Holiday Desserts with a Global Twist

The holidays invite more opportunities for entertaining and showing off your culinary skills than any other time of year. Looking for a more unique and exotic alternative to your typical holiday sweets? Here are three international dessert dishes sure to bring the joy of the season to your taste buds.

Pfeffernusse Cookies 

pfeffernusse cookiesYou might have trouble pronouncing German pfeffernusse cookies, but that won’t stop you from asking for seconds. The name roughly translates to “peppernut,” not because they have nuts, but because they are the size of a small nut. Made with a combination of sweeteners—like honey and molasses—and spices—like ginger, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg—these cookies are packed with flavor.

While the dough needs to be refrigerated for a minimum of two hours, you can make the dough and then get everything else done while you wait. By the time the dough is ready all you have to do is roll it into balls on a baking sheet and pop it in the oven to bake for 10 to 15 minutes.

YIELDS: 3 dozen


1/2 molasses

1/4 cup honey

1/4 cup shortening

1/4 cup margarine

2 eggs

4 cups all-purpose flour

3/4 cup white sugar

1/2 cup brown sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons ground cardamom

1 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1 teaspoon ground cloves

1 teaspoon ground ginger

2 teaspoons anise extract

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup confectioner’s sugar


  1. Over medium heat, stir molasses, honey, shortening and margarine in a saucepan until creamy. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature before stirring in eggs.
  2. In a large bowl combine flour, white sugar, brown sugar, cardamom, nutmeg, cloves, ginger, anise, cinnamon, baking soda, pepper and salt.
  3. Add the molasses mixture to the dry ingredients’ bowl. Stir thoroughly until fully combined to make a dough.
  4. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours.
  5. Preheat oven to 325°
  6. Remove dough from refrigerator and roll into balls (about the size of an acorn).
  7. Arrange on baking sheet(s) at least 1 inch apart and bake for 10-15 minutes.
  8. Remove baking sheet from oven and move cookies to cooling rack until room temperature.

Dust cookies with confectioner’s sugar and share with guests, colleagues and friends. This recipe is definitely a crowd-pleaser, so keep it handy for future holiday seasons as well!


Lebanese Baklava

baklavaIn Lebanon and many Arab nations, one popular dessert is baklava. Made with ingredients common to the region, honey and nuts, baklava offers a nontraditional option for your holiday party with layers of sweetened, flakey dough and a nutty crunch.

If you have children in the house for the holidays this is a great dish for them to help with in the kitchen. They can learn how to use a sifter and rolling pin making the phyllo dough and love dusting the work surface with flour. If they’re old enough they can help add ingredients to be mixed and kids of all ages can help you pour the honey mixture on top of the hot dough.           

YIELDS: 2 dozen


1 cup unsalted butter

1/2 (16 ounce) package phyllo dough*

2 cups chopped pecans

1 1/2 tablespoons whole cloves

1 1/2 cups water

1/3 cup white sugar

1 cinnamon stick

1 cup honey

*For homemade phyllo dough (optional)

4 cups flour

1 teaspoon salt

1 1/3 cups tepid water

1/4 cup olive oil


To make your own phyllo dough:

  1. Sift flour and salt into a mixing bowl and add water and olive oil. Stir until ingredients form a soft dough.
  2. Knead dough in the bowl until it becomes smooth, about 10 minutes.
  3. Once well mixed and smooth, wrap the dough in plastic wrap and leave it to rest at room temperature for 1 hour. (If you chill the dough, always bring it to room temperature before using).
  4. Separate dough a roll into 12 balls with hands.
  5. For each dough ball, on a lightly floured surface, roll out into a square using a rolling pin and then dust with flour and roll out dough again with rolling pin. Repeat carefully until dough is 14 x 18 inches.
  6. Set each thin rectangle of dough aside on a cloth and cover with waxed paper until all 12 are done and you are ready to make your baklava.

To make baklava:

  1. Preheat oven to 350°
  2. While your oven heats, melt butter over low heat. Pour 2 tablespoons of the butter into the bottom of a 9 x 13 inch baking pan.
  3. Layer 3 sheets of phyllo dough in the pan (trim to fit).
  4. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of pecans on top of the dough.
  5. Layer 3 more sheets of dough. Use a brush to cover the dough with a generous amount of melted butter. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of pecans on top.
  6. Repeat step 5 until pan is 3/4 full.
  7. When you are done adding phyllo dough layers, score the dough to form diamonds with a sharp knife.
  8. Press a clove at the end of each diamond and pour remaining butter over.
  9. Bake 45-50 minutes, until golden brown.
  10. While the baklava bakes, combine sugar, water and cinnamon stick in a medium sauce pan and bring to a boil stirring constantly.
  11. Simmer for 10 minutes. Add honey and simmer for 2 more minutes.
  12. Remove from heat and discard cinnamon stick.
  13. Pour over hot baklava and cool on wire rack.

When cooled, cut into diamonds and your baklava is ready to serve at your holiday or New Year’s celebration, perfect for family and friends of all ages.


Nanaimo Bars

nanaimo barsNanaimo bars are popular in commonwealth nations Canada and Australia, and are named after the Canadian city, Nanaimo. Making these bars is simple—you don’t even need an oven.

Nanaimo bars have three layers of flavor:

  • The bottom layer is a wafer crust of graham cracker crumbs, walnuts, and coconut.
  • The next is an icing layer of creamy custard.
  • Lastly, it is all topped off with a solid layer of delectable chocolate.

These bars are a good option if you have a busy schedule during this time of year. You can make them ahead of time and leave them in your refrigerator, taking them out when guests arrive or right before you leave the house on your way to a holiday party.

YIELDS: 2 dozen


1/2 cup butter

1/4 cup white sugar

5 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder

1 egg

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 cups graham cracker crumbs

1 cup shredded coconut

1/2 cup chopped walnuts

1/4 cup butter

2 cups confectioner’s sugar

2 tablespoons vanilla custard powder (or choose your favorite flavor)

3 tablespoons milk

4 (1 ounce) squares semisweet chocolate, chopped

1 tablespoon butter


  1. Mix 1/2 cup butter, white sugar, cocoa, egg and vanilla in a heavy saucepan or double boiler. Stir over low heat until mixture is a custard consistency.
  2. Add graham cracker crumbs, coconut and walnuts and mix well.
  3. In a buttered 9 x 9 inch cake pan pack mixture.
  4. Combine 1/4 butter, confectioner’s sugar, vanilla custard powder and milk. Beat until creamy.
  5. Spread cream mixture into pan on top of melted mixture.
  6. Refrigerate until hardened
  7. Melt semi-sweet chocolate with 1 tablespoon butter and drizzle on top of custard layer and refrigerate.

When all three layers are completely hardened, cut into squares to serve your guests this holiday season.

These recipes can be a new tradition to this special time of year and pair wonderfully with a piping hot cup of marshmallow-topped cocoa or a glass of creamy egg nog.


International Food Club wishes you and your family a safe and scrumptious holiday!

Recipes via:


Phyllo dough

Nanaimo Bars 

Pfeffernusse Cookies 

Photo credits:

Isabelle Hurbain-Palatin via photopin cc

Hilary Woodward via photopin cc

Laura D’Alessandro via photopin cc


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