Beyond Bûche de Noël

Ethnic bakeries offer a world of goodies to spruce up your sweets table

Unexpected sweets from the Ethiopian bakery Chez Hareg include barley cookies in holiday shapes. Photograph by David Hicks.

We love plum pudding, panettone, and bûche de Noël. But one of the pleasures of living in Washington is the wealth of ethnic bakeries and markets, meaning there are sweets beyond these to liven up the holiday table.

At the charming Arax Coffee Cafe (5852 N. Washington Blvd., Arlington; 703-532-3320), owner Rose Hovsepian puts a spin on the holiday cookie platter with her basket of assorted confections. Look for baklava fashioned into rosettes and with unusual flavorings, such as the brown-sugar version called basma; bird’s nests, a kind of ultra-rich Fig Newton; and rosewater-flavored cookies with crushed pistachio.

The Lemon Tree, a Mediterranean cafe/bakery/market (1701 Rockville Pike, Suite B1, Rockville; 301-984-0880), offers its post-Ramadan staple, Noah’s pudding, through the winter. Thick with barley, figs, nuts, chickpeas, and pomegranate, it makes a festive light dessert. Also delicious are pumpkin wedges infused with simple syrup and sprinkled with walnuts—especially with a dollop of crème fraîche or yogurt.

Argentinean cafe El Patio puts dulce de leche between logs of meringue. Photograph by Matthew Worden.

Trinidadian “black cake” at Crown Bakery (5329 Georgia Ave., NW; 202-291-3009)—spiked with rum and studded with prunes and other fruits—is a traditional Christmas breakfast treat, but as bakers Jennifer Selman and Wayne Dickonson and their customers can attest, it’s also a wonderful dessert. For a twist on eggnog, try the ponche de crème, made with lime zest and rum.

Biscuits made with chili peppers, cardamom, and Ethiopian spiced butter at Chez Hareg (1915 U St., NW; 202-332-6000) are a good alternative to the standard Christmas cookie. For the adventurous, there’s the Ethiopian-inspired anebabero, a mini-“cake” made with layers of brandy-infused injera and chopped peanuts.

Argentina’s dulce de leche is the centerpiece in many holiday desserts at El Patio (12303 Twinbrook Pkwy., Rockville; 301-231-9225). It’s tucked between rounds of meringue, piped into puff pastry like an éclair, sandwiched between cookies known as alfajores, and best of all, rolled with sponge cake jelly-roll style and drizzled with chocolate.

Krishna Brown at Shoebox Oven (703-549-0525; riffs on traditional holiday confections with chocolate pecan pie made with salty caramel ganache and panettone filled with lemon cream made with crushed Lemonheads instead of candied fruit.

This appeared in the December, 2007 issue of the magazine.  

Ann Limpert
Executive Food Editor/Critic

Ann Limpert joined Washingtonian in late 2003. She was previously an editorial assistant at Entertainment Weekly and a cook in New York restaurant kitchens, and she is a graduate of the Institute of Culinary Education. She lives in Petworth.