Holiday Cookies from Around the World
Nothing says the holidays quite like a big batch of freshly baked cookies. Maybe it’s the sweet scent of sugar and spices permeating the house that fills us with warm wintertime nostalgia, or the way a single bite can instantly transport us back to the holiday memories of our childhoods. Whatever your reasons are for holiday baking, cookies are a great way to sweeten up the season, and make it easy to share a bit of festive cheer with your friends and loved ones.
Gingerbread men and sugar cookie cut-outs are always a welcome addition at any holiday table, but if you want to add a little spice to your baking repertoire, why not look to the rest of the world for inspiration? You can find dozens of deliciously different confections in MIR’s destinations alone, from spice cookies to richly flavored pastries.
To help you get ready for the holiday baking season ahead, we’ve compiled a list of some of our favorite holiday cookies from several of MIR’s destinations, each with a link to a recipe you can make for your next cookie party, for a family occasion, or as a treat to go with your eggnog.
Have a favorite cookie you love to make for the holidays? Let us know in the comments below!
Pryaniki, often called “Russian spice cookies” or “Russian gingerbread,” are perhaps the most popular Russian sweet served during the holidays. Made with honey and fragrant spices like cloves, cardamom, nutmeg, and cinnamon, these cookies have been made in Russia since at least the 12th century, when spices from the Middle East and India first reached Russian soil.
Most cooks often make a simple version of pryaniki at home, shaping their cookies into small mounds and covering them with a sweet glaze, while more elaborate varieties are formed into large loaves filled with jam, sweetened condensed milk, or chocolate, and stamped with a special wooden press to create beautiful embossed patterns on top.
Poland loves to pull out all the stops for Christmas, and if you happen to visit during the holiday season, you’ll find a seemingly infinite array of cookies and baked goods to indulge in. Among the most popular choices you’ll find are kolaczki, jam-filled cookies made with a cream cheese-based dough similar to rugelach. The addition of cream cheese in the dough makes kolaczki extra tender and flaky, and adds a bit of a tangy note to counterbalance the sweetness of the jam filling.
Typically you can find these cookies folded into a neat diamond shape, but they can also be round, square, or have all four corners folded in to look like a pinwheel.
You can celebrate Poland’s rich holiday traditions and foods on MIR’s Christmas Traditions of Poland small group tour. You can also create a custom, private journey to Poland based on your interests and timeline.
Hungary is another country with a rich tradition of making Christmas pastries and sweets. One of the many favorite cookies to try are roszke, or “nut horns,” also known as kifli, rogaliki, roski, and roscici. Similar to kolaczki, these cookies are made with a cream cheese or sour cream dough that’s filled with a sweet walnut filling and rolled into crescent shapes. They make a great option for those looking for a not-too-sweet treat for the holidays.
You can sample hearty Hungarian fare on a luxury rail journey by private train through Hungary, or create a custom, private journey to Hungary based on your interests and timeline.
Ausuki, or “little ears,” are a typical dessert offering at the Kucios, the traditional Lithuanian Christmas Eve dinner. Crunchy, yet still soft and airy, these fritters, made with butter, rum, and lemon or orange extract, get tied into knots before being fried to a light golden brown color. Once they’ve cooled for a minute or two, they’re given a festive dusting of powdered sugar.
You can taste some of Lithuania’s traditional treats on MIR’s Kaliningrad & the Baltics small group tour, which includes time in Lithuania, or create a custom, private journey to Lithuania based on your interests and timeline.
Nearly every Eastern European country has its own version of gingerbread, and Ukrainian medianyky are no exception. Made with honey and orange peel and spiced with ginger, cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg, these cookies are a mildly sweet alternative to the molasses-based versions Americans are used to. Ukrainians love to cut their medianyky into festive shapes like Christmas trees, stars, and crescents, then hang them from the lower branches of the Christmas tree as a gift for the younger kids.
Croatian licitars look far too too pretty to eat. In fact, they’re not meant to be eaten — these heart-shaped cookies are gifted to family members and loved ones to use as Christmas ornaments or keepsakes (although we certainly won’t judge if you feel the urge to take a nibble). Made with a honey- or sugar-based dough and dipped in a distinctive red glaze, the secrets to making licitars have been closely guarded for generations, known only by the families who specialize in the craft. Still a much-loved Croatian tradition, UNESCO added licitars to the “Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage” of Croatia in 2010.
For many years, northern Serbia was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which left a major mark on the region’s culture and cuisine, especially its baking traditions. Vanilice, or “little vanillas,” are the Serbian take on the classic Austrian linzer cookie.
Instead of using butter, which traditionally wasn’t a readily available ingredient in most Serbian kitchens, these little sandwich cookies are made with lard, contributing to their soft, almost melt-in-your-mouth texture. Finely ground walnuts in the dough add a richly nutty and buttery flavor. Once baked and cooled, they’re filled with apricot, raspberry, or rosehip jam and dusted with vanilla-infused powdered sugar. Vanilice make an appearance at many Serbian special occasions, but are frequently made during Christmas.
Like vanilice, Bulgarian maslenki take their cue from Austrian linzer cookies, subbing in lard for the more traditional butter. The Bulgarians, however, opted to stay a little more true to the linzer’s classic flavor and cutout shape. Bulgarians also love to take maslenki dough and bake it into a much simpler cookie called lokumki, which adds chopped pieces of Turkish delight to the mix.
Churchkhela aren’t a cookie in the traditional sense, but because they’re a common — and much-loved — sweet served at Georgian Christmas and New Year’s celebrations, we think they deserve a rightful spot on our list. This traditional candle-shaped snack is made by threading mixed nuts onto a string, which is then dipped in a mixture of flour and grape must or juice and left to dry for several days. Soft, chewy, and sweet, you can enjoy churchkhela almost anywhere in Georgia, but the best ones often come from Georgia’s renowned wine-producing region, Kakheti.
You can taste your way through Georgia’s culinary delights on MIR’s epicurean small group tour A Taste of Georgia: Wine, Cuisine & Culture. You can also travel on a small group tour to Georgia or create a custom, private journey based on your interests and timeline.
Celebrate the Holidays with MIR
MIR is celebrating over 30 years of connecting travelers with fascinating destinations at the crossroads of Europe and Asia, with on-the-ground support and tour managers that clients rave about. Our full service, dedication, commitment to quality, and destination expertise have twice earned us a place on National Geographic Adventure’s list of “Best Adventure Travel Companies on Earth.”
Make the most of the holiday season on MIR’s Christmas Traditions of Poland small group tour, a wintry journey that brings you close to the warm heart of Poland’s long-standing customs. Celebrate the holiday traditions of Poland as you wander Krakow’s brilliant Christmas Market and join a Polish family in their Warsaw home for the intimate Christmas Eve feast called Wigilia, where you can sample 12 different traditional dishes.
You can also design your own holiday adventure with the help of MIR’s custom private journey specialists. MIR has spent 30 dazzling winters crafting tours that make creative and unforgettable holiday gifts, and we’d love to take your ideas and weave them into a trip tailored especially for you.
Contact MIR today at email@example.com or 1-800-424-7289.
(Top Photo: Beautiful Russian treats for sale at the Eliseevsky Store in Moscow. Photo credit: Jonathan Irish)
PUBLISHED: November 16, 2016