Photo of Winter Cake
Cakes,  Christmas,  Culinary History,  Food History,  Holidays

What Are Holiday Cakes?

During this festive time of year, our palates start to crave rich, heavy sweets and desserts as much from our bodies needs for extra fuel as the cold wintry days keep us tucked in under the blankets as from our own holiday traditions. And traditions are something that every person, every family has. They are what moor us in our cultures and provide us with that sense of belonging and place that we all need. Each of us at some point will find our thoughts turning, sometimes unwittingly, perhaps nostalgically, toward our holiday traditions at this time of year and almost always those memories include the flavors of spices, sweetness of cookies and cakes and warm breads. When I was pondering what food and its history to spotlight this month, holiday cakes were a given!

Italian Panettone
Italian Panettone

Holiday cakes are cakes of tradition. Each country has its specialty that is made specifically during this holiday season. From plum pudding in England, panettone in Italy and stollen or gingerbread in Germany, to yule log cakes in France, rum cakes in the Caribbean and pavlova in Australia, each country that celebrates this holiday of Christmas has a special dessert to go along with the festivities. (Or several desserts! The more the better! 🙂

German Stollen
German Stollen

Each of these holiday cakes have a unique and fascinating history of their own. Many of them tend to be heavy on fruit and spices harking back to earlier days when spices and fruit were hard to come by or very expensive and therefore used only for special occasions. Others make use of unusual ingredients or large amounts of alcohol. (A little more holiday cheer, anyone?!) They are often tailored to that country’s specific traditions, tastes and natural or imported resources.

Rum Cake
Caribbean Rum Cake from King Arthur Flour

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