Portuguese Christmas Treats

Homemade gingerbread - a Christmas essential

This year will be our fifth Christmas since moving to Portugal. One of the things we worried about before we moved here was that Christmas would not seem like Christmas without traditional English treats like mince pies and gingerbread men.

It turns out we needn’t have worried. After five years we are still stubbornly clinging to the English elements of our Christmas feasting. Admittedly we do things a little differently now – this year I had to make my own golden syrup before I could bake any gingerbread, having been unable to source any in the local shops. We’ve adapted the Christmas traditions that we grew up with to suit our Portuguese circumstances, including the culinary aspects of those traditions.

But we haven’t just shoe-horned our English traditions into our new country. Instead, we have begun to add Portuguese Christmas treats to our repertoire. Though I’m not confident enough to have a go at baking one just yet, Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without a bolo rei making an appearance. This morning we had it for breakfast with hot chocolate – the perfect way to start a pre-Christmas working week.

Golden syrup can be hard to find but is easy to make

Golden syrup can be hard to find but is easy to make

It’s strange to think that for our children, bolo rei – a cake packed with dried and crystalized fruit and shaped like a crown – will be an integral part of their Christmas, when we hadn’t even heard of it a few years ago.

Likewise, our coffee table would be incomplete at this time of year without a box of the incredibly cheap and deliciously tasty chocolate truffles that the supermarkets all stock. With chocolate in Portugal usually being quite pricey, we couldn’t believe it the first time we tried these truffles. At under €2 per box and from a variety of brands, they will definitely be a long-term Christmas fixture for us.

Bolo rei - a new Christmas essential

Bolo rei – a new Christmas essential

It will be fascinating over the years ahead to see how much our festive traditions continue to change. While in countless ways we have been eager to adapt to the Portuguese way of doing things, Christmas is the one real exception, yet it seems that we have already begun to blend the two countries’ traditions. I wonder whether, by the time our children are grown up, our Christmas will have become fully Portuguese, or whether we will still retain some of those English elements.