Here in the United States, cookies are the most popular treat during Christmastime. We were curious about holiday sweets in other countries, so we reached out to several of our international distributors and Wilton Method Instructors to learn more! In this 12-part series, a different country and traditional dessert will be featured each day. Today’s blog and recipe comes from Patricia Abello who is from Barranquilla, Colombia.
Christmas in Colombia is as rich and colorful as the country’s geography and culture. From the mountains to the sea, from the rainforest to the valleys, the country adorns itself with the holiday spirit through decorations, lights, fireworks, music, dance, and delicious cuisine. Being a predominantly Catholic country, many Colombians follow Spanish religious traditions and anxiously await the coming of “Niño Dios” (the Divine Child). Despite the spirituality of the holiday, religion intermingles with festive parties where everyone takes part from the youngest children to the elderly. Colombians like to party!
The Christmas festivities in this wonderful South American country begin on the evening of December 7th with “El Día de las Velitas” (Day of the Candles). This is the anticipation of the religious celebration of the Virgin of Immaculate Conception that takes place on December 8th. Once the sun sets, both kids and adults go to their front yards, parks, and town and city plazas to light white candles, which symbolize peace and harmony.
Another important Christmas tradition in Colombia is the “novenas” (or nine days). It is a celebration of the nine days preceding Christmas from December 16th to the 24th. Friends and families take turns hosting the “Novena” each night at their home. The celebration includes praying as well as singing “Villancicos” (Christmas carols) by the “Pesebre” (nativity scene). Baby Jesus isn’t placed in the nativity scene until he has been born on December 25th. In some homes, the novena keeps going until midnight with dancing, drinks and food, like Natilla (Christmas Custard) and “Buñuelos” (cheese fritters).
Although Colombian shopping malls and streets are adorned with the typical Christmas decorations seen in the United States, Santa Claus doesn’t “visit” most Colombian households. Rather, it’s Baby Jesus that brings the gifts. With lots of excitement, children write letters to Baby Jesus and place them in the nativity scene or in the Christmas tree. They promise to behave so that he will bring presents. Christmas reaches its peak on the morning of the 25th when many Colombian children wake up with the anticipation of seeing what newborn Baby Jesus has brought to their bedside.
Natilla (Colombian Christmas Custard)
2 1/2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
2 sticks of cinnamon
Pinch of salt
1 shot glass of brandy
1/2 cup cornstarch
1/2 tbsp butter
Cinnamon powder for garnishing
- Pour the milk into a big pot. Then add the brown sugar, the salt and cinnamon sticks. Stir all ingredients with a wooden spoon and bring milk to a boil over low heat.
- As soon as milk comes to a boil, remove from the stove and let it rest for about 5 minutes.
- In the meantime, mix the cornstarch with the remaining ½ cup of milk until it completely dissolves. Stir it into the sugar mixture on the stovetop.
- Put the pot back on the stove over medium low heat and add the butter and the brandy. Stir continuously with a wooden spoon until it thickens and you can see the bottom of the pot.
- Remove the pot from the heat and fish out the cinnamon sticks. Pour immediately into a serving dish and let it cool for at least an hour (it will be firm). Sprinkle with the cinnamon powder and decorate with red and green maraschino cherry (optional).