Celtic Christmas Desserts
We all know that Ireland is about traditions - Celtic symbols, historic figures, the way pints are poured, and Irish whiskey is made. There are many similar traditions about Christmas. We have to feast on turkey AND ham on Christmas day alongside at least two - and preferably three - types of potatoes. We enjoy Christmas crackers at the dinner table - the big candy wrapped noise maker with a crown, a joke, and some serious dad jokes. But the big discussion is on the desserts. There are two that are staples at our holiday gatherings.
- Christmas Cake: A typically marzipan-covered fruit cake. But it tastes so much better than our US version of fruit cake. That could be because of the alcohol! You’ll find these all over Ireland from Aldi to high end restaurants and cafes. When you see how much fruit goes into the mixture, you think there isn’t enough batter to hold it all together, but it works. I like the tradition that when it gets hard to stir the bowl due to the weight of the fruit in the mixture, everyone in the family should take a turn in stirring and while doing, they should make a wish for Christmas! Once you remove the cake from the tin, the fun has just begun. As most recipes call for several weeks of “preserving” the cake by taking time once a week to poke holes and spoon whiskey - or rum depending on the recipe - into them so that the fruit absorbs all that sweetness. A lovely dessert served with some Irish coffee or tea. Two recipe options I’ve used: Nigella Lawson and a fun video demonstration from Sinead Davies.
- Christmas Pudding: A close relative of the Christmas cake is the Christmas pudding. You’ll recognize that it’s a pudding as it’s shaped like a dome or the shape of a bowl turned upside down. The pudding is also dense with fruit yet more moist than a Christmas cake as the mixture is steamed over a bath of water. The wet ingredients include Guinness, whiskey, and rum - while the alcohol will steam off - the coloration and flavor remain in the cooking process. However, similar to the cake, once the pudding is made, they do recommend poking and pouring whiskey into it – to again allow the fruit to absorb the alcohol. The tradition with serving pudding then is to dim the lights so only the candles are lit; pour a shot of whiskey on the top and quickly light it on fire so the whiskey burns off with a gorgeous blue flame leaving a lovely caramelized flavor to the outside. And it makes for great excitement at the table! I also recommend serving it with a warm brandy butter - so yummy! Grawnya’s Kitchen does a good video and makes it look simple in a busy life and I also like this recipe.
The funny thing was when my sister who is a fantastic cook and holder of Irish traditions asked recently what the traditional American Christmas dessert is and we couldn’t think of any! There are loads for Thanksgiving but what are they for Christmas? We all have our favorite desserts, but nothing that screams Christmas tradition. My family found that very hard to believe and kept probing us. The closest thing we could come up with is Peppermint Stick Ice Cream! That flavor is a staple at our house at the holidays.
Do you have a Christmas dessert tradition? Post your favorites in the comments below.
Whatever your traditions this year we wish you a festive holiday season filled with health and much happiness – and great desserts!
Happy Christmas - Nollaig Shona dhuibh go leir!