Holiday Desserts & Puddings
Cakes, pies, tarts, ice cream, gingerbread ... for guilt free indulgence, browse a delicious menu of dances, all named for desserts and puddings.
(click for more food history and folkore and background information)
Fond of cheesecake? Do you prefer New York Style, Pennsylvania Dutch Style, Country Style (Buttermilk), or the mid-century modern flavours of the Unbaked Cheesecake? Some people, though they may like both cheese and cake, are repulsed by the dessert solely because its name inspires a revulsion from strong mental associations with the two separate foods in combination. These individuals are clearly the exception as cheesecake has been loved for centuries - so much so that the term "cheesecake," in connection with a beautiful woman has origins back to 1660! Verse published in 1662, after the death of Oliver Cromwell (whom it is supposed, did not care for such desserts), in Poems and Songs Relating to the Late Times, was used to regret the occasion of Cromwell driving certain ladies (of questionable repute) out of the town: "But ah! It goes against our hearts, To lose our cheesecake and our tarts." 🍰
A Piece of Cake
Gingerbread House Day
The tradition of making decorated gingerbread houses started in Germany in the early 1800s, most likely as a result of the wider publication of the Grimm's fairy tales, with the description of the witch's edible sugar and bread house in the folk tale of Hansel & Gretel. Gingerbread making, however, goes back centuries and is specialized and highly prized art. In the 17th century, only professional gingerbread bakers were permitted to bake it (except at Christmas and Easter, when such restrictions were relaxed).
Do you dunk your doughnuts? Doughnuts have a disputed origin with several countries as claimants for being the first to develop this delicious treat. One of the earliest known recorded usage of the term in literature dates to American author Washington Irving's "History of New York" in which he described "balls of sweetened dough, fried in hog's fat, and called doughnuts, or olykoeks." By the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair - which was billed as "A Century of Progress" - doughnuts, now with the characteristic hole, were given the lofty title of "Hit Food of the Century of Progress," because they were fresh and the automated machines made them quickly. The cheaply produced doughnuts became a staple of the working class during the Depression. 🍩
Bûche de Noël Day
A Yule log (or bûche de Noël) is a traditional holiday dessert served near Christmas, especially in Belgium, France, Switzerland, Canada, Lebanon and several former French colonies, as well as the United Kingdom and Catalonia. Made of sponge cake to resemble a miniature actual Yule log, it is a form of sweet roulade, swiss roll, or jelly roll - a sponge cake filled with cream, jam or icing. In the UK, a similarly inspired everyday dessert, Jam Roly-Poly, is made with a flat-rolled suet pudding rather than cake, then filled with jam and served hot with custard. For added naming whimsy, this dessert is also called Shirt-Sleeve pudding, DeCleats' Arm, Dead Man's Arm or Dead Man's Leg! Pastry, cake, puddings, it's all good, especially during the holiday season! Recipe Included: Pistachio Roulade with Raspberries and White Chocolate
Lemon Dessert Day
Meyer lemons are not impossible to eat, they are quite delightful! A former decorative houseplant and backyard ornamental, the Meyer lemon, is a sweeter and juicier cross between a lemon and a mandarin orange. These lemons only became popular after being featured by chef Martha Stewart in her 1980s recipes: lemon-pine nut tart, whole-wheat spaghetti with Meyer lemon, arugula and pistachios, coffee cake with thinly sliced Meyer lemons in the batter. Prior to that, these lemons had not been popular with growers because their thin skin made them difficult to ship long distances. Recipe included: Martha Stewart's Meyer Lemon Shortbread Wreaths with Rosemary 🍋🍋🍋
Meyer Lemon Strathspey
Shortbread was an expensive luxury in times past and for ordinary people, usually reserved for special occasions such as weddings, Christmas and New Year celebrations. In Shetland it was traditional to break a decorated shortbread cake over the head of a new bride on the threshold of her new home! Although shortbread fingers and petticoat tails are the most common baking shapes, Walker's Shortbread, one of the most easily recognizable brands, sometimes creates special edition shapes, such as camels!
Regardless of shape, Scottish shortbread starts with just four ingredients: butter, salt, sugar, and flour. Intrepid bakers and top chefs have added modern touches such as browning the butter; toasting the sugar; adding cornstarch; and coating the baking pan with a generous layer of Demerara sugar to give the shortbread a nice granular topping. But for traditional and regional shortbread variations, try a recipe for Pitcaithly Bannock (made with almonds, caraway seeds, and crystallized orange) or Yetholm Bannock (which includes chopped ginger)! Yum!
