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Traditional Christmas Desserts


SweetSide
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My daughter is having a party in her French class at school and I need to prepare a dessert for the class that would traditionally be served in France during the Christmas season. However, the Buche de Noel has already been "taken" by another student, so that one is out.

As for other things, while I can name and prepare a long list of French pastries, I haven't a clue as to what would be most popular during the Christmas season.

Thanks for your suggestions!

Cheryl, The Sweet Side
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Apart from the bûche de Noël, which is a recent creation, there are a few traditional Christmas pastries in France, all revolving around the theme of a crown-shaped brioche including candied fruit. One of the best being the fouace de Noël, a Southern version with orange flower water. The pastry is glazed and sprinkled with coarse-grain sugar (sucre casson). It is often decorated with glacé cherries and angelica.

In Provence, it is traditional to serve thirteen desserts for Christmas eve. They are : pompe à l'huile (a brioche made with olive oil), raisins, figs, dried plums from Brignoles, apples and pears, candied citron, jams, quince cheese, nougat (black and white), fresh cheese, small brioches (fougasses), fried bugnes, cumin and fennel seed cookies.

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Well, I always associate the season with Galettes des Rois and our loyal France Forum eGullet member Clotilde has written  a recipe that I'm sure would qualify for school.

Here is some other background on this cake for "12th Night" of the Christmas season or January 6th (Epiphany): click

For others, here is the sister post in the P&B forum: click

Inspired by Swisskaese's post in the other thread I was interested to see if there were particular Alsatian Christmas desserts. Some googling suggests that elaborate Kugelhupfs (with nuts and fruit) might be something served for Christmas in Alsace.

"Under the dusty almond trees, ... stalls were set up which sold banana liquor, rolls, blood puddings, chopped fried meat, meat pies, sausage, yucca breads, crullers, buns, corn breads, puff pastes, longanizas, tripes, coconut nougats, rum toddies, along with all sorts of trifles, gewgaws, trinkets, and knickknacks, and cockfights and lottery tickets."

-- Gabriel Garcia Marquez, 1962 "Big Mama's Funeral"

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Well, I always associate the season with Galettes des Rois and our loyal France Forum eGullet member Clotilde has written  a recipe that I'm sure would qualify for school.

Here is some other background on this cake for "12th Night" of the Christmas season or January 6th (Epiphany): click

For others, here is the sister post in the P&B forum: click

Inspired by Swisskaese's post in the other thread I was interested to see if there were particular Alsatian Christmas desserts. Some googling suggests that elaborate Kugelhupfs (with nuts and fruit) might be something served for Christmas in Alsace.

I clean forgot the thread we had running since 2003 on the subject.

But while I'm at it, a French friend/colleague asked me why America, alone among Western countries (he said) does not celebrate Epiphany with a cake. Anyone know the reason?

John Talbott

blog John Talbott's Paris

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Beautiful! Thanks for the Galette de Rois idea. Funny how we don't celebrate the Epiphany here in the US, but I did make one of these in pastry school. Forgot about it until now -- I loved that, and the kids will love finding the feve.

I'm excited now!

Cheryl, The Sweet Side
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Well, I always associate the season with Galettes des Rois and our loyal France Forum eGullet member Clotilde has written  a recipe that I'm sure would qualify for school.

I didn't mention the galette des Rois because I thought it was about Christmas pastries only. If you wish to include New Year pastries there is also a little-known specialty of Rouen called aguignettes: heavily buttered puff-pastry cakes (on a galette des rois basis, without the filling) shaped like animals (ducks, chickens, pigs, lions, etc.) and adorned with currant eyes. They're easy, about 12-15 cm long, just cut the pastry, glaze it, add the currant, bake until puffed. Delicious.

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Not a dessert that one could bring to school, but a question about oeufs a la neige for those in or of France. Is this a traditional Christmas/holiday dish? I don't mean traditional in the sense of a Buche de Noel, but is it something that might be served at Christmas? Not sure why I have this feeling or if I had heard of it somewhere.

"Under the dusty almond trees, ... stalls were set up which sold banana liquor, rolls, blood puddings, chopped fried meat, meat pies, sausage, yucca breads, crullers, buns, corn breads, puff pastes, longanizas, tripes, coconut nougats, rum toddies, along with all sorts of trifles, gewgaws, trinkets, and knickknacks, and cockfights and lottery tickets."

-- Gabriel Garcia Marquez, 1962 "Big Mama's Funeral"

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I tried to do the 13 desserts of Provence, one year. As a senior retired person. it was very expensive. I can't do that again.

Sharing food with another human being is an intimate act that should not be indulged in lightly....MFK Fisher

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But while I'm at it, a French friend/colleague asked me why America, alone among Western countries (he said) does not celebrate Epiphany with a cake.  Anyone know the reason?

