The lead up to Christmas can be one of the best times to travel to Europe, not only to visit the amazing Christmas Markets that are held each year but also to sample the delicious food that plays a big part in the festivities.
Marrying into a German family many years ago, I'm now well accustomed to some of the German Christmas treats and I always look forward to indulging in my favourites when the festive season comes around.
Top of the list in our household are Lebkuchen, a spiced biscuit similar to gingerbread. These originate from Nuremberg and come in a few varieties, shapes and sizes.
My favourites are the chocolate topped ones but there are also the traditional sugar-iced lebkuchen and a glazed version, as well as ones topped with nuts. So popular are they in my house that I often have to hide a stash to make sure they last until Christmas.
We used to buy Lebkuchen each year directly from Germany - the tins they came in were almost as good as the biscuits themselves! - but thankfully, I can now buy them from my local ALDI store in Australia.
Other German Christmas treats that I've come to enjoy are Pfeffernusse, a small round biscuit made of ground nuts and spices, and Spekulatus, a thinner spiced cookie. As you can see, Germans are keen on their cookies at Christmas!
Each Christmas, my mother-in-law bakes a Stollen for us. This is the German version of a Christmas cake, made of dried fruit, nuts and spices. After baking, it is sprinkled with icing sugar. I enjoy Stollen but I find it more like a 'bread' than the fruit cakes we are used to in Australia.
Along with the Stollen, we also receive a plate of mixed cookies that Oma has baked and there's always a fight for the Vanillekipferl. These delicious crescent-shaped biscuits are made from ground hazelnuts or almonds and melt in your mouth.
The Italian Christmas cake is Panettone, a sweet, fruit-filled bread which originates from Milan.
The French also have a sweet treat at Christmas time, the Yule log, a rolled sponge cake filled with buttercream and iced with either chocolate buttercream or icing. It's name comes from the fact that it is said to resemble a log of wood.
In Sweden, a Christmas favourite is the Saffron bun, flavoured, of course, with saffron, and dark raisins. The Swedes enjoy a huge buffet at Christmas called the 'julbord' (Christmas smorgasbord) which usually consists of herring, ham and meatballs.
Mulled wine is a popular Christmas dish in many European countries. Often called gluhwine or glogg, it is red wine that is spiced, sugared and simmered (or 'mulled') and drunk warm. Just what's needed on a cold, winter night.
Gluhwine is almost always for sale at Christmas markets in Europe.
Have you tasted any traditional European Christmas treats? What's your favourite? Please share your comments below.
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