With Belgians already known for fabulous comfort food, you can bet that Yuletide has long been seized as an opportunity for sumptuous dining. Every holiday season, speculoos cookies become ubiquitous, market booths offer hot chocolate and fluffy waffles to keep their visitors toasty and warm, and of course there’s Christmas Eve, the High Mass of any festive foodie’s dreams.
Here is a wind-down of the top ten yummies of yuletide joy:
Brioche Style Bread
A soft, fluffy brioche with raisins... Mouth watering already? Now toast it and slather it with a thick layer of salted butter... It’s the nearest to edible heaven you can get. Beware: unsalted or spreadable margarine is a flagrant breach of the 107d article in the Geneva Convention!
A brioche bun dotted with crunchy sugar peals. Some say it takes its name from the Dutch word krakeling (a dry biscuit cracking under the tooth) but this treat also appears in Brittany and in other French-speaking regions. The mystery only makes it more fascinating.
This tender sweet bread is also nicknamed "the bread of Jesus" its shape reminds of a newborn wrapped in swaddling clothes. Some versions are quite elaborate, while others simply sport a tiny baby made of sugar or chocolate as a decoration.
Soupe à l’Oignon
Onion soup is a meal in itself and a tasty one too. This generous mass of onions, cheese and croutons lying in a tasty stock is a perfect staple of Belgian winter markets and a great filler on cold winter days.
Boudins de Liège
Boudin blanc (white pudding) is made in various ways across different parts of Europe. The Liege recipe (milk, bread, chicken and ham) goes back to the Middle Ages when it was a comforting treat enjoyed on return from Christmas mass.
Ingredients improved with time. It can now be compared to a high-quality sausage made from good cuts of pork, spices and the city’s signature: marjoram. You will find many different versions on the Christmas market. Some include cabbage, raisins, nuts and even speculoos biscuits.
On The Sweet Side
Sweet Treats: Belgian Chocolate
Belgians take chocolate seriously. Only the best will do and you will find yourself tempted by mouth-watering display windows in nearly every town.Truffles, mendiants, orangettes (candied orange peel dipped in chocolate)... There are so many creations to choose from, including the famous praline an exquisite a chocolate shell with a soft centre, which was invented here. Start with Galler (white choc and pistachio, dark choc with mint and lemon...) and Darcis (melt in the mouth ganaches), considered among the best chocolatiers in Wallonia.
Not to be confused with Marzipan! The Belgian version, far too good to be plastered on a cake, is eaten on its own. It's all about taste and the quality of the almonds matters greatly. Christmas markets and pastry shops will always have sometimes shaped as tiny fruit, animals, cute characters. You might also encounter it baked - on its own or crumbled on a tart. Yum applies.
The Belgians have a kind of second Santa: St. Nicholas or ‘Sinterklaas’ celebrated every 6th of December. The kind man brings with him presents, clementines and speculoos. Bakers started making these delicious treats four centuries ago from butter, brown sugar and fragrant spices, baking them along the bread. Look out for beautifully decorated ones in Christmas markets.
Belgians love traditional Christmas markets. Warmth being essential to keep the jolly mood going, waffles right off the iron often come to the rescue... You are already familiar with the traditional, fluffy and heavenly. Make sure to try Liege's version too! The batter, slightly denser, is enriched with sugar pears, which caramelise when baked. The definition of happiness, as far as we're concerned.
Desserts: Galette des rois
Festivities do not end in December in Wallonia. Come the new year, we celebrate Epiphany with a King's Cake. Made of puff pastry filled with almond cream, it's a treat to be enjoyed all month rather than one day. Even better a charm is hidden in each cake. Whoever finds it gets a paper crown and the right to be King or Queen of the day.
Tarte au Riz or Rice Tart
The ultimate comfort food and a dish of national pride. The recipe itself is rather simple (pastry filled with sweetened cooked rice) but every family have their own version. Some add vanilla, cinnamon, a touch of chocolate. It is eaten hot or cold and always with a big smile.
Bûche de Noel or Yule Log
The traditional dessert, made with chocolate and buttercream, served on Christmas Eve. Its log-shape refers to a time when poor people would not invest in a feast at that time of the year but a large piece of wood to warm up the house all night. This treat is usually big enough for 5 or 6 persons but you will find individual portions in pastry shops.