Although fewer and fewer French attend la Messe de Minuit on Christmas Eve, it is still an important part of Christmas for many families. It is followed by a huge feast, called le Réveillon (from the verb réveiller, to wake up or revive). Le Réveillon is a symbolic awakening to the meaning of Christ's birth and is the culinary high point of the season, which may be enjoyed at home or in a restaurant or café that is open all night. Each region in France has its own traditional Christmas menu, with dishes like turkey, capon, goose, chicken, and boudin blanc (similar to white pudding).
Throughout the French Christmas season, there are special traditional desserts:
La bûche de Noël (Yule log) - A log-shaped cake made of chocolate and chestnuts. Representative of the special wood log burned from Christmas Eve to New Year's Day in the Périgord, which is a holdover from a pagan Gaul celebration.
4 eggs separated
1 2/3 cups sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup sifted cake flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons rum (dark, if possible)
2/3 cup water
4 egg yolks
1 cup butter, softened (you can use margarine, but it's not the same)
1 1/2 squares unsweetened chocolate, melted
1 teaspoon instant coffee powder
Beat egg whites until soft peaks form. Gradually add 1/2 cup sugar beating until egg whites stand in stiff peaks. In separate bowl beat 4 egg yolks until thick and lemon-colored. Gradually add 1/2 cup sugar beating constantly (this should be creamy, not grainy). Stir in vanilla. Gently fold egg-yolk mixture into whites (like making a souffli). Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt. Sift over top of egg mixture and fold in gently. Spread mixture evenly in greased and floured 15-by-10-by-1-inch jelly roll pan. Bake at 375 degrees for 10 to 12 minutes, or until top springs back when lightly touched. Loosen edges of cake. Immediately turn out on kitchen towel that has been liberally sprinkled with confectioners' sugar. Sprinkle cake evenly with 2 tablespoons rum. Roll up cake, starting at long side. Cool
Meanwhile in a small saucepan combine remaining 2/3 cup sugar and water. Bring to a boil and cook to 240 degrees on a candy thermometer (soft-ball stage). Beat 4 egg yolks until thick and lemon colored. Very gradually add hot syrup, beating constantly. Continue beating until mixture is completely cool. Beat in the softened butter 1 tablespoon at a time. Add chocolate, instant coffee powder and remaining rum. Continue beating until thick.
Unroll cake. Spread evenly with half of the filling. Roll up starting at the long side. Cut a 4-inch piece from end of roll, cutting on the diagonal. On a serving platter place 4-inch piece along side of large roll at an angle to resemble a log. Frost with remaining filling. Mark frosting with times of fork to resemble tree bark. Decorate with colored tubes of icing for vines and berries. If wanted add marzipan mushrooms for extra effect.
The true Yule log is a big piece of wood, traditionally from a fruit tree like an olive or cherry tree. In Provence, it's at the heart of another tradition: lou cacho-fiò, "set on fire" in Provençal. On Christmas Eve, right before the Great Supper, the oldest and youngest member of the family go and get a big log and carry it around the table three times. They bless it by sprinkling it three times with fortified wine, and then put it in the fireplace and set it on fire. Then everyone goes to the table for the Great Supper.
Traditions vary - some sources say that the log has to burn for at least three days, others that it's supposed to continue until New Year's Day, or even until Epiphany. According to the site Le Beausset en Provence, you put the fire out at midnight, and then relight the log each evening, which would certainly help it to last for a week or more.
Afterwards, the ashes are collected for various uses: mixing with natural remedies, sprinkling under furniture to protect the house from fire, and spreading in the fields.
Many people in France put up a Christmas tree, visit a special church service, eat an elaborate meal and open Christmas presents on Christmas Eve. However, special Christmas meals are also popular.
Dishes May Include:
1 medium rabbit, cut up fryer
1 1/2 lb pork, lean, boneless, diced
1 salt to taste
1 teaspoon coarse black pepper
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1 teaspoon crused dried thyme
1 medium onion, chopped
1 tablespoon dijon mustard
1/2 cup shelled pistachios
1/2 lb bacon, lean, sliced
Cut all possible meat off rabbit and mix with diced pork. Place in food processor fitted with a steel blade. Process until ground roughly. Place in bowl and add all remaining ingredients except bacon. Return to processor and process again until finely ground. Return to bowl and mix well with hands. Drape bacon strips over sides and bottom of a 9" x 5" (23 x 1.5 cm) loaf pan. Press meat mixture into pan, smooth top and fold bacon ends over top. