When it comes to the holidays, I am typically willing to do whatever it takes to celebrate the vast culinary heritage of my family. Order obscure ingredients online? Sure. Visit a handful of specialty shops to make one specific dish? No problem. Buy a springerle cookie mold on a Swiss, German-language-only, website, hoping I ordered correctly? You bet. After all, food rituals bind a family's past to its future, a gift from one generation to the next.
But not everyone has a weekend to make Swiss cookies, or a British Christmas pudding, or a French bûche de Noël. Fortunately, area bakeries and groceries may have what you seek.
One traditional bread found in many Latino homes during the holidays is rosca de reyes, or ring of kings, a sweet bread studded with dried and candied fruit. Typically, this bread is available from Dec. 15 to Jan. 6, the day representing the time the wise men visited the baby Jesus or the Epiphany (the conclusion of the Twelve Days of Christmas). Rosca de reyes also contains a trinket, typically a baby, buried within the bread, much like the New Orleans-styled King Cake now associated with Mardi Gras. Rosca de reyes is available at Las Delicias Bakery (4405-C Central Ave.) now through Jan. 8, 2015.
Panettone, originally from Milan, Italy, has found its way onto many American tables during the holidays. While various qualities of imported panettones are widely available throughout the Charlotte area, an imported apricot two-pound panettone is available at Nona's Sweets Bakery Café (The Shoppes at Worthington, 1520 Overland Park Lane). Nona's also has pizzelles, or Italian waffle cookies, and struffoli, Italian fried dough balls dipped in honey syrup similar to the Greek loukoumades, shaped into a wreath and sprinkled with diavolilli (a type of candy). Quantities are limited; orders suggested.
Although specialty grocers Fresh Market and Trader Joe's have imported German stollen, classic German stollen is baked fresh at The Waldhorn Restaurant (12101 Lancaster Highway, Pineville). Each year, they have a limited supply available right after Thanksgiving. Stollen sells out quickly. However, Apfelstrudel, apple strudel, and Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte, or German Black Forest Cake — the kind with chocolate cake with cherry filling and homemade whipped cream — can also be ordered.
Several area bakeries have embraced the bûche de Noël, the classic French yule-log-shaped cake, rolled, sculpted and meticulously decorated to imitate tree bark and then adorned with marzipan mushrooms and snowflakes. Although this sponge cake varies in filling — from deep chocolate ganache to butter cream — the icing is usually a chocolate butter cream. Bûches are available by preorder at area Fresh Markets, Amelie's French Bakery (2424 N. Davidson St.) and Suarez Bakery (4245 Park Road). Suarez also has edible gingerbread houses, gingerbread people and decorated Christmas sugar cookies for the holidays.
Fresh Market carries imported English Christmas puddings, made more fun, a la Dickens, when presented flaming. La Patisserie (627 N. Main St. and 631 Brawley School Road, Mooresville) bakes babka, a sweet yeast bread with cinnamon to order.
In addition to baked goods, other specialty foods are available now. Fresh potato latkes (pancakes) are favorites during Hanukkah. These are available for preorder at Gleiberman's Deli & Grille (5668-D International Drive; kosher). Zygma European Groceries & Deli (212 N. Polk St., Pineville) has a variety of European candies wrapped in shiny colorful foil intended to be hung on Christmas trees.
Deadlines to order most of the bakery products are fast approaching. As for springerle cookies, no bakery in town makes them nor are they imported. Springerle cookies need hartshorn, or Baker's ammonia, the leavening agent made from the shavings of red deer antlers and the predecessor to today's baking powder. Hartshorn was mainly used during the 17th and 18th centuries, but is necessary for these cookies to maintain their intricate design during baking. You can order this online.