Eating sweet treats is a holiday tradition—so much so that many people swear off desserts altogether come January. But before you commit to any New Year’s diets or saccharine purges, indulge your sweet tooth with these traditional seasonal treats, all available at local bakeries across San Francisco.
While the famed multi-layered honey cake originates from Russia, it’s made throughout Central Europe, and the local Ukrainian chef Anna Voloshyna includes a recipe for the impressive-looking dessert in her recent cookbook Budmo! Recipes from a Ukrainian Kitchen. Voloshyna has tried to reclaim recipes from Russia, putting Ukraine in the spotlight for culinary appreciation. Notably, she uses the adjective “glorious” rather than “Russian” in describing her honey cake. Pick up your own slice—and other holiday treats—at Royal Market in the Richmond District, which stocks several varieties that sell out quickly year-round.
Fruitcake has gotten a bad rap over the years as a stodgy dessert that sits like a brick in the pantry. Yet panettone, the classic Italian fruitcake, is anything but bland, with legions of fans. It’s a traditional Christmas treat for Italians, so celebrated that its trademark containers hang in the chandelier at Mona Lisa restaurant on Columbus Avenue in North Beach. Try picking some up at Stella Pastry, where they make it by hand. While you’re there, you’ll also find what might be the very best tiramisu and sacripantina in the whole city.
Rosca de Reyes
Long lines form at the Mexican bakeries along Mission’s 24th Street in early January, and they’re all for Rosca de Reyes. This traditional holiday dessert—served on Jan. 6 for Día de los Reyes, the proverbial 12th Day of Christmas—has a light orange flavor and is shaped in a circle to represent a king’s crown. Literally the “wreath of kings,” the cake celebrates the Three Kings’ Gift of the Magi. As with a New Orleans-style King Cake, whoever gets the slice with the plastic baby Jesus baked inside gets good luck all year—or is responsible for making everyone dinner on Feb. 6. Place an order early at La Reyna Bakery, which specializes in the ring-shaped dessert.
Popular from the Balkans to the Middle East, baklava is one of the most popular desserts for holidays like Easter and Christmas, with the 40 sheets of phyllo dough representing the 40 days of Lent. With its honey-soaked layers and walnut filling, it’s delicious any time of year and worth searching out. Local Arab bakery Reem’s churns out delicious baklava along with holiday treats like the date-filled cookies called ma’amouls.
Sharing cookies is an American holiday tradition, but you can get your bake on with a new twist by enjoying cardamom-spiced treats from local bakery Kantine. Cardamom is a common spice in Scandinavian holiday baking, used in everything from plump Swedish buns to the Fyrestekake, an almond-meringue wonder.
What are your favorite treats to eat during the holiday season? We’d love to hear about them—write to me at [email protected] and we’ll publish select responses.
Julie Zigoris can be reached at [email protected]