Wishing you and yours a Merry Christmas! Having a roast pig for Christmas Eve/Christmas – lechón – is a major tradition in Puerto Rico and Cuba, and it is one of our favorites. Consequently there are many songs that extoll the virtues of the humble pig. In honor of the lechón-filled holiday, here’s one of our favorite Christmas lechón songs: “La Fiesta de Pilito” by Puerto Rico’s stalwart musical group. El Gran Combo.
Here are the most important lyrics:
A comer pasteles y a comer lechón
Arroz con guandules y a beber ron
Que venga morcilla, venga de todo
To eat tamales and eat roast pork
Rice with pigeon peas and drink rum
Let blood sausage arrive, let everything arrive
We hope you are having a delicious holiday – maybe with some lechón!
Today is St. Lucia’s Day, a day I have always associated with Scandinavia, though St. Lucia’s Day is also a big deal in parts of Italy. She is particularly venerated in Sicily, where she is the patron saint of Siracusa. One of the typical dishes you would eat for the Feast of Santa Lucia, and throughout the Christmas season, in Italy is Cuccìa. Cuccìa is a dish made of boiled wheatberries and sugar, and can have a variety of other add-ins including almonds ricotta, candied fruit, chocolate, or even chickpeas. I am not a major fan of porridges, but I have never tried wheat berries in this context, so I think I am willing to give it a try! According to tradition, no wheat is eaten on St. Lucia’s Day except for the Cuccìa. You can find a variety for sweet or (more rarely) savory Cuccìas, but feel free to improvise your own. Here are some versions from Slow Food, Mama Lisa and Serious Eats (pictured below). Don’t forget the accent on the I when you are searching though, without the accent, the word “cuccia” means “dog’s bed!”
Photograph: Vicky Wasik for Serious Eats
Happy first day of Hanukkah – now it’s time for the treats! We wrote a little bit about the classic Sephardic Jewish dessert fritters, Buñuelos, in the past. However, we underestimated just how popular these little fried dough treats from Spain were. Though they are symbolic Hanukkah dish, and the frying of the dough represents the oil that burned for 8 nights, Buñuelos are also enjoyed as a Christmas treat. Buñuelos, (aka Bimuelos, Burmuelos, among other names) were initially created by Spanish moriscos centuries ago, but have since spread in popularity across Latin America.
Just how many Buñuelos varieties are there out there? It’s hard to say, but here we have tried to compile just a few variations on the humble Buñuelo:
Can you believe that it is already December 1st? I know I can’t. Today the first of our holiday decorations went up, and I am scheming about which holiday recipes to make first (maybe something with gingerbread?) In conducting a search for holiday recipes, I came across a Christmas classic from the Philippines: Bibingka. Bibingka is a coconut cake made with rice flour and topped with coconut, duck eggs and even cheese. In the Philippines, you will see bibingka sellers peddling these cakes on the street around the holiday season. The traditional way to make bibingka is in a terracotta pot lined with banana leaves, cooked over open coals. However, bibingka has now adapted to the contemporary kitchen, and you can make it in a conventional oven. The following bibingka recipes vary a bit, but the rice flour is a must: Kawaling Pinoy Recipe, Panlasang Pinoy Recipe, New York Times Recipe, Zestuous Recipe. Asian in America Mag has a version of mini bibingka that are cooked in muffin tins with banana leaf “liners.”
Hope everyone in the US has a lovely and delicious Thanksgiving! We are looking forward to some turkey and mashed potatoes – and cherry pie!
There is a theme with some Day of the Dead treats to be a bit literal – and usually that involves some form of bones! Pan de muerto is demarcated with a crisscross of bones on the top and ossi dei morti literally look like white, powdery bones! Spanish “saints bones” (huesos de santo) follow this trend, and are a bone-like, tubular marzipan with an egg yolk filling (sometimes squash). Maybe that filling is supposed to resemble bone marrow (cool! gross!)? Spain Recipes, Blue Jellybeans and The Spruce have recipes to DIY your own saints’ bones. These cookies originate from Madrid and have a history that stretches all the way back to the 17th century! Along with panellets and buñuelos, you’ll find these typical treats in many Spanish bakeries.
From Spain Recipes: Some accounts attribute their origin to 17th century Madrid, a theory that’s supported by their mention in Francisco Martínez Montiño’s cookbook, Arte de Cozina, Pastelería, Vizcochería y Conservería (The Art of Cooking, Pastries, Cakes and Preserves). Written in 1611, the book states that these sweets were “made to commemorate all the Saints and all the dead at the beginning of November”.
Candy corn is one of the most divisive candies on Halloween – one ETW member thinks it was one of the worst candies you could get trick or treating (better than raisins but worse than Tootsie Rolls), while the other member just willingly bought a bag of candy corn to consume by themselves. Whether or not you are pro candy corn or not, it seems like it has been a part of Halloween forever. According to the National Confectioners Association, more than 35 million pounds (or 9 billion pieces) of candy corn will be produced this year. And candy corn HAS been around a long time – it originated in the US sometime in the 1880s, but was first commercially produced by Wunderle company, and production of candy corn was taken up by the Goelitz Candy Company by 1898 (the ancestor of the current Jelly Belly Company). It was originally called “chicken feed,” which appealed to the agrarian sensibilities of America at the time. Candy corn has been popular ever since! Though now automated, the process of making candy corn was originally very time-consuming, and each color was individually poured into molds and had to harden before the next layer was added. if you are really a fan, you can even make your own homemade candy corn!
