As in many countries, Christmas is a time for family and celebration in France. Paris is transformed into a festive street party, with amusement rides, decorations, holiday markets and delicious treats on every corner. Private homes are decorated with Christmas trees, and crêches, with traditional carved figures known as santons.
In some areas of France, the season officially starts on December 6, the feast day of St. Nicholas. On December 8, lights in the windows of Lyon illuminate the city in homage to the virgin Mary.
Paris Confectionary Christmas shop window
French children hope that Père Noël, or Father Christmas, will visit in the dark wee hours, leaving them toys and treats in their shoes placed in front of the fire. And one of the most charming laws in France decrees that all letters to Santa must be responded to by postcard!
Holiday windows at Galeries Lafayette
Many French attend midnight Mass, which is traditionally followed by le Réveillon, or a magnificent feast, a symbol of spiritual awakening to the glory of the birth of Christ. Cafés and restaurants are open all night to offer le Réveillon and regional specialties, like goose, chicken or turkey, and a Buche de Noël, or chocolate Yule log, for dessert. On the Epiphany, usually celebrated on January 6, the traditional dessert is the Galette des Rois. This is a round cake, divided in even slices, with a “fève,” or good luck charm baked inside. The youngest child in the family hides under the table and calls out to whom each slice is given – ensuring no funny business in finding the charm. Whoever finds the charm (traditionally a fava bean, but now a porcelain baby) baked inside is the King or Queen for the day, gets to wear a gold paper crown, and has to supply next year’s cake.
Holiday Recipe: Galette des Rois
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cooking Time: 40 minutes
Ingredients for Six Servings
– 500 grams (17 2/3 ounces) all-butter puff pastry, thawed if frozen, divided into two sheets.
1 cup almond meal or flour (finely ground almonds)
1/2 cup of sugar
1/4 cup of soft butter
a few drops of almond extract (optional)
1 egg yolk, thinned with a few drops of water, for pastry wash
1 bean or small porcelain figurine for the charm
gold paper crown for the King or Queen
Place a sheet of puff pastry in a 12 – 13″ round baking dish or pie pan, then prick with a fork.
In a bowl, mix together the almond meal, sugar, whole egg, soft butter and almond extract to make the filling.
Spread the filling over the pastry in the pie pan, and place your charm in the filling along the edge. Clotilde Dusoulier, who writes the blog Chocolate and Zucchini, advises that if your charm is oblong, orient it toward the center. These tips will keep you from hitting the charm as you cut the cake into servings.
Close up your galette with the second sheet of pastry, and seal the edges well.
Make a pretty design in the top layer of pastry with your knife (diamonds, leaves, Christmas tree, stars – whatever suits your holiday mood).
Wash the top layer with the egg yolk that has been thinned with a little water. Prick the top layer to let air escape while the galette cooks; this will help keep the galette from over “inflating” and drying out.
Put in the oven at 400°F for 30 about thirty minutes; check on your galette after 25 minutes, but don’t hesitate to keep it in the oven for as long as forty minutes if necessary to bring it to a golden brown.
Enjoy your galette with cider for the kids, and sweet pear liqueur for the grown-ups. The youngest child in the family must hide under the table and call out the recipient of each piece as it’s cut!
À la prochaine,
Louise and The Team at Parlez-Vous Provence
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