Darla Wireman at Bakingdom // CC BY-NC-ND 3.0
Darla Wireman at Bakingdom // CC BY-NC-ND 3.0

9 Incredible Holiday-Themed Cakes

Darla Wireman at Bakingdom // CC BY-NC-ND 3.0
Darla Wireman at Bakingdom // CC BY-NC-ND 3.0

In need of some Christmas dessert inspiration? If you always serve pie or fruitcake, give your guests (and yourself) a break with some creative new ideas. While some of these flavors might be unexpected, all of the cakes below have a tie to Christmas traditions in one way or another.

1. YULE EGGNOG CAKE

 

A Bûche de Noël is a Yule log cake. It is traditionally made by rolling up a thin sheet cake to create the log. That isn't easy, but Stella Parks at Brave Tart has a technique that works. She created this lovely and realistic Yule log cake with a cake recipe that contains your favorite alcohol (such as rum or brandy), custard filling, and chocolate. The "bark" is painted-on chocolate, and the mushrooms are meringue.

2. CHRISTMAS RIBBON CANDY RUFFLE CAKE

 

Darla Wireman at Bakingdom made a fancy Christmas cake that evokes memories of traditional Christmas ribbon candy. You can use any kind of cake, because the real secret is in the decorating. Wireman touches on the icing technique in a different post, and recommends this video, but to get the shape and the stripes right, you should have some experience with decorator tools.

3. JAPANESE STRAWBERRY SHORTCAKE

 

Strawberry shortcake for Christmas? It's a Christmas tradition in Japan, where they eat Kentucky Fried Chicken for Christmas dinner and end the day with a romantic date. But these aren't American-style shortcakes with strawberries dumped over cake, they're a carefully-constructed holiday treat. Rachael Hutchings at La Fuji Mama shows us how it's made, with sponge cake, whipped cream, and artfully-arranged strawberries.

4. CANDY CANE CAKE

 

The Candy Cane Cake by Annie Shannon has all kinds of good things inside, like applesauce and coconut milk, and peppermint flavor throughout. Plus, it's completely vegan. Get the recipe at Meet the Shannons.

5. POMEGRANATE CHRISTMAS CAKE

 

Pomegranate is a traditional flavor for Christmas in Ukraine, and it can be at your table, too, with the Pomegranate Christmas Cake. Natasha Kravchuk, the "Ukranian foodie," made hers with POM pomegranate juice used in the cake, in the frosting, and in the topping.

6. SPARKLING CRANBERRY WHITE CHOCOLATE BUNDT CAKE

 

Lindsay Conchar added fresh cranberries to a vanilla cake, and then topped it with white chocolate ganache and sugar-frosted cranberries. Get the recipe and instructions for her Sparkling Cranberry White Chocolate Bundt Cake at Life, Love and Sugar.

7. GINGERSNAP SPICE CAKE

 

Nikki at Chef in Training laced a cake with some of the traditional flavors of Christmas: ginger, cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg, and then iced it with delicious cream cheese frosting. Learn how to make her Gingersnap Spice Cake yourself at her site.

8. WHIMSICAL EGGNOG CHRISTMAS CAKE

Darla Wireman at Bakingdom // CC BY-NC-ND 3.0

Now this cake really says "Christmas"! Darla Wireman at Bakingdom gives us a recipe for cake made with eggnog. She split her colored layers into thin slices and alternated red and green layers for the finished cake. The recipe and decorating instructions are at Bakingdom. 

9. BACON CHRISTMAS TREE

 

This one really stretches the definition of "cake," but it deserves a mention for sheer ingenuity. The Bacon Christmas Tree is assembled from three pounds of bacon held together with cake frosting (you can also use cream cheese). The complete instructions for making it are at Oh, Bite It! There, you can also see how it looks with candy ornaments.

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Carvel
A Cool History of Cookie Puss
Carvel
Carvel

When Greek immigrant Thomas Carvel started the Carvel College of Ice Cream Knowledge in the late 1940s, his intention was to educate his ice cream shop franchisees in the proper handling and distribution of the soft serve cones he had invented back in 1934. Famously strict about his scooping protocol, Carvel would grow upset if he discovered a store owner dished out only three ounces of vanilla to save money, not his required 3.5 ounces. Customers—especially kids—could tell the difference.

"Once a kid realizes he isn't getting his full cone, you've lost a customer," Carvel told The New York Times in 1985. "And that's the way you lose an entire chain."

Carvel’s rigid standards sometimes stirred up dissent, as in the case of the antitrust lawsuit filed in 1979 by franchisees over his insistence they buy Carvel-supplied napkins and other goods at inflated prices. But it was his ingenuity that led the 865-location Carvel chain to a stunning $300 million in sales by 1985.

That growth was spurred in large part by the company’s distinctive ice cream cakes, including Hug Me the Bear and Fudgie the Whale. But no confection drew as much attention as Cookie Puss, the cone-nosed birthday treat made famous in a series of 1970s commercials, a 1983 Beastie Boys song, and a legendary bit on The Howard Stern Show.

