Sweet & Savory: Traditions from around the world
By Andrea E. McHugh
Local chefs & bakers share favorite recipes for the holiday season
Original artwork by Emilee Angell
From its earliest days, Newport has been an international city, wrapping its arms around both travelers passing through and those who decide to plant roots on and across Aquidneck Island. With them often comes a breadth of culinary traditions, celebrated no more so than throughout the holiday season.
Despite the ingredients being as different as the cultures themselves, the crux of the holidays remains the same: food and family. From cakes and cookies to puddings and pastry, recipes are passed down through generations and dishes are served with love, memories are reawakened — and new ones are made.
Here, local chefs and bakers from around the world share some of their favorites — and their recipes.
From the time it opened in 2020, Le Bec Sucré in Middletown has commanded a line of customers extending well out the door, queueing patiently for Bélinda Quinn’s baguettes, croissants, fruit tarts, rustic breads and, of course, French macarons. The beloved boulangerie, which sells out of their goods before closing time most days, gives devotees an authentic taste of Quinn’s native France, but for the baker/pastry chef, a Bûche de Noël gives her a sense of home during the holidays.
The origins of the French dessert, which translated means “Christmas Log,” is said to date back to medieval times and a Celtic ritual aligned with the Winter Solstice in which a large log would be burned, sometimes for days, in the hopes of a fruitful harvest in the year ahead.
Later, the burning of the yule log on Christmas Eve not only warmed the home but reflected new beginnings. Then, in the late 19th Century, a Parisian baker was said to be the first to craft a dessert version with a cake shaped like a small log symbolizing the tradition. Since then, there have been multiple culinary incarnations, ranging from simple to elaborate made with cake or ice cream.
“We have this very big dinner, and at the end we have, of course, all these fruits, and then we have the desserts, the cheese, and then we have this ice Bûche de Noël, which is just enough; it’s light, not too heavy,” says Quinn in her unmistakable Parisian accent. “The other version, well, it’s real pastry, pâtisserie.”
Though Quinn’s family enjoyed the ice cream rendition, the sweet treat is typically a rolled sponge cake covered in buttercream or chocolate, which gives each slice a beautiful swirl pattern. Quinn says Christmas bûches can be exceptionally beautiful, and in France, are typically bought at a pâtisserie.
Next page: Chinese Almond Cookies