It’s that time of year – Halloween, Day of the Dead and All Saint’s Day are right around the corner – which means it is time for special holiday treats! Like in Latin America, All Saints’ and All Souls Day in Italy (especially in Sicily) is not a morbid affair, it is an occasion to celebrate your family and ancestors. It also used to be one of the few days a year children in Italy would get presents, said to be brought by their dead ancestors. Italy is big on treats for Ognissanti – All Saint’s Day – and we have previously featured Torrone dei Morti and Ossi dei Morti, classic Italian treats. One of the most common treats you will find in Italian bakeries this time of year, along with fanciful marzipan shapes – Frutto Martorana– is pan dei morti (bread of the dead). Though it sounds similar to Latin American Pan de Muerto, these two holiday treats are very different. Italian Pan dei Morti is a cocoa biscotti-like cookie filled with fruits and nuts. You can check out recipes for Pan dei Morti at Linda’s Italian Table and Passion and Cooking (seen below).
The Hindi festival of lights – Diwali – is right around the corner on October 19th. The Indian diaspora is found all over the world, meaning that Diwali, and its collection of sweets called mithai, have traveled with them. You can check out our previous coverage of Diwali treats on the blog. Today, we’re celebrating Diwali Trinidad-style with Kurma. Trinidad has a long Indian heritage, so unsurprisingly, Indian treats are a big thing on the island. Kurma are ginger and cinnamon-spiced fried dough sticks in a sweet glaze, and though associated with holidays in Trinidad, they can now be found year-round. You can try your hand at Trinidadian Kurma with recipes from Simply Trini Cooking (seen below) and Trini Gourmet.
Shanah Tovah – Happy New Year! Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, is always celebrated with a special meal of symbolic foods – especially those emphasizing the sweetness of the new year, traditionally represented by apples and honey. Every year though, we try to find some non-traditional Rosh Hashanah foods from around the world to spice things up a bit. Serious Eats has three international menus from Forward featuring Rosh Hashanah foods from Iran, Turkey and India. Some highlights include Turkish pumpkin bread, Persian chickpea cakes, and Indian Lamb Biryani (seen above). We were also intrigued by the Chicago Tribune’s recipe for Moroccan Chicken. If you are still looking for more sweet treats, Serious Eats has 18 modern takes on Rosh Hashanah dessert favorites. In any case, you can never go wrong with a little babka.
We are currently in Portugal for the 4th of July, which got us thinking about whether or not we could put together a US-style cookout here. Being abroad has definitely enlightened us to what other countries think of American food, and what American foods have just not crossed the ocean. Previously, we had lamented the lack of peanut butter – we had found some at an Indian grocery – but now we have found jars twice at run-of-the-mill grocery stores at semi-reasonable prices. So it seems that peanut butter is making in-roads, but there is still a dearth of BBQ and tacos. At the Continete megastore (think WalMart) in the gigantic Colombo Mall we saw an American food section in the “foreign foods” aisle – but it consisted mostly of Old El Paso products. Burgers and craft beer, two staples of the 4th of July cookout are actually getting to be pretty popular in Lisbon, especially burgers. Case in point, the aptly named “American Music Burguer” we spotted near the University.
Though cookouts in Portugal usually include fish, if you are planning to do an American-style 4th of July cookout, most fresh meats, fruits and veggies should be readily available. However, we have also found a resource to get the esoteric-to-Portugal ingredients you may need – the “American store.” Yes in Portugal, there is a such a thing as an American store – Liberty Store (Largo de São Sebastião da Pedreira 9D, 1050-010 Lisboa). Liberty Store is stocked with such goodies as Pringles, Pancake Syrup, Beef Jerky, Barbecue Sauce, Funfetti cake mix, and the like. The strangely-named Glood (several Lisbon locations) has products from all over the world, including a sizeable US selection, with a few slightly healthier options. The products available at either store are only the most mass market of mass market – but each definitely carries products you cannot find elsewhere. Liberty Store even has solo cups, an essential to every 4th of July cookout!
Today, May 22, is Victoria Day, a holiday to celebrate historical British monarch Queen Victoria’s birthday. Of all places, this is not a holiday in the UK, but in Canada! One classic treat to have on this date is Victoria Sandwich, named for the queen. Despite the name, this is not what North Americans would think of when they hear the word sandwich – it is actually a cake! Another name for this treat is Victoria sponge (as in sponge cake), and it consists of two sponge cakes filled with raspberry jam and cream in the middle. I first heard of this cake when it was referenced many times on the Great British Bake-Off! You can find a recipe for a classic Victoria Sandwich on BBC GoodFood, Jamie Oliver and Urban Hounds.