Already?! There's no cake with such a large percentage of admirers and detractors as the ubiquitous holiday fruitcake! Coming early this year, "Stir-up Sunday" is traditionally the Sunday before Advent to begin holiday baking, particularly for plum puddings or soused fruitcakes. Love them or hate them, when a fruitcake contains a good deal of alcohol and sugar it can remain edible for many years! Many antique fruitcakes remain extant and are cherished by their owners. Journalist Russell Baker claimed to be in possession of a fruitcake that a long-dead relative had baked in 1794 as a Christmas gift for President George Washington. Washington allegedly sent it back with a note explaining that it was “unseemly for Presidents to accept gifts weighing more than 80 pounds, even though they were only eight inches in diameter.” Another recent archaeological find of the fruitcake kind was a 106-year-old fruitcake discovered in 2017 by the Antarctic Heritage Trust in a hut on Cape Adare, part of the 1913 Terra Nova expedition let by Robert Falcon Scott. Wrapped in paper and the remains of a tin, the fruitcake was deemed "in excellent condition," according to the trust, and looking and smelling "almost edible"! 🍰 🍍 🍐 🍋 🍒
Rocky Road Day
Candy or ice cream, Rocky Road is a retro favourite! With many different origin stories, Rocky Road ice cream's popularity in the United States allegedly gets its name from the 1929 stock market crash! In 1906, William Dreyer emigrated to the U.S. from Germany and ended up in California to learn the art of making ice cream. Opening up his first ice cream shop in Visalia, California, he eventually partnered with Joseph Edy, a candy maker, to start a combined company in Oakland, California. Dreyer reportedly used his wife’s sewing scissors to cut up pieces of marshmallow and walnuts, then added them to chocolate ice cream. Although the walnuts were eventually replaced by almonds, this new flavour combination was dubbed "Rocky Road" alluding to the October 1929 stock market crash’s tumultuous effect on the economy! Two scoops! 🍨🍨
The Rocky Road Reel
The word "walnut" comes from the old English “walh-hnuts,” meaning foreign nut. Today this species is generally referred to as the English walnut. The black walnut, native to North America, does not have as pleasant a taste when eaten raw and is more bitter; however, it does retains more of its flavor when cooked. Early English settlers in the American Colonies had to depend on the native black walnut because imported English walnut trees did not adapt easily. On the west coast of the US, however, the Franciscan fathers also brought walnut trees to California in the early 1700s from Mexico. Through their efforts, walnut trees were planted in the courtyards of the California missions, where they flourished. The Grizzly Bear pie, a walnut pie variation made with with walnuts and honey, is a delicious nod to California's historic roots. Recipes included! 🥧 🐻 🍯 🌰
“Qu’ils mangent de la brioche!” or “Let them eat cake!” is perhaps the most famous quote about cake ever, attributed (most likely falsely) to Marie Antoinette herself, which she supposedly uttered upon being informed that the peasants were so poor that they had no bread to eat during one of the famines that occurred in France during the reign of her husband, Louis XVI. 🍰
Anna's Wedding Cake
A Cookie Shine is a cookie-sharing party! In most English-speaking countries except for the US and Canada, crisp cookies are called biscuits, though chewier biscuits may also be referred to as cookies. In Scotland the term cookie may also sometimes be used to describe a plain bun. The word "cookie" derives from the Dutch word "koekje" or more its informal, dialect variant "koekie" which means "little cake," and arrived in American English with the Dutch settlement of New Netherland, in the early 1600s. In other cookie controversy, "to dunk or not to dunk" is a custom rife with social controversy - a cookie's ability to hold liquid before crumbling is even studied by physicists! 🍪🍪🍪
There are few cakes that carry a warning with them, but Eccles Cakes are one of them! Eccles Cakes recently received notoriety for several incidents involving fires resulting from heating them in the microwave. The prevailing theory is that the Demerara sugar used for decoration heats and ignites! Be careful out there!
Golden Eccles Cakes
Key Lime Pie Day
Unlike apple pie (the first recipe of which hails from Chaucer-era England) , Key Lime Pie is a uniquely American dessert. This pie is considered the official pie of the Florida Key (although ironically, the majority of Key Lime trees introduced by the Spanish in the 1500s were wiped out during the hurricane of 1926 and replaced by Persian Limes)! At any rate, recipes for Key Lime Pie were not recorded until the 1930s. At this time, fresh milk, refrigeration, and ice where not available in the Keys until the arrival of tank trucks with the opening of the Overseas Highway in 1930. Because of this lack of milk, local cooks relied on canned sweetened condensed milk, a key ingredient which makes this pie so smooth and delicious. Recipe included: Key Lime Bars!