John -- here is my speculation...

I believe that much of the American celebration of "Christmas" has been bastardized from the Victorian ideal (presents, Santa Clause, ostentacious decorations, etc.) However, for the Victorian, Christmas would literally START on Christmas Eve and last for twelve days; i.e., The Twelve Days of Christmas.

Americans have stretched the holiday, having it begin immediately after the Thanksgiving holiday, practically a month before. Since it has become a far more commercial holiday in the states, having last for those four and five weeks is more than sufficient.

Since Europe doesn't have the Christmas onset with a giant turkey meal at the end of the November, they continue the classic tradition of starting the holiday celebration later in the December month and maintaining the Epiphany celebration.

As a matter of interest, I did have a number of friends who maintained the Epiphany celebration with a Twelfth Night party which was considered quite fun and unusual.

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I'll see if I can find a photo of the 13 desserts that my family does every year. For the project, a symbolic facsimile of this presentation could be done, considering that the 13 desserts is realistically open to interpretation by family and adjusted according to means. Every family prepares it differently.

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Not a dessert that one could bring to school, but a question about oeufs a la neige  for those in or of France.  Is this a traditional Christmas/holiday dish?  I don't mean traditional in the sense of a Buche de Noel, but is it something that might be served at Christmas?  Not sure why I have this feeling or if I had heard of it somewhere.

- Is œufs à la neige a traditional Christmas or holiday dish: no.

- Might it be served at Christmas: yes, as part of the Christmas dinner, but there still should be a more christmassy pastry on the side. Œufs à la neige are not associated with any holiday.

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You (and especially the kids in your daughter's French class) should know that a very, very, very French dessert is Pain Perdu , which is nothing more than what we know as French Toast, and although it's served here for breakfast, it's only served in France as a dessert. And at Christmas time, they make it with the flavorings of pain d'epices (spice bread), which is nothing more than those spices sprinkled over it. It's a most traditional, and most delicious dessert, and might also be a great lesson in French culture for the kids:

gallery_11181_3830_1225.jpg

I've spent many a Christmas season in France! (Although I don't have too many memories of being all too conscious at the end of a French Christmas-Week Dinner, this being a combination of the foods and the wine.)

(The above version was served at the restaurant A l'Arbre Vert, in the village of Ammerschwir, in the Alsace region, where they take Christmas eats especially seriously.)

Overheard at the Zabar’s prepared food counter in the 1970’s:

Woman (noticing a large bowl of cut fruit): “How much is the fruit salad?”

Counterman: “Three-ninety-eight a pound.”

Woman (incredulous, and loud): “THREE-NINETY EIGHT A POUND ????”

Counterman: “Who’s going to sit and cut fruit all day, lady… YOU?”

Newly updated: my online food photo extravaganza; cook-in/eat-out and photos from the 70's

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But while I'm at it, a French friend/colleague asked me why America, alone among Western countries (he said) does not celebrate Epiphany with a cake.  Anyone know the reason?

The only group I know of in the US that seriously celebrates Epiphany (besides some ex-Brits) are those who attend the Greek Orthodox Church (which uses the Julian rather than the Gregorian calendar to date celebrations). Don't know if that's any help in answering your question.

Edited by Carrot Top (log)
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But while I'm at it, a French friend/colleague asked me why America, alone among Western countries (he said) does not celebrate Epiphany with a cake.  Anyone know the reason?

The only group I know of in the US that seriously celebrates Epiphany (besides some ex-Brits) are those who attend the Greek Orthodox Church (which uses the Julian rather than the Gregorian calendar to date celebrations). Don't know if that's any help.

Epiphany is also a big holiday for some Hispanics in the US, Puerto Ricans for sure. In CT there are huge Puerto Rican Epiphany festivals and pageants with food on Jan 6.

I think most European Catholics have a tradition of celebrating the whole Christmas season going from Advent to Epiphany and I thought English Anglicans as well. Whether the tradition stuck once it got to the US I think depends on when the groups came over here and if they were able to maintain a cohesive or significantly large community within the base of Protestant majority (thinking of New England). For instance, Epiphany is certainly celebrated in Austria but Austrians are so dispersed in the US that the tradition is not carried on in a big way except by individual families, etc. Our family with roots in Austria does celebrate Advent with a wreath, etc and we put up the tree the day before Christmas Eve and take it down no earlier than the Epiphany but this is not "main stream" US custom. That Catholic (Anglican/Eastern Orthodox?) tradition has not imprinted itself on the society at large--even for non-Catholic Christians that celebrate Christmas. In the same way the start of the Lenten season is a huge event in Austria and Germany but those ethnic groups don't necessarily celebrate it here. In New Orleans which was significantly Roman Catholic since a relatively long time back they have maintained some of those traditions like Mardi Gras although it has since become secularized for most.

So, I think the short answer to John's original question is that the US while having a large Catholic population is not like those in Western Europe that were traditionally Catholic with a 1000 years of history. From what people have mentioned it seems that England (via Anglicans) and Eastern Orthodox areas also celebrate Epiphany. The Puritan foundings of the country have long, deep roots that have affected the culture of the whole country and over the years.

Sorrt to divert from our original topic though... :smile:

Edited by ludja (log)

"Under the dusty almond trees, ... stalls were set up which sold banana liquor, rolls, blood puddings, chopped fried meat, meat pies, sausage, yucca breads, crullers, buns, corn breads, puff pastes, longanizas, tripes, coconut nougats, rum toddies, along with all sorts of trifles, gewgaws, trinkets, and knickknacks, and cockfights and lottery tickets."

-- Gabriel Garcia Marquez, 1962 "Big Mama's Funeral"

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I have a somewhat related question, so I thought I'd put it on the same thread.

I live in the French house dorm at college, and for our house project, we're celebrating (a week late) St. Nicholas. I was just wondering if anyone could give us some insight about traditional foods/drinks consumed at St. Nicholas, or of any traditions surrounding it. Thanks!

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The only group I know of in the US that seriously celebrates Epiphany (besides some ex-Brits) are those who attend the Greek Orthodox Church

Here in Britain, people don't generally celebrate Epiphany (unless you count taking the decorations down which traditionally should be done on Twelfth Night; there were other twelfth night celebrations historically but they're not kept up). In fact, I think it's more of a Catholic than Anglican celebration. And according to the BBC,

For many Protestant church traditions, the season of Epiphany extends from 6 January until Ash Wednesday, which begins the season of Lent leading to Easter.

Other traditions, including the Roman Catholic tradition, observe Epiphany as a single day

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I have a somewhat related question, so I thought I'd put it on the same thread.

I live in the French house dorm at college, and for our house project, we're celebrating (a week late) St. Nicholas. I was just wondering if anyone could give us some insight about traditional foods/drinks consumed at St. Nicholas, or of any traditions surrounding it. Thanks!

Great question. I think you might want to post a query on the "Elsewhere in Europe" Forum, since I think it's more celebrated in Eastern Europe and the ex-USSR, eg Orthodox countries.

John Talbott

blog John Talbott's Paris

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I have a somewhat related question, so I thought I'd put it on the same thread.

I live in the French house dorm at college, and for our house project, we're celebrating (a week late) St. Nicholas. I was just wondering if anyone could give us some insight about traditional foods/drinks consumed at St. Nicholas, or of any traditions surrounding it. Thanks!

Great question. I think you might want to post a query on the "Elsewhere in Europe" Forum, since I think it's more celebrated in Eastern Europe and the ex-USSR, eg Orthodox countries.

Actually, it's quite big in Spain as well and in New Orleans (both Catholic outposts), EVERYONE makes/buys a King Cake for Epiphany.

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In an article in Expatica, the author expounds on typical Christmas eve dinner fare, giving links to recipes, that can include desserts such as a bûche de Noël but also regional specialties, specifically the already mentioned 13 desserts of Provence and pain d'épice, kougelhopf and springerle of Alsace

John Talbott

blog John Talbott's Paris

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And yet another - Wednesday in Le Figaro, Stephanie O’Brien had an article with spectacular photos of réveillons desserts from Dalloyau, La Maison du Chocolat + Picard ; respectively seven bûchissimes, a Bûche Chocolat-Mandarine and a « gâteau matelassé au look très couture ». -

John Talbott

blog John Talbott's Paris

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In Provence, it is traditional to serve thirteen desserts for Christmas eve. They are : pompe à l'huile (a brioche made with olive oil), raisins, figs, dried plums from Brignoles, apples and pears, candied citron, jams, quince cheese, nougat (black and white), fresh cheese, small brioches (fougasses), fried bugnes, cumin and fennel seed cookies.

There is a charming pair of movies directed by Yves Robert that are based on two memoirs that Marcel Pagnol (the force behind the cinematic Fanny Trilogy that gave Chez Panisse its name) wrote about his childhood. They're somewhat sentimental (World of Disney, set in France), but not self-consciously so and available on DVD. Netflix carries both titles.

I mention this because there is a short, but lovely scene in "My Mother's Castle" ("Le Chateau de ma mere") in which Marcel's mother lifts a cloth from a table laden with the traditional desserts, points, and rapidly names them all. Were children able to get over the oddness of subtitles, it might enhance the lesson.

Edited by Pontormo (log)

"Viciousness in the kitchen.

The potatoes hiss." --Sylvia Plath

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