Although stores frequently tweaked the Cookie Puss design, it never strayed far from its original inspiration: the face of Carvel himself.

(L-R): Cookie Puss, Cookie O'Puss, Tom Carvel. Courtesy of Carvel

Carvel’s ice cream empire began with a flat tire. In 1934, he had borrowed $15 from his fiancée, Agnes, to get an ice cream truck on the road in Hartsdale, New York. The truck broke down, but customers didn’t seem to mind the softening ice cream—in fact, they seemed to love it.

Carvel jumped on the opportunity, cobbling a soft-serve machine together in his garage and obtaining a patent for it. When he realized that selling the machines led to frequent user error, he founded the Carvel Corporation in 1947, lining states—and his pockets—with Carvel-branded frozen treat storefronts.

Carvel recognized that it would take more than his name to help distinguish the stores from other ice cream shops. Their ice cream sandwiches were dubbed Flying Saucers in 1951; Carvel invited franchisees to brainstorm other unique product ideas.

In the early 1970s, an attendee at the College of Ice Cream Knowledge presented Carvel with a cake in a vaguely humanoid shape. With a cone to mimic Carvel’s bulbous nose, Carvel was impressed. He also realized anthropomorphized cakes would be a clever way to further the Carvel brand. An entire line—including Fudgie the Whale and Hug Me the Bear—were rolled out, 50-something ounces of frozen cake goodness that shops could decorate for personalized birthday greetings.

To spread the word, Carvel began featuring Cookie Puss in regional television advertisements throughout the 1970s and 1980s. Airing Saturday mornings and late at night, the ads were low-budget—Carvel refused to hire an ad agency—and featured Carvel himself as the narrator, his gravelly voice urging viewers to consider Fudgie for Father’s Day, Cookie Puss for all occasions, Cookie O’Puss for St. Patrick’s Day, Dumpy the Pumpkin for Halloween, and Cookie’s female counterpart, Cupie Puss, for whatever else might require massive sugar consumption.

Carvel even issued stuffed toys of Cookie Puss and Fudgie in 1985, hoping the $5.98 dolls would become Carvel’s version of Ronald McDonald, a food mascot that transcended corporate direction.

Even people who had never tried Cookie Puss were still aware of him thanks to the pervasive ads. The Beastie Boys broke through with "Cooky Puss," their 1983 single that was built around a real prank phone call made by Adam Horovitz to a Carvel store asking to speak to Cookie Puss. (One unconfirmed urban legend says Carvel was so annoyed by the album that he was considering legal action before his nephew, a Beasties fan, talked him down.)

In 1991, The Howard Stern Show dragged Cookie Puss back into the spotlight when Stern spent an inordinate length of time berating staffer Fred Norris for giving his mother a Cookie Puss for Mother’s Day. Using audio effects, Stern raised his pitch to resemble Cookie’s distinctive voice:

Stern: Hey, Fred. How come you didn’t get your mom a Fudgie the Whale? Because Cookie Puss is number one, right? ... I think you really didn’t think about your mother.

Norris: Thank you for judging me, Cookie Puss.

Stern: Tom Carvel was a weird guy. I wish he could have named me Rambo. Rambo the Cake.

Puss’s heyday came to an end in 1993, when Carvel’s new owners (Tom Carvel had sold the business in 1989 to investment bankers for $80 million) hired an actual ad agency to create a polished campaign. Carvel himself died in 1990, and was later the subject of a bizarre claim by his niece that he had been murdered so his aides could lay claim to the Cookie Puss fortune. The allegation was later dropped.

Today Puss, Fudgie, and the others can still be found at the 400-odd Carvel locations; the company’s slightly retroactive history currently claims that Cookie Puss is actually an alien from the Planet Birthday.

But whatever its fictional narrative might be, Cookie Puss still bears a strong resemblance to Tom Carvel. The inspiration for Dumpy the Pumpkin, however, remains unknown.

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iStock
10 International Recipes for Traditional Holiday Desserts
iStock
iStock

Few traditions are as enduring as holiday foods, especially desserts. Your grandfather’s Bing Crosby Christmas carols might have given way to Mariah Carey, and children today are more likely to be dreaming of new iPhones than sugar plums, but every generation can agree on the importance of a sweet treat after dinner. This holiday season, instead of just sticking to the old favorites, consider adding a new dessert from a different part of the world—who knows? One of these recipes might just become your new favorite tradition.

1. BUCHE DE NOEL (YULE LOG) // FRANCE

France, Belgium, and many other formerly French nations celebrate Christmas with an edible version of one of the season's most enduring icons: the Yule log. As an ancient European tradition, huge Yule logs were burned to celebrate the winter solstice; the practice was later integrated into Christian rituals. You may not have room in your home to burn a full tree trunk, but you can still enjoy this rich chocolate confection which mimics the shape of a log. Feeling particularly ambitious? Check out Bon Appetit’s sleek and striking "birch log" recipe, compete with meringue "mushrooms."

