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8 Christmas sweet treats from around the world

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8 Christmas sweet treats from around the world
From Belgium to Mexico, we unearth the stories behind the Christmas sweet treats that form the centrepiece for celebrations around the world
Christmas is traditionally a time to indulge in sweet treats and, depending on where you are in the world, there are various versions to try, all with one common goal—to celebrate this very special time of year. 
Here are a few festive favourites from around the world.

Belgium's "bread of Jesus"

Belgium cognou sweet bread
The sweet-leavened bread most synonymous with Christmas in Belgium is called cougnou and is also known as the “bread of Jesus”. This sweet treat hails from Hainaut, which is the westernmost province of Wallonia and the francophone region of Belgium. 
It can be made with chocolate chips, raisons or more plainly with sugar. Children usually devour a slice or two with a cup of hot chocolate on Christmas Day, as well as Saint Martin's Day.
The unique shape of the cake resembles a swaddled baby and is sometimes decorated with a small pink sugar “Jesus”, raisins or sugar pearls.

France's buche de noel

The buche de noel or “yule log cake”, comes from France and is served after Mass on Christmas Eve. The shape started in medieval times to resemble the burning of the yule log, the giant log that was put in the hearth and prevented from ever burning out completely. 
"The shape started in medieval times to resemble the burning of the yule lo"
The classic cake is a rich chocolate sponge cake filled with a tasty cream and mascarpone filling, covered with a whipped chocolate ganache and then dusted with icing sugar.
It is not uncommon to see further decorations on top, from red berries dusted with icing sugar and sprigs of holly to marzipan toadstools.

Italy's Pane di Toni

Pane di Toni
A firm favourite beyond Italy and often found in Christmas spreads is the Italian-originated panettone. It is said the sweet bread dates from 1495. 
During an extravagant Christmas banquet hosted by the Duke of Milan, the dessert was burned, so a quick thinking young cook, called Toni, created a rich brioche bread, filled with raisins and candied fruit instead.
The Duke was impressed and thus the tradition of “Pane di Toni” was born.
Interestingly Panettone must be hung upside down after baking until it cools to stop the bread from falling in on itself and to keep its signature soft and fluffy texture. 

Finland's festive tart

It isn’t Christmas in Finland without some joulutorttu, translating to “Christmas tart”. These pretty Finnish puff pastries are in the shape of a star or pinwheel and stuffed with prune jam and then dusted with icing sugar.
Prune is the original flavour but you can find apple and other versions too. 
The first mention of these tempting treats, a cross between a cookie and a tart and served with coffee after festive meals, is from the 18th century. 

Greece's Christopsomo sweet bread

Christopsomo, or “Christ’s bread”, is a classic Greek layered Christmas sweet bread holding a lot of spiritual symbolism.
Making Christopsomo, to get ready to serve it on Christmas Day, is a family tradition that dates back thousands of years and is seen as like making an offering to Christ. 
"There’s often a cross to represent Christ and sometimes symbols to show the family’s business"
The ingredients change from household to household but usually include walnuts, raisins and lightly spiced with coves and cinnamon.
Decorations also vary but there’s often a cross to represent Christ and sometimes symbols to show the family’s business, such as fish and boats.
Before cutting and serving the bread, the father of the house will bless it by making the sign of the cross. 

Germany's stollen

Slices of stollen cake at Christmas
Stollen is a yeasted, spiced cake, filled with marzipan, candied fruit, raisins and nuts. It is said to have originated in 1329, in Dresden, during a contest started by the Bishop of Nauruburg.
The Bishop enjoyed the winning entry so much that he ordered a select quantity of grain reserved solely for making the sweet bread.  
In the beginning, the weighty baked breads were cumbersome, weighing around 30 pounds each.
Every year a string of horses parade a huge stollen through the streets of Dresden on the Saturday before the second Sunday of Advent.

England's Christmas pudding

Christmas cake is seen up and down the country during Christmas festivities, a dense fruit cake with a marzipan and royal icing topping. 
It was originally plum porridge and created to line people’s stomachs after a long day of religious fasting.
"It was originally plum porridge and created to line people’s stomachs"
Later other fruits and honey were added, leading to Christmas pudding, then in the 16th century, flour and eggs were added and it resembled the kind of fruitcake known today.
Spices were added to symbolise the three wise men and wealthier families wrapped the cakes in marzipan—a tradition that has stuck until today—with icing being a norm for the top. 

Mexico's flat fritters

Buñuelos de Rodilla are fritters served during Christmas. They are addictive whether served plain or doused in a cinnamon-anise syrup.  
Translating to “knee fritters”, this is due to the flat disks of translucent dough being shaped upon the knees of women. The golden fritters are served with atole blanco, a warm corn-based drink, hot chocolate or champurrado, a corn-based hot chocolate. 
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