Victoria Sponge by Gordon Plant
It’s almost May – which means Spring is finally here (hopefully)! May Day marks a traditional Spring Festival in Germany celebrated with merriment, food, and of course – the iconic maypole / maibaum. One of the most traditional offerings at any German May Day Festivity is Maibowle – or May Wine – made with white wine infused with Sweet Woodruff syrup. Personally, I had never heard of Sweet Woodruff – it is a sweet, pleasantly-scented wild flower native to Europe – and it is called Waldmeister in German. Food.com has a recipe to make your own Maibowle, if you can get your hands on some Sweet Woodruff. Sweet Woodruff can also be used in a variety of desserts as a flavoring, and you can even buy Waldmeister syrup online. The Oma Way has a tasty-sounding recipe for Sweet Woodruff cheesecake, and Spoonfuls of Germany has a recipe for Waldmeister ice cream, for those of us with a sweet tooth.
A German Maibaum by Awaya
Today is Easter Monday, celebrated in Cleveland as Dyngus Day! We haven’t had much time to post recently, so even though we are a little late to the party, we figure there’s still a little time to share some Easter bread, this time with a local influence. In Cleveland there has historically been a large Czech population, especially in the appropriately-named Slavic Village neighborhood, which also hosted a large Polish population. One of the most traditional Czech Easter foods is Mazanec – an leavened sweet bread with dried fruit and raisins, served primarily at Easter. Mazanec is considered a cousin of the English hot cross bun, and sometimes also has a cross shape on top. You can try making Mazanec for your spring celebrations with a recipe from Honest Cooking.
We are always looking for unique dishes for holidays – and for Passover we decided to go beyond the typical charoset and matzoh concoctions (not that there’s anything wrong with those, and this recipe does also include matzoh). This sunny citrus, almond and walnut cake comes to Istanbul via the Sephardic Jewish communities of Spain. Sounds pretty good, right? You may also notice that “Gato” seems similar to the French word for cake, and is indeed the Ladino spelling for the French “gateau.”
I found a few scattered references to this online, but they all seemed to trace back to a recipe from The Book of Jewish Food (1996) by Claudia Roden, featuring recipes from around the world that put a focus on diverse Jewish populations and history. Hannah’s Nook has a recipe, and the following excerpt from Claudia Roden herself:
“One of the gastronomic successes of Sephardi culture is the very wide range of Passover cakes made with almonds or nuts instead of flour, which are characteristic of the communities. Some, like the orange cakes, have a dististinctly Iberian character. This is the Passover cake of Istanbul. Moist and aromatic, with a delicate orange flavour, it can well be served for dessert.”
In France, April 1st is known as “Poisson D’Avril” which translates to “April Fish.” Much like April Fool’s Day, pranks are rampant, and on Poisson D’Avril the goal is to tape a paper fish to the back of an unsuspecting person. It also means that there is a proliferation of all things fish. Chocolate fish are one particularly popular option, and can be found in stores throughout France. Making your own chocolate fish at home is super easy – AllRecipes has a detailed guide. Aside from the chocolate, all you need is a fish-shaped candy mold (there are tons of options). The Spruce has a recipe for molded chocolates filled with chocolate ganache for even more fun.
Chocolate Fish by Caliparisien
For today’s Pastry Post-Doc we are going Irish for St. Patrick’s Day. Even though St. Patrick’s Day is more popular in the US than in Ireland, Irish recipes are a must. We try to feature a different Irish recipe here every year – nothing artificially green allowed! For a sweet treat a little more authentically Irish than a Shamrock Shake – try making a Donegal oatmeal cream. This simple Irish dessert is similar to a trifle, and is composed of fresh fruit, jam, cream and whole Irish oat grains, aka steel-cut oats in the US. European Recipes has the full scoop on how to make Donegal oatmeal cream (seen below).
This weekend marks the Jewish holiday of Purim, a holiday full of costumes, merrymaking and of course the signature Purim treat, hamantaschen. The last time we wrote about hamantaschen several years ago we just covered a classic recipe. However, hamantaschen’s simple ingredients and shape, basically a sweet pastry triangle wrapped around jam, lends itself to improvisation. Buzzfeed (who else) has a compilation of 32 out-there Hamantaschen recipes including savory tomato and feta and peanut butter and chocolate. Bon Appetit has 5 savory riffs on Hamantaschen with international flair from Spain, India and beyond. New and trendy fillings for Hamantaschen have even taken Israel by storm.
Here a few more riffs on the Purim classic if you are feeling adventurous:
One of our favorite – but lesser known in the US – food holidays is right around the corner: St. Joseph’s Day. St. Joseph’s Day is widely celebrated in Italy and the among the Italian diaspora in the US and elsewhere on March 19th. We have previously covered some St. Joseph’s Day sweet treats, including the perennial favorite zeppole. However, one of the showstoppers on St. Joseph’s Day is actually St. Joseph’s Bread (Pane di San Giuseppe). You can find recipes for Pane di San Giuseppe at Kitchen Link and Mangia Bene Pasta. It is a bit more of a complicated bread, but it also allows for it to be sculpted into equally complicated shapes, like staffs, carpentry tools, and wheat, which are a must on the St. Joseph’s Day table. This altar below, from Trapani in Sicily is probably as detailed as you can get!