.
From the British fruitcake to the American gingerbread cookie, every country spells out its own way of spreading Christmas cheer. Here’s an authoritative guide to holiday sweets guaranteed to add some flair to your Happy Christmas/Frohe Weihnachten/Buon Natale/Joyeux Noël!
British fruitcake is no simple affair. Prepared in the two months leading to December 25th and consistently infused with brandy to develop its taste and texture, fruitcake demands a tall order of ingredients, from currants, sultanas, candied orange peel, and cherries, to cinnamon, nutmeg, brandy and more. Bizarrely enough, fruitcake doesn’t boast a huge fan club outside the UK, but you can still locate it in Lebanon in almost every gourmet supermarket.
Stollen (or “Christstollen”) is a typical German specialty related to the British fruitcake. Heavy on dried fruit and nut morsels and dusted with powdered sugar, its loaf-like shape is meant to evoke newborn Jesus wrapped in swaddling clothes. Additionally, stollen is laced with rum or brandy for an extra buzz. Who wouldn’t be thrilled to toast prost to that?
Italy celebrates Christmas with a variant of sweet loaf hailing from Milan. Named panettone and formed into a cupola shape, the dough is cured to impart a certain fluffiness to the cake. Candied orange, lemon, and raisins are common constituents of panettone, which can be washed down with either sweet moscato or amaretto liqueur. Supermarkets throughout Lebanon are littered with these ornament-like boxed loaves, particularly in varieties as festive as profiterole.
The French forge their own path when it comes to Christmas dessert, opting for bûche de Noël intended to resemble a Yule log. Buttercream-slathered sponge cake is rolled into a log before being slathered with even more buttercream. Striations are introduced to mimic tree bark, and powdered sugar completes the earthy montage. Besides chocolate, bûche comes in crème de marrons (candied chestnut), framboise (raspberry) and café (coffee), among other flavors. Lebanese pastry shops and stores are inundated with bûches during the holiday season, but the richest are often homemade.
Traverse the Atlantic to the shores of the United States, and you’ll be bombarded with the gingerbread cookie. Fragrant with ginger, cinnamon and molasses, gingerbread biscuits are shaped into cute chubby men and iced with vanilla. Elaborate gingerbread houses can be adorned with jelly beans, red-and-white peppermint twists, and jelly fruit slices. You can even erect your own with easy-to-assemble kits that will make you the object of envy among friends and family at any Christmas party. Just beware the little ones: they’ll dismantle the gingerbread houses in no time, burying the goods in their tummies!
Contributed by Danielle Issa from Beirutista.co