4 famous Christmas desserts and the stories behind them

In one of my fondest childhood memories, I’m handed a bowl of my granny’s famous Christmas pudding. With a stuffed tummy and a face full of anticipation, I immediately grab my spoon and dig through it, hunting for a shiny coin or two, mysteriously placed inside. And in this memory, I’m surrounded by a big, loud family all doing the same. At that age, I never stopped to question why the coins were there in the first place but with Christmas baking sessions taking shape this year comes a curiosity and peculiar need to find the meaning behind these sweet and slightly odd festive endearments.

Mince-pies-counter

Why are there coins in a Christmas pudding?

Turns out placing a coin in a Christmas pudding is an old English tradition that dates back as far as 500 years. It’s supposed to bring wealth and success in the coming year to the person who finds it. In my case, it would appear my gran wished us all much wealth – our pudding was littered with coins. Soaking this pudding in brandy and setting it alight is another tradition that adds to the fun of the experience.

Why is gingerbread a favourite Christmas treat?

Can you imagine a time when gingerbread baking was so specialised that only professionals were permitted to make this much loved treat? It seems a little strange now but this was the rule in 17th century Germany and France. During holidays; Christmas and Easter in particular, these laws were relaxed and anyone could get stuck in, making gingerbread a firm Christmas tradition and favourite. If you’ve never made a gingerbread house, perhaps this is the year? Get your family involved and make it your own.

gingerbread-house-entrance

How did the mince pie get its name?

With a name like ‘mince pie’ you’d expect this to be a savoury rather than sweet dish, and interestingly enough, that’s exactly what it was. In the 1420s, before preserving meat was an easy thing, people would mix meat with dried fruit (a natural preservative) and enclose it in a case of pastry – to help it last through the festive season. Over the years, this evolved to include just fruit and pastry, as we know mince pies today.

mince pies

What’s the story behind the chocolate Yule log?

The Yule log or bûche de Noël is a famous French Christmas cake created to resemble the Yule log of European tradition. Selected for its slow burning properties, the Yule log would provide warmth to the home for the 12 days preceding Christmas. Any left over wood was saved for the following year. The Yule log cake is made using the roulade method, with the ends cut off and placed to resemble branches.

Chocolate-log

If you’d like to give this decadent and special cake a whirl, chef Franck will take you through it step by step in his festive feast cooking course.

Traditions are a good thing, especially when they happen once a year, making them all the more special. In my memories, family and friends come together around food – the making and eating of it. This year, I’ll be making a gingerbread house with my sister and her kids, and I’m hoping this will become a fun and memorable part of our traditions for years to come. I’ll even be able to teach them why we make gingerbread.