Renaissance AngelsThe Italians and Spanish are passionate about good food and Christmas is a time for some fabulous specialties.

Pannetone a light brioche type cake studded with candied fruits is perhaps the best-known Italian speciality. The interior can be hollowed out and stuffed with a rich mixture of chocolate, chestnuts and rum, thick sweet custard, or ice cream Large quantities of cookies are made and sold at Christmas such as the light, sweet and delicious almond Ricciarelli, and Cantucci typical Sienese dry cookies with almonds. Created by a famous Tuscan pastry cook, “Cantucci” have become one of the hallmarks of Sienese pastry tradition.

The Italian tradition of giving and eating sweet foods at this time of year dates back to the Emperor Caligula, who decreed that all high ranking Romans had to present him with gifts at New Year. With the passing of time it became the custom to give ‘honeyed things’ to friends and relatives. Panforte is a rich confection of nuts, cocoa, candied peels, honey and spices, (halfway between a cake and a sweetmeat) which has been enjoyed in Italy since ancient times and was popular with the Crusaders as a source of instant energy. It’s particularly delicious with strong coffee. It keeps for up to 3 weeks, if wrapped and stored in an airtight tin. It should be served in small slices, as it is so rich.

For a stunning selection of Italian Christmas foods and other artisanal regional products including organic fruit jams and a wonderful selection of honeys go to: www.sienashop.com.

The favourite Christmas sweetmeat of Spain is Turron, the country’s celebrated nougat. There are many varieties but the most famous are those of Jijona and Alicante, the former being hard and brittle, while the other has a softer texture. A toothsome confection of honey, almonds, sugar and egg whites, Turron can be varied with the addition of spices or dried fruits.

Other Christmas foods include:
Membrillo is a delectable quince paste made from mature quinces. It is aromatic, with a fresh penetrating flavour. Although it’s traditionally eaten with cheese it’s also delicious eaten alone as a dessert or as a healthy and nutritious snack.

Bitter Sweet Figs are produced using traditional methods and make an unusual accompaniment to roast beef, poultry or game.

Aragon Fruits have been renowned since they were first mentioned in 1603. These luscious crystallised fruits from Aragon are coated in chocolate, which provides a bittersweet contrast to the sweetness of the fruit.

Soto Marzipan is a 100% natural product with a delightfully fresh flavour. It is recognised and highly praised by top chefs all over the world.

Polvorones a much loved Christmas treat are small crumble cakes made from traditional ingredients that literally melt in your mouth.

Mantecados are traditionally made cakes are flavoured with cinnamon and rolled in sesame seeds.

Green Apple liqueur is produced by maturing fresh, green apples. Free from artificial colourings and flavourings.

For a splendid selection of Spanish food specialties go to: www.agapes.com.

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