Key Lime Pie
Crème de Menthe Day
Crème de menthe is the bright green mint liqueur which derives its flavor from Corsican mint. In literature, crème de menthe has a famous devotee in the character of Agatha Christie's fastidious Belgian sleuth, Hercule Poirot, who favours liqueurs in general, and crème de menthe in particular. The composer and pianist Sergei Rachmaninoff, although otherwise a teetotaler, found that a glass of crème de menthe steadied his nerves when playing his own technically demanding piano score in the twenty-fourth variation of his "Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini." Because of this, he nicknamed this variation the "Crème de Menthe Variation." Used in cocktails and many desserts, mint pairs naturally with chocolate and appears in many regional favourite candy mintcakes such as: Kendal Mint Cake, Andes Mints, Junior Mints, York Peppermint Patties, and After Eight Mint Chocolate Thins. Mintcake candy was even taken up Everest in 1953 when Edmund Hilary ascended it, as well as by Sir Ernest Shackleton on his Antarctic expedition of 1914-17! Recipe included: Crème de menthe brownies! 🍃
Black Forest Cake Day
Besides the famous Black Forest Cake ( the German dessert Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte, with cherries on top and in the middle) there are other classic cherry deserts - British Cherry Cake (with cherries throughout), Cherries Jubilee (with cherries on fire), and Cherpumple, a British novelty dish in which several different flavor pies are baked inside of several different flavors of cake and stacked together! In a Cherpumple, the apple pie is baked in spice cake, the pumpkin in yellow cake, and the cherry in white cake! Goodness gracious! Recipe included. 🍰
Putting the Cherry on the Cake
April Fool's Day
Fooled you! The classic puree of fruit and custard, the fruit fool (whether it be strawberry, gooseberry, raspberry, rhubarb, or blackberry) has nothing in particular to do with April Fool's Day! And although food historians do not agree on the origin of its name, fool/foole is first mentioned as a dessert in 1598 with recipes beginning to appear in cookery books by the mid 17th century. There are even two classic fruitless fools dating from the 17th and 18th centuries - the Norfolk Fool and the Westminster Fool (which have the addition of cake, similar to trifles, with and without the addition of sack sherry). Regardless of ingredients, these are fools to suffer gladly. Be a dancing fool today! Recipes included!
Gingerbread Decorating Day
Folk tales of runaway food type are found in Germany, the British Isles, Eastern Europe, as well the United States. Similar tales include "The Runaway Pancake" from Germany and Scandinavia, "The Roule Galette" from France, and "The Wee Bannock" from Scotland. In Hungary, the tale "The Little Dumpling," contrary to the title, refers not to a dumpling, but to the Hungarian version of runaway head cheese! Recipe included: Gingerbread Shortbread with a Nutmeg Glaze
The Gingerbread Man
Lemon Chiffon Cake Day
The fluffy chiffon cake is a classic mid-century modern cake style credited to a California insurance salesman turned caterer, who sold his fluffy cake secret to General Mills who then released recipes to the public in a Betty Crocker pamphlet in 1948. Chiffon cakes are made by substituting oil for butterfat and aerating the cake by whipping egg whites separately from the yolks and then folding this into the batter to produce a delicate light texture. Of course, if life gives you lemons, you can always make a whisky sour too :-) Recipe included! 🍋🍰
The Sour Lemon (Lemon Chiffon Cake)
Figgy & Plum Pudding Day
A "Clootie/Cloutie Dumpling" is the Scottish version of a Christmas pudding. Firstly and most importantly, it is a pudding boiled in a "clout," a cloth. The tradition comes from the days before people had ovens and so cooked much of their food by boiling ingredients in huge pots. Although flour, suet, dried fruit and spices always feature, regional variations, like the addition of treacle, feature in Fife and other areas. And like all traditional puddings, clootie dumplings come with their own set of traditions. When it's being made everyone in the household should give it a good skelp – or smack – to make sure it has a nice round shape! Serve with custard. 🎄 🥮
Archie's Clootie Dumpling
Thanksgiving Day (Canada)
Cranberries were a staple for Native Americans, who harvested wild cranberries and used them in a variety of remedies, drinks, and foods, including pemmican, a combination paste of dried berries, meats, and fats. Sailors used cranberries as a source of vitamin C to prevent scurvy. During World War II, American troops required about one million kilograms of dehydrated cranberries a year!
