My family and I just returned from a Rhine River cruise. Since it was the start of the Christmas season, we got a firsthand look at how all of the countries on our path—from the Netherlands to France—celebrated the holiday, particularly the sugary confections and steaming mugs of cheer that made their celebrations a little merrier. Here are some yummy treats that we sampled and brought home to our own celebration.
Advocaat. One afternoon as we lazily floated past castles on their regal hillside perches, the ship’s wait staff handed out shot-sized glasses filled with a creamy yellow drink called Advocaat. Very similar to eggnog, this traditional liqueur of the Netherlands is made of a custardy blend of egg yolks, sugar, brandy and a touch of vanilla, with an alcohol content between 14 and 20 percent. Soon, heads were nodding and the only castles we saw were in dreamland.
Stollen. My husband’s downfall was a yeasty German bread, called Stollen, made with dried fruits and rolled in melted butter and sugar warm from the oven. Of German descent, my husband could not resist a piece or three every morning with his breakfast. He doesn’t know it, but there will be a mini loaf tucked inside his stocking this year! (Apparently they also sell this bread at Aldi’s.)
Glühwein. No matter how well we buffered ourselves against the cold with hats, scarves and long underwear, the hours we spent in the outdoor Christmas markets quickly turned us into popsicles. A required stop during each shopping trip was one of the many Glühwein stands. Literally translating to “glowing wine,” Glühwein, a piping hot cup of red wine mulled with cinnamon sticks, cloves and star anise and served in a souvenir cup, defrosted our frosty toes enough to stroll down the next row of treasures.
Kugelhopf. While at a wine tasting in the Alsace region of France, our très sweet Gewürztraminer was counterbalanced with a not-so-sweet brioche-type cake called Kugelhopf. Made in a whimsically shaped ring mold, this cake resembles a hat and can be found in a variety of sizes around the area. Why the German name? The Alsace region borders Germany and has deep German roots, so it’s no surprise that this cake has become an Alsatian tradition.
Pain d’épices. In stand after stand at a Strasbourg Christmas market, we saw “Pain d’épices.” Dusting off my high school French, I figured it must mean “gingerbread,” particularly after I saw the phrase on a gingerbread boy. That’s not, however, entirely accurate. It’s actually a traditional French bread made with a whole medley of spices (épices), rye flour, honey, dried fruits and nuts. Sort of a spicey French fruitcake. Oooh la la!