We baked Christmas cookies, we made traditional Greek melomakarona and now we felt that it is time for an aromatic and grand Christmas cake. It may be a British tradition, but when combined with our local ingredients, flavors and aromas it may deservedly earn a place on our festive table. Indeed, it can become very impressive, as it offers ground for expressing ourselves creatively, with classic or more original decorations.
So, in our new sweet Christmas article we will see impressive Christmas cakes from other countries and we will bake our own, prepared with extra virgin olive oil, flavored with spices, decorated with a spicy strawberry jam cream… and sprinkled with walnuts, bran sticks and lots of love!
Our sweet article begins with a Greek Christmas story full of warm images, beautiful melodies and sweet traditions, along with good thoughts like those we like so much.
This is a sweet fairytale about mr. Walnut, a walnut whose dream was to get inside the Christmas cake. He lived in the Walnut Village, where every night Mrs Walnut Tree would put her walnuts to sleep with the lullaby of Virgin Mary, the one She used to sing to the Holy Child. In the past, an icon of Virgin Mary was found by the roots of Mrs Walnut Tree… and so her walnuts were blessed.
Every year in the Walnut Village, a month before Christmas, the villagers bake the Christmas cake, as an offering to Virgin Mary. They soak it with rose water and honey to mature until Christmas Day. But mr. Walnut has a challenge to face: he will have to escape the White Warm to win his honorary place in the festive cake…
In this sweet fairytale, Greek and British traditions blend, as Christmas cake is a British trademark. But other countries make festive cakes too, for Christmas or New Year’s Eve, like the Greek Vasilopita (meaning a king’s pie, a cake we make for New Year’s Eve). We will get back to Vasilopita in another article! For now, let’s go see some other countries’ traditions, to get inspired for our own sweet creations!
England: Christmas Cake and Twelfth Night Cake
Τhe British Christmas Cake dates back to the 16th century and is an evolution of the Christmas pudding. It is prepared with eggs, flour and butter, with spices symbolizing the gifts of the Three Wise Men, along with dried fruit -so, it’s a fruit cake. It is traditionally baked one to three months before Christmas, so that there is time for the feeding: every 2-3 days, housewives soak the baked cake with alcohol -usually brandy, sherry (a Spanish wine) or whiskey- through little holes on its surface.
It is usually covered in marzipan, a tradition inherited from the Twelfth Night Cake (a cake baked on the last of the Twelve Days of Christmas, the Epiphany). We learned that it contains three dried beans or trinkets, and those who find them in their piece of cake are crowned the Twelfth Night Kings. They give the presents to the kids and for the rest of the night get to chose the songs and the games. Twelfth Night Cakes used to be very luxurious, but they were gradually abandoned and gave their place to Christmas Cakes.
Upon the table was an immense dish, and in the dish was the biggest Twelfth-cake that the eyes of childhood had ever beheld. It was a positive monster, and whitened sugar of the most approved kind encrusted it all over.Little Grub, E H Knatchbull-Hugesson, 1874 (source)
We also learned that Christmas Cake got its contemporary form in the 19th century, when pastry chefs of the Victorian era started to decorate it with snowy scenes. Today, one can find Christmas Cakes in their traditional form -although there are also recipes that don’t call for the many-days wait- “naked” or covered in marzipan with Christmas decorations.
Panettone isn’t actually a cake, but a traditional, Italian sweet bread made during Christmas and holiday season in Italy, but also in other countries worldwide, such as many Southern American ones. It is prepared with yeast, raisins, candied fruit and nuts and baked in a tall, cylindrical mold. The final result has a light, airy texture.
According to an article of the Smithsonian magazine, Italians love Panettone so much that every year they produce 7.100 tons! The regulation for a product to be named Panettone is very strict in Italy: it has to contain at least 20% candied fruit, 16% butter and eggs with at least 4% yolk.
Panettone’s origins trace back to the 15th century, when it constituted a luxurious dessert as it was made with wheat flour, an expensive product of the times. The myth says that the noble man Ughetto fell in love with Adalgisa, a baker’s daughter, but because she belonged to a lower social class, the young men’s parents forbid him to marry her. To keep seeing her, Ughetto secretly got a job at the bakery. One day he bought butter and sugar and added them to the bread dough. And so Panettone was born. Is this story true? We will have to investigate it another time…
We all must have seen or tasted a British fruit cake and a Panettone… but what about Kransekake? It is a festive, impressive dessert served at celebrations, weddings and on Christmas in Norway, Sweden, Finland and Denmark. Kransekake in Norwegian means wreath-cake. The dessert is made with wreaths placed on top of each other to form a cone. On Christmas this cone resembles a Christmas tree and is respectively decorated.
To be exact, we read that Kransekake consists of eighteen shortbread rings with a size gradually diminished. The dough is made with almond flour, powdered sugar and egg whites. The baked rings are stacked in a pile and hold together thanks to royal icing, which works as a glue and as decoration at the same time.
The origin of Kransekake seems to be a mystery, but it possibly has a connection to Greece! This was quite unexpected… We found that it is possibly linked to Crete and this is why: Kransekake’s ancestor is overflødighetshorn which means cornucopia. It was a Kransekake horizontally placed and filled with chocolates and sweets.
Cornucopia is an object of the Greek mythology: it belonged to Amalthea, the goat that fed Zeus. When Zeus broke one of her horns, in order to to make amends, he created a mythical object that could get filled with anything one wished for. So, cornucopia became the symbol of abundance. How from Greek mythology in ended up in Scandinavian patisserie, that is another matter we will have to put on our list for future research.
All Christmas cakes looked amazing! So, in our own we decided to have something of each… From Greece we got the local products: extra virgin olive oil from Aulis, Evia and handmade strawberry jam with mint and pepper from Domokos Plateau, Fthiotida. From the British Christmas Cake we took inspiration for the winter decoration and the spices, while from the Italian Panettone we borrowed the candied fruit and the nuts. Kransekake played its role too, as it opened our appetite even more!
Eva’s Spice Cake
Every year on Christmas we bake this cake for Mrs Eva with love!
Ingredients for the spice cake
|Olive oil||75 ml|
|All-purpose flour (sifted)||150 gr|
|Baking powder||2 tsp|
|Heavy cream||110 ml|
How to make the spice cake
Put the olive oil and sugar in a bowl and whisk with a mixer for 2-3 minutes. When it gains the consistency of wet sand, add the eggs one at a time and the heavy cream, whisking constantly. Add the solids and beat until having a smooth mixture. It will be quite liquid, but don’t worry.
Fill a cake mold and bake in a preheated oven at 175°C for 50-55 minutes, or 25 minutes if using individual molds. As soon as the kitchen smells of Christmas spices it will be ready!
Ingredients for the strawberry frosting
|Cream cheese||200 gr|
|Powdered sugar||100 gr|
|Strawberry jam||2 tbsp|
How to make the strawberry frosting
Place the cream cheese (at room temperature) and powdered sugar in the mixer bowl and cream for five minutes. Add the jam and whisk to incorporate. If you want the frosting to be more firm, add some powdered sugar. Fill a pastry bag and garnish your cake.
And now our favourite time: decorating the cake… Small branches for Christmas trees, walnuts and crunchy bran sticks for a natural scene and some powdered sugar for snow. A great gift for the holidays that you will love to make, be proud of and of course devour!
We warmly thank Ellinoekdotiki publishing for the book they offered us, as well as Dolopia and Aulis companies that send us their products to support our sweet Christmas creations. Happy holidays to everyone!