Shortbread originated in Scotland, with the first printed recipe appearing in 1736, from a Scotswoman named Mrs. McLintock. Shortbread was so popular, early Scottish bakers fought to prevent shortbread from being classified as a biscuit to avoid paying a government biscuit tax! Do you have a family or favourite shortbread recipe with just the right proportions of butter, sugar, and flour (and maybe some salt to enhance the flavour)? Or maybe you fancy the occasional addition of chai, rosemary, lemon, or chocolate - flavours compatible with a sweet biscuit. Some recent shortbread trends may not be for everyone. One trendy addition is adding the flavour of Katsuobushi, a smoked, aged and dried skipjack tuna, which gives an unusual umami character! Hmmm ... you have to draw a line in the flour somewhere. Although we have not found the namesake recipe referenced by the dance, included are traditional regional variations such as: Pitcaithly Bannock (almonds, caraway seeds, crystallized orange) and Yetholm Bannock (chopped ginger)! 🧈
World Baking Day
Just a few ingredients in your cupboards? Get out your oatcake recipes or queue the music for this dance! Oatcakes have been documented as existing in Scotland since at least the time of the Roman conquest of Britain in AD 43, and most likely before then. Oats were one of the few grains that grew well in the north of Scotland and were, until the 20th century, the staple grain used. Typically, oatcakes are made on a girdle (griddle) or by baking rounds of oatmeal on a tray. Scottish soldiers in the 14th century carried a metal plate and a sack of oatmeal so that they could make their own! According to contemporary accounts, a soldier would heat the plate over fire, moisten a bit of oatmeal and make a cake to "comfort his stomach. Hence it is no marvel that the Scots should be able to make longer marches than other men." No wonder, indeed! 🌾
Land of the Golden Oatcake
Chocolate Mousse Day
Alexandre Viard, chef to Louis XVI and Napoleon, first described this dessert, later referred to as "mousse au chocolat" in the 1820 edition of his culinary encyclopedia, Le Cuisinier Royal. But the popularity of this tasty chocolate dessert really began to surge when the French artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901), who was also known for his culinary skills, came up with a recipe he first named “mayonnaise au chocolat.” Peter Hastings' actual recipe included!
Peter Hastings' Chocolate Mousse
Figgy & Plum Pudding Day
The sweet plum and figgy puddings of Christmas hail from meatier dishes, and interestingly, rarely contained actual plums or figs! In 14th century Britain, beef and mutton were mixed with raisins and prunes, wines and spices as a soup-like dish. When grains were added to make it a thicker porridge, it was known as “frumenty.” For early preparation for Christmas meals in Elizabethan times, raisins, currants, and prunes (which had come into vogue) were added to the mix and stored like huge sausages in animal stomachs and intestines to be served months during the holidays. By this time, the terms "plum" became a term for all dried fruits, with "figgy" being a synonym for raisins as well.
Shake the Pudding Down
St. Nicholas' Day
Happy St. Nicholas' Day! If you've escaped the Krampus and left out your shoes last night, you may have received a treat from St. Nicholas! On the eve of St. Nicholas, many children set out shoes filled with carrots and hay on the for St. Nick’s horse (or donkey) hoping to receive small gifts such as fruits, nuts, chocolate, candies, cookies, coins, or poems and riddles! One such small gift of candy might be a candy cane! The candy cane allegedly owes its distinctive shape to a 17th century German choirmaster, who bent the a hard candy into the form of a shepherd’s staff and gave it to children to symbolize the image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd. As shepherd of his people and patron saint of children, images of St. Nicholas often include a hook-shaped staff called a crozier. Besides candy canes, other traditional treats for the feast of St. Nicholas include St. Nicholas cookies, a popular holiday spiced cookie with similar flavors to gingerbread and can include cloves, anise, pepper, cardamom, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, but without the molasses! 🎅🏻 🍬
The Candy Cane Reel
Hickory nuts, Chestnuts, Walnuts, Nutting parties! A classic autumn harvest activity, Nutting parties were a much anticipated outdoor event for young people in Victorian times for socializing and fall picnics. Baskets and blankets would be collected and a search mounted for the groves with the best nut trees. Shaken branches would yield a shower of nuts which could be eaten on the spot or brought back for an indoor party. Nut gatherers made sure to save some nuts for the month of October, when nuts tossed in the fire could be used for fortune telling or romantic divination, especially near or on Hallowe'en's Nutcrack Night! 🌰
The Nut Loaf
Chocolate Cake Day
Even though powdered chocolate was made available to cooks by 1828, it was used mostly for drinks. But by 1886, cooks began adding chocolate to the cake batter, to make the first chocolate cakes. The Duff Company of Pittsburgh, a molasses manufacturer, introduced Devil's Food chocolate cake mixes in the mid-1930s, but mass production was put on hold during World War II. After the war, chocolate cake became hugely popular and figured in many recipe books. Additionally, the availability of "cake mixes" from manufacturers such Pillsbury and Duncan Hines made cake baking simple. Do you remember these chocolate cake trends? 1960s "Tunnel of Fudge" Bundt cakes; 1980s Chocolate Decadence cake; 1990s Chocolate Lava cake; 2000s artisan Chocolate Cupcakes; and 2010s Flourless Chocolate cakes and tortes. Whatever your favorite, go ahead! 🍫🍰