Every family has their holiday traditions, whether it is searching for pickle ornaments hidden in the Christmas tree, spinning dreidels during Hanukkah or drinking from the unity cup during Kwanzaa.
For my family, tradition revolves around the old French custom of having a buche de Noel, or yule log, for dessert. After a long evening of holiday feasting and enjoying the presence of loved ones, the Panceros bring out that delectable holiday treat. It is one of my favorite parts about Christmas Eve.
But tradition doesn't stop at yule logs. Ethnic bakeries offer a plethora of sweet treats for your next holiday gathering.
Dinkel's Bakery, a local family-owned bakery at 3329 N. Lincoln Ave. in Lakeview, (773) 281-7300, has been creating yule logs and other sweet treats for Chicago families for 85 years. According to Norman Dinkel Jr., the yule log is a layer of chocolate cake with chocolate mousse and a layer of golden yellow or white cake with white chocolate mousse. The cake is finished with a chocolate buttercream frosting to give it its "log" effect. Sometimes the cakes are decorated with frosting mushrooms, icing snow and little holiday trees, while others are decorated with forest elves and holiday presents.
Each tradition has its own fable. Try your luck at the Polish bakery, Delightful Pastries, 5927 W. Lawrence in Jefferson Park, (773) 545-7215. The shop serves makowiec, a poppy seed cake. Polish folklore says that "as many poppy seeds you use for Christmas Eve dinner, that's the amount of money you will have in the coming year," says Dobra Bielinski, owner of the bakery. Along with the poppy seed, the cake contains raisins, nuts and honey in yeast-raised dough. Because many with Polish backgrounds fast for Advent, the 30 days leading up to Christmas, having honey signifies a special occasion. They have a treat after "30 days of fasting during Advent-that sweetens the deal," Bielinski says.
Christmas is not the only holiday celebrated during December. At Abundance Bakery, 105 E. 47th St. (773) 373-1971, one favorite Kwanzaa treat served up in plentiful amounts is the peach cobbler. The bakery got its start in the home of Bill and Janice Ball in 1990 with recipes handed down from Bill's grandmother. The cobbler is made with sugar, cinnamon, a few secret spices and, of course, peaches. While peach cobbler is popular year-round, "During the holidays, it gets more attention," Ball says. "From the cobbler to pies, it's something that comes from Southern cooking" and that is what makes this dessert so special.
No matter where you look, you'll find a bakery with its own special holiday traditions. Although this is not a complete listing of ethnic bakeries, the ones mentioned are a great starting point for discovering the traditions others hold dear. Grab a fork and savor your holidays.