2. FIGGY PUDDING // THE UK

To modern Americans, figgy pudding is probably best known for it’s appearance in the lyrics of "We Wish You A Merry Christmas." The demand for a treat ("We won’t go until we get some!") references the old English tradition of wealthy nobles giving money or food to the common people on Christmas Eve. So what is it? The name is actually an anachronism, as the modern dish is not what we consider pudding, nor does it contain any figs! It's actually a steamed cake made with raisins and brandy, and a rather ambitious culinary undertaking—one chef recommends starting the cake five weeks before Christmas! For a less time-consuming recipe, try this one from Food.com, which you can make in an afternoon.

3. SUFGANIYOT (JELLY DOUGHNUTS) // ISRAEL

Hot, sweet, and crispy, jam-filled doughnuts called sufganiyot are particularly beloved in Israel at Hanukkah gatherings. Like latkes, another Jewish holiday staple, they are deep-fried in oil, a direct connection to the famously long-lasting lamp oil of the Hanukkah story. Try Martha Stewart’s straightforward take on this relatively-modern Israeli favorite.

4. GLOGG (MULLED WINE) // NORWAY

December’s a perfect time for rich cookies and pastries, but don’t forget a festive libation to wash everything down! In Norway, as well as other Scandinavian and Germanic cultures, nothing says "celebration" like a warm cup of glogg, or mulled wine. As with many alcoholic concoctions, there are endless variations to explore, but nearly all recipes include dry red wine, clear spirits, rich spices like cinnamon and cardamom, and sweet dried fruits, like raisins and figs. Try serving Marcus Jernmark’s modern take on the classic, which includes Indonesian peppers for extra spice.

5. STOLLEN (FRUITCAKE) // GERMANY

Fruitcake is a paradox—it’s one of the oldest-known desserts (the ancient Romans had a version with pomegranate) and eaten around the world, yet it carries a much-maligned reputation and often serves as a Christmas punchline. (Johnny Carson famously quipped, "There is only one fruitcake in the world, and people keep sending it to each other.") Perhaps Carson would have changed his mind if he'd tried authentic German stollen, a hearty, doughy cake filled with nuts and raisins and generously dusted with sugar. Supposedly it's meant to look like the infant Jesus, although that effect might require a few extra cups of glogg.

6. BEIGLI (SWEET ROLLS) // HUNGARY

An Eastern European holiday treat, beigli are spiral sweet rolls, featuring a flaky pastry crust filled with a sweet mash of walnuts or poppy seeds. Symbolically, the poppy seeds represented wealth and fertility, while the walnuts served as protection against witchcraft. Due to their unique structure, beigli might present a challenge for the novice baker—take a look at this step-by-step guide if you're feeling adventurous!

7. PAVLOVA // AUSTRALIA

Most winter holiday foods are rich and filling, perfect for cold, dark December nights. But in Australia, Christmas falls at the beginning of summer and calls for something a little more refreshing. Aussies celebrate the season with a slice of Pavlova, a creamy meringue pie with a crispy crust, topped with fresh fruit.The dessert was inspired by Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova’s visit to Australia in the 1920s, and can certainly be enjoyed year-round—but this berry-bedecked wreath makes for an especially cheery interpretation.

8. PICE AR Y MAEN (WELSH CAKES) // WALES

A regional favorite often referenced by poet Dylan Thomas, "Welsh cakes"—pice ar y maen in the native tongue—are a buttery tea-time treat described as "a cross between a pancake and a baking powder biscuit, with a touch of cookie and muffin thrown in for good measure." They’re particularly popular at Christmas as well as on March 1, the traditional feast day of Saint David, patron saint of Wales. The simplicity of the recipe makes Welsh cakes a great opportunity to let children help in the kitchen. Try this extra-festive holiday version, which adds orange zest and currants.

9. SAFFRANSBULLAR (SAFFRON BUNS) // SWEDEN

Sweet yeast buns are eaten year-round in Sweden, but at Christmas they're given an extra "twist." Saffransbullar are richly flavored with saffron and raisins, and frequently twisted into a figure-eight shape known as lussekatter, meaning "Lucia cats." The unusual name refers to the feast day of Saint Lucia—December 13th—as well as the entwined shape, which resembles a sleeping cat curled up into a ball. They’re best enjoyed with pepparkakor, traditional gingersnap cookies cut into the shape of hearts or animals.

10. RISALAMANDE (RICE PUDDING) // DENMARK

A Danish staple dating back to the 1800s, Risalamande (from the French Riz à l'amande, or "rice with almonds") is a Christmas Eve tradition enjoyed throughout much of the Nordic world. This simple-but-scrumptious recipe enlivens a basic rice pudding by adding whipped cream, chopped almonds, and a warm cherry sauce. For extra fun, some families leave a single unchopped almond in the bowl; whoever finds the almond wins a small novelty gift.

All images via iStock.

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