The most typical Christmas cakes in southern Europe

Christmas cakes in southern Europe are a serious affair with a long tradition. 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 Christmas cakes and sweets, such as the Bolo Rei, turron, Rosco de Reyes, Polvorones and Rousquilles, and of course, Panettone. All these southern European Christmas cakes and biscuits are made with a base of dried fruits, nuts and spices, some of them with a touch of honey.

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 Christmas cakes and pastries using seasonal vegetables such as carrots, pumpkin or sweet potatoes to enhance their flavour and add moisture. A favourite Alentejo Christmas dessert 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. Christmas cake in southern Europe is all about fruit 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, as well as Christmas cake, various biscuits and turrons (a sweet made of ground almonds with added flavours or whole nuts throughout, as well as nougat) are enjoyed at 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.

Rousquilles – French Christmas tradition in a biscuit!

Another delicious southern European Christmas cake are Rousquilles in the Occitane region of France which borders Spain. Should you be on a French Christmas Voyage in this south-western region, you will no doubt encounter the delicate French Christmas 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. The Christmas biscuits 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…


This sensory voyage of Christmas cakes in southern Europe would not be complete without the Christmas sweets of Italy! 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. Other traditional Italian Christmas biscuits are Tuscan Ricciarelli, a short-bread made with almond meal, cinnamon and dusted with icing sugar, similar in flavour to Spanish Polvorones. Both are fabulous and luckily can be enjoyed throughout the year on one of our Gourmet Tours of Italy 

The warm spices and dried fruits and nuts used in these southern European Christmas biscuits and Christmas cakes are sure to warm your palate as well as your heart when you visit at 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!

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