I’m not much of a sweets person (with the exception of cherry balls) but I can definitely get behind a tradition like the 13 desserts of Christmas in Provence.
Of course it’s known as Les Treize Desserts de Noël in France, and I loved learning about it last year visiting Provence in December.
I was there only for a short time but I was able to check out the Best Bakeries in Aix en Provence and made a list of What to Eat in Marseille as I was only there for 24 hours and didn’t eat bouillabaisse.
I know, it’s a tragedy. But there’s always next time…
The 13 desserts of Christmas is the perfect opportunity to explore Provençal holiday traditions. It’s different than holiday food in Paris or other regions.
What I love is that locals make the desserts with simple but thoughtful flavours that represent Provence.
It is unusual for families to invite anyone out of their family circle to this meal. It is a religious event that offers a promise of prosperity for the family for the new year.
But you can find vendors selling the desserts in the streets and sample all of them.
The desserts honour long held tradition and religious beliefs. The Provence desserts provide a representation of the body of Christ and his 12 disciples during the last supper.
I’m non-secular but as a tourist I find it interesting.
Families present the desserts after mass on Christmas Eve. The desserts remain on the three tables until the 27th.
The offerings are a religious blessing of sorts and not intended to be a filling meal.
The 13 desserts of Christmas symbolically are laid on three different tables with candles that represent the Trinity.
13 Desserts of Christmas in Provence
There is no formal list of the 13 desserts of Christmas as it varies a little bit by the districts.
Each region also serves a different variation of the traditional yule log cake. They also use a symbolic version of the yule log as an option.
The family presents the oldest child and a parent with a real log to put on the hearth on Christmas Eve.
Fruits and Nuts
There are four basic items, that represent the four Catholic religious orders called les quatre mendiants or the four beggars.
The religious order is to have a vow of poverty and a pledge to help the homeless.
Each food represents a different order. Raisins represent Dominicans, walnuts or hazelnuts represent Augustines, dried figs represent Franciscans and almonds represent Carmelites.
An offering of an assortment of dried fruits, fresh fruits, nuts, almonds, candies, hazelnuts and walnuts are on the three tables.
It’s common to have both dried and fresh fruit such as raisins, dried figs, dates, apples, oranges almonds, apples, hazelnuts and dates.
Nougat Noir Au Miel and Nougat Blanc
Nougats on the table represent good and evil. Nougat noir au miel is a hard candy made with honey and almonds.
The nougat blanc is soft and made with sugar, eggs, pistachios, honey, and usually almonds.
Pompe à l’huile
The pompe à l’huile is a delight, flavoured with orange-flavoured rose water and moistened with olive oil.
Pompe à l’huile is the bread/pastry served during the 13 desserts of Christmas in Provence and is a delicious treat.
It’s easy to make with simple ingredients like olive oil, lemon and orange zest. The zest gives it a very light flavour.
Locals break the bread apart by hand, which represents the breaking of bread with Christ.
Marzipan is made from almonds and is used to decorate cakes or as a thin icing on a cake. It can also be molded and dipped in chocolate for a sugary sweet confectionery bite.
In Aix-en-Provence it’s customary to eat Calissons, almond cookies with a similar flavour to marzipan.
Hot Mulled Wine
Locals serve hot mulled wine alongside the 13 desserts of Christmas in Provence.
Made with red or white wine and cloves and spices, it takes the winter chill away during the cold nights.
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