Global Goodies: International Holiday Desserts (Recipes)

Spice up your holiday table with an international dessert


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panettone ossi di morte

Italian desserts, clockwise from left, include panettone, a rich bread similar to fruitcake; ossi di morti, a cinnamon-flavored cookie; and struffoli, fried dough balls covered in honey

Ossi di morti courtesy of Savoring Time In The Kitchen


The Land of Nuts and Honey: Italy

Originally from Naples, struffoli — balls of dough which are deep-fried then coated with honey — are a Christmas staple in every southern Italian home; Italophiles here in the Valley also clamor for them come this time of year. You can find them in good Italian bakeries everywhere; at Poughkeepsie’s Caffè Aurora, they serve a healthier version, in which the dough is baked instead of fried, then rolled in honey.

Starting on All Soul’s Day in early November and continuing through Christmas, the bakery also sells three traditional southern Italian cookies. Ossi di morti, which translates to “bones of the dead,” are cinnamon-based cookies that look like bones; mostaccioli is a spiced soft cookie coated in a chocolate cinnamon glaze; and rococo is a crunchy, donut-shaped sweet composed of a blend of hazelnuts and almonds, and flavored lightly with cinnamon and cloves.

The Dolce Italian Bakery in Lagrangeville is one of the few local places where you can find two Italian Christmas classics that are still beloved by the older generation, but not as popular with the younger set. Panforte di Siena, which has its roots in 13th-century Tuscany, is a dense concentration of honey, spices, candied fruits, and almonds. Panettone, an Italian bread which originally hails from Milan and is similar to fruitcake, “is very rich,” says Dolce owner Alex Portale. “There are a lot of eggs and honey and no water at all. It’s more elastic than pizza dough.” Portale makes two flavors: golden raisin and chocolate chip. “It’s a lot of work, it takes 12 hours to make,” says Portale. “I start at six in the morning and do not get finished until seven at night.”

Chef Schorner shares a recipe for the hard-to-find panforte di Siena:

panforte di sienaNuts to you: An Italian holiday favorite, panforte di Siena combines almonds, honey, and candied fruits

Photograph by Michael Polito

Panforte di Siena

Yields one 8- or 9-inch cake

  • ½ cup candied orange peel
  • ½ cup candied lemon peel
  • ½ cup candied citrus peel
  • ¼ cup brandy
  • 1 Tbsp all-purpose flour
  • 1½ cups blanched almonds, halved
  • 1½ cups toasted blanched hazelnuts, halved
  • 2¼ Tbsp cocoa
  • 1½ tsp ground cinnamon, plus more for dusting
  • ¼ tsp ground allspice
  • ½ cup sifted all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup honey
  • 2 cups sugar
  • Confectioners’ sugar for dusting
  1. Soak candied fruits in brandy overnight
  2. Butter 8-inch cake mold and line bottom with wax paper
  3. Preheat oven to 275-285 degrees
  4. Drain fruit and set aside remaining brandy
  5. Dust fruit with one tablespoon of flour. Combine fruit, nuts, cocoa, spices, and ½ cup of flour
  6. In large saucepan, combine honey, sugar, and reserved brandy. Set heat to high. As mixture heats, dip brush in water and wash down sides of pan to prevent crystals from forming
  7. Bring to a boil. Remove from stove and pour hot sugar over fruit and nut mixture; stir vigorously until fully incorporated
  8. Pour into prepared cake mold and bake in oven for 25-30 minutes
  9. Cool and wrap in plastic wrap, and store in an airtight container
  10. Dust with confectioners’ sugar and cinnamon before serving

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