12/06/2013 09:31 am ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

Screw Fruit Cake, These 9 Christmas Breads Are Way Better (PHOTOS)

Angelo Cavalli via Getty Images

I have a vivid memory of nearly starving to death in the Christmas of 1987, when my family's jam-packed station wagon was stuck for hours in a freak snowstorm outside Savannah, GA. We were about 16 hours into our drive from New York to Florida, and all we had in the car was a fruit cake that someone had given us. I distinctly remember the desperation, the panic, and the plastic wrap around that fruit cake, which never came off. We knew what was inside it -- neon green mystery bullets and a musky stench (booze) that no child should ever be exposed to. We would've readily turned to cannibalism before eating that fruit cake.

Fruitcake, for those of you lucky enough to have avoided it, is a dense brick of spirit-soaked cake studded with candied fruits, nuts and spices. It was invented when a massive amount of cheap sugar arrived in Europe in the 16th century, and people began using it to preserve fruit. The stuff became so abundant that no one knew what to do with it, so they threw it in cakes. Horrible, evil cakes.

But there's great news: If you like the concept of fruit cake (a sweet, sometimes yeasted bread studded with dried fruit and nuts), there are a lot of delicious options out there that aren't fruit cake. Below, check out 9 much better alternatives for Christmas breads. Let us know what your favorite is.

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  • 1 Panettone
    Angelo Cavalli via Getty Images
    Decidedly the most popular of all the various Italian Christmas breads, panettone is a yeasted bread studded with raisins and candied orange zest. Legend has it that panettone was created in the 15th century when a young man from Milan fell in love with the daughter of a baker named Toni. He baked a moist, sweet bread filled with raisins and candied fruit and presented it to the girl's father in the hopes of winning him (and her) over -- and of course, he called it Pan de Toni (panettone).
  • 2 Pandoro
    Angela Sorrentino via Getty Images
    This is another Italian one, hailing from Verona. It's meant to be shaped like an 8-pointed star, and it's dusted with sugar to resemble the snowy Italian Alps. Notice how much prettier it is than fruit cake?
  • 3 Stollen
    Howard Shooter via Getty Images
    Stollen differs from other Christmas breads because it not only includes dried fruits, but also marzipan. It's a traditional German cake, usually eaten during the Christmas season (and then aptly named Christstollen). Beautiful stollen is basically giving fruit cake the finger.
  • 4 Three Kings Bread (Rosca De Reyes)
    Flickr: KeithWilliamson
    Timed to be made around the Epiphany (January 6), Three Kings Bread commemorates the Three Wise Men's visit to see Jesus. Popular in Mexico and Spain, the bread is shaped like a crown and is studded with "jewels" of candied fruit and nuts. A small doll is often inserted inside the cake. Even if you choke on the doll, it still tastes better than fruit cake.
  • 5 Bolo Rei
    Ian O'Leary via Getty Images
    Bolo rei is the Portuguese version of Three Kings Cake. Portugal, you just gave the fruit cake a spanking.
  • 6 Julekake
    Flickr: RichRenomeron
    Julekake is a Norwegian yeasted Christmas bread that's infused with raisins, cardamom and candied fruits, often served with a smear of butter on each slice. Even the worst julekake > fruit cake.
  • 7 Kolach
    Flickr: cpikas
    Kolach is a traditional Czech bread made at Christmas. Braided and shaped in a ring, three are often stacked atop each other to represent the Holy Trinity. DIFFERENT LEAGUE.
  • 8 Cozonac
    Flickr: Isabela.C
    A traditional Romanian sweet bread, cozonac is made especially for Easter and Christmas. It's a buttery, eggy dough filled with raisins (though the variation seen here is filled with poppy seeds). See how light and crumby this is? You'll never get that from fruit cake.
  • 9 Panforte
    Cristina Lichti via Getty Images
    Panforte most strongly resembles fruit cake, compared to all the other breads on the list. Incredibly dense and spicy, the base is made of sugar, honey and flour before fruits, nuts and spices are mixed in.

    So ... okay, this one might not actually be better than fruitcake. It could possibly be considered much, much worse.


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