Christmas cakes and biscuits which contain an array of dried fruits, nuts and spices are the focus when it comes to celebrating the festive season in Spain, Portugal, France and Italy.
For Christmas in the Catholic countries of the Mediterranean, from Portugal to Spain, France to Italy, the patisseries and bakeries adorn their luminous windows with a display of traditional delicacies such as the Bolo Rei and Rosco de Reyes, Polvorones and Rousquilles, as well as the more famous Panettone. The use of flour is strong here, with a variety of fruit breads, biscuits and cakes to be found.
If your Portuguese private food and wine tour with us coincides with Christmas, be warned that you will not leave without tasting the delicious Bolo Rei, Bolo Rainha and sonho! In Portugal, there are many cakes and pastries using seasonal vegetables such as carrots, pumpkin or sweet potatoes to enhance their flavour and add moisture. An Alentejo favourite is the sonho which is a ball of dough deep fried, then rolled in sugar and cinnamon – perfect for warming cold hands! The variations of this sweet include the use of pumpkin or carrot through the dough for a deeper flavour and a denser texture. Then there are rice and milk-based sweets, with the Portuguese pudim being a type of flan and the rice pudding of arroz doce being a family favourite. Then comes the Portuguese Christmas cake, of which there are two varieties: Bolo Rei and Bolo Rainha. These breadier cakes, similar to the Italian Panettone or Spanish Rosco de Reyes are filled and topped with dried and candied fruits and nuts.
Those venturing on a Christmas custom tour of Spain will be sure to encounter the fabulous array of nut and cinnamon-based biscuits and cakes. The Spanish Christmas cake of Rosco de Reyes always has a ‘treasure’ stored inside its bready walls, and whomever receives the piece of cake in which it is contained, is given the title of ‘king or queen for the day’! In the lead-up to Christmas day, various biscuits and turrons (a sweet made of ground almonds with added flavours or whole nuts throughout, as well as nougat) are enjoyed at the family and work get-togethers. Polvorones are a typical Spanish Christmas biscuit whose heritage is Moorish, again made with almond meal to which various warm spices and butter are added to create a delicious, perfect-with-coffee treat.
In the Occitane region of France which borders Spain, the array of biscuits at Christmas time is immense! Should you be on a French Christmas Voyage in this south-western region, you will no doubt encounter the delicate French biscuits sablés des Pyrénées and Rousquilles. Sablés des Pyrénées are famous in the mountainous border between Spain and France, shortbread-like in consistency the dough is flavoured with cinnamon, walnuts and sometimes chocolate chips. Rousquilles du Roussillon on the other hand, are a simple vanilla biscuit, flavoured with anise and iced with a sugar-meringue coating taking the shape of a ring. These are the perfect adult treat, as they are not too sweet and ideal with a glass of vermouth, armagnac or port on a cold winter’s night…
The Italians being a country of sweet-lovers, also enjoy a variety of baked Christmas goodies! In Tuscany Ricciarelli are a short-bread made with almond meal, cinnamon and dusted with icing sugar, similar in flavour to Spanish Polvorones. Probably the most famous Italian Christmas cake is the Panettone, originating in Milan 500 years ago, a type of sponge cake made with eggs, yeast, milk and flour, containing dried fruit within. It is very light and has a simple bread-like flavour, again ideal when consumed with liquors such as the Italian vin santo or grappa.
On a Gourmet Tour of Italy over the festive period, you will have the benefit of our knowledgeable guides escorting you to the variety of delicious regional Christmas cakes such as Panettone or the moreish Ricciarelli biscuits.
The warm spices and dried fruits and nuts used in these biscuits and bready cakes are sure to warm your palate as well as your heart when you visit southern Europe for Christmas time. If you are tempted by the idea of fireplaces, a smattering of snow and wonderful Mediterranean hospitality; do not hesitate to contact us and we can create the ideal customised tour for your European Christmas!