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4 traditional Christmas bakes from across Europe

6 traditional Christmas bakes from across Europe

by Great British Chefs 06 December 2019

Ancient grains have long been the backbone of baking in colder parts of Europe. Get to know more about six lesser-known time-honoured Christmas bakes that are popular in different pockets of the continent.

Regardless of whether you like them or not, Christmas in the UK isn’t Christmas without the presence of things like Christmas pudding, Christmas cake, Yule logs and mince pies. It’s impossible to imagine December without seeing Christmas puddings in the aisles of your local supermarket, or discussing the virtues of mince pies with your workmates. Go elsewhere in Europe, though, and the topics of culinary conversation differ. The beauty of Europe is that all countries have their own Christmas traditions and foods, many of which we don’t know here in Britain.

Baking is something we all have in common, regardless of where we come from. Part of this is rooted in the idea of Christmas being a time for family, and therefore a time to feed the masses, but it’s also the middle of winter and baking is an effective way of creating something satisfying for lots of people. Most traditional British recipes use wheat flour – for the most part our climate has always suited wheat – but as you move further north or east, that isn’t always the case. Ancient grains like spelt and rye are hardier and far more suited to colder temperatures, so many traditional Christmas Scandinavian bakes lean towards these nutritious grains. Doves Farm produces some of the best ancient grain flours in the UK, giving home bakers the chance to recreate these time-honoured delicacies in their own kitchens.

If you’re looking for something a bit different to bake for family and friends this Christmas, read on – you might find something interesting that takes your fancy!

Gingerbread (Germany)

Gingerbread comes in all sorts of shapes, sizes and textures, but at Christmas it really comes into its own. Gingerbread houses, for example, originated in sixteenth-century Germany, but loaves of gingerbread, gingerbread biscuits and ginger cakes became popular across the whole of Europe during the festive season. Whole festivals and fairs were dedicated to ginger-flavoured delicacies, often decorated or stamped into the shapes of animals or saints.

While gingerbread is now a favourite across much of Europe during Christmastime, Germany is still regarded as having the best and most varied selection of ginger-flavoured treats. Many of them are made with spelt or rye flour, as the nutty, deep flavour complements the spice of the ginger perfectly, making the overall taste much more interesting and longer-lasting than when using plain flour. This spelt and ginger loaf cake, created in partnership with Doves Farm, is testament to that; full of rich, warming and festive spices, the zingy clementine icing drizzled all over the top adds a freshness that really transforms the entire bake.

Joululimppu (Finland)

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Christmas in Finland just isn’t the same without a slice of joululimppu – families all over the country bake these rye loaves to celebrate the season (if you were ever in doubt, joululimppu literally translates as ‘Christmas bread’). The deep, earthy backbone given by the rye flour is sweetened with treacle, whilst bitter orange peel, fennel and caraway give the loaf a distinctively festive aroma. Not only does the rye make it last well during the winter, it also balances the sweetness, making this just as delicious with a slice of smoked salmon as it is with a swipe of butter.

Speculaas (The Netherlands, Germany, Belgium, Austria)

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Speculaas are baked, eaten and hung on Christmas trees in The Netherlands, Germany, Belgium and Austria around the time of Christmas and Saint Nicholas Day. These biscuits vary between countries and towns, but they tend to be heavily spiked with spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, ginger, cardamom and white pepper (this can be traced back to the influence of the Dutch East India Company). They’re then baked in moulds into a vast array of seasonal shapes. Flours vary too, but often you’ll find these baked with spelt, which lends a wonderful depth that contrasts with the sweetness.

Ruiskakut (Finland)

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Made with nothing more than rye flour, butter and sugar, ruiskakut are perfect for those who shy away from mounds of ground spices and rich, buttery bakes. In Finland, families bake ruiskakut in December and then tie them in bundles or hang them on the Christmas tree as decorations; whenever a guest comes into the house, they’re invited to pick their favourite and eat it.

Vörtbröd (Sweden)

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Vörtbröd is almost unheard of outside of Sweden, but it’s an essential part of Christmas festivities in the country. This fermented rye loaf is baked with cardamom, clove, orange peel and ground ginger, but most importantly with wort – the liquid by-product that comes from the mashing process when brewing beer or whisky. The wort provides the liquid for the bread but also the sweetness, as it contains sugars like maltose and maltodextrin from the brewing process. If you want to tackle Christmas like a true Swede, serve your vörtbröd with gubbröra (chopped egg and anchovies) and pickled herring!

Mince pies (UK)

Mince pies in the shops tend to be made with plain flour these days, but traditionally they would have been made from whatever was available – often rye or spelt flours. The richer, earthier taste of spelt works particularly well with the sweet mincemeat filling, preventing the pie from becoming cloying, while the texture of the pastry itself is much crumblier and flavourful than those made with wheat flour. Try making the recipe above and see for yourself!

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