When you think about France, you are likely to conjure up certain images in your mind. It’s no surprise that the festive customs are dominated by food…
As in most European countries, children begin December by opening an advent calendar. The vast majority are chocolate filled of course!
The French do love this delicacy, and many children enjoy a ‘gouter’ of chocolate each afternoon throughout the year. A great source of magnesium, chocolate is the second most popular gift at Christmas in France, only beaten by perfume.
The arrival of the Christmas tree, the ‘Sapin’, brings a festive warmth to each home, but if you are visiting France in December, do not expect to hear Carols and Christmas music in all the shops as this is only just beginning here!
2 The Reveillon…
On the 24th December, french families enjoy a veritable feast beginning with a Kir Royal here in Burgundy, and ending with a glass of Champagne at midnight. The evening meal lasts for hours! Children join in the fun, and open their first present at midnight.
A typical menu will include snails and seafood. Some families will time their meal to be able to go to church for Midnight mass and to see the ‘creche’.
3 Christmas Day
Despite the huge feast enjoyed just a few hours ago, it’s not unusual for a family to sit at the table for several hours enjoying several courses amid plenty of lively discussion, while the children play with their presents.
Traditional starters include foie gras, oysters and salmon, while the main course is likely to include stuffed goose, capon or turkey, accompanied by vegetables.
Dessert is the traditional Bûche de Noêl, a sponge cake decorated as a yule log, and traditionally made with chocolate and chestnuts. It’s very rich, especially after such a meal!
4 The St Sylvestre
On December 31st the French enjoy their biggest party of the year and certainly let their hair down whether celebrating with family at home, or at one of the many traditional balls, often organised by the local Firemen. Tonight’s feast will include foie gras, oysters and other seafood dishes, and of course, Champagne. This is a great night for singing and dancing, wearing silly hats and playing with pea-shooters! The New Year arrives with Fireworks and kissing.
5 January… we’re not finished yet!
La Carte de Voeux and the Galette des Rois
The french do not send Christmas cards but Cartes de Voeux, literally meaning Wish Cards. Initially sent to almost all one’s acquaintances, these are now sent to absent family and friends to wish them health, wealth and happiness.
Protocol is for the younger members of the family to send their cards first, then the older members to send cards in reply.
The end of the holiday season is marked on January 6th, Epiphany, with the Galette des Rois. This delicious dish of frangipane (almond paste) sandwiched between puff pastry is another moment for family fun.
Who will find the porcelain doll hidden in the Galette, and have the right to wear a golden crown as King or Queen of the family for the day?
Galette des Roi
Fancy making your own Gallette des Roi?
Follow my recipe for a New Year treat:
2 sheets of ready-made Flaky or Puff Pastry
100 g (half a cup) butter at room temperature
100 g (half a cup) castor sugar
125 g (one and half cups) powdered almonds
12 whole almonds (optional)
3 fresh eggs
1 fevre: A small porcelain figure or sterilized coin
Please note: If using cup measurements, you may need slightly less egg when making the mixture.
Pre-heat your oven to 240°C, 475°F, Gas mark 9
Combine the sugar, butter and powdered almonds in a large bowl until thoroughly mixed.
Beat two eggs lightly, then gradually add to the mixture, folding gently.
The mixture should be light and creamy, but not too wet.
Add the whole almonds and the fevre.
Place one sheet of the pastry on a non-stick baking tray.
Beat the third egg in a small bowl, and use some of the egg to baste the edges of the pastry.
Now add your mixture into the middle of the pastry, and cover with the second sheet of pastry, sealing the edges carefully.
Using a sharp knife, score a design on the top of the Gallette, then baste with the remaining egg.
Place in the oven and cook for 10 minutes.
Immediately lower the oven temperature to 180°C, 350°F, gas mark 4, and cook for a further 20 minutes, until golden brown.
I recommend allowing it to cool slightly before serving.
Cut into slices and ask each member of the family to select their portion without peeping for the fevre!
Bon appetit et Bonne Année from the Hotels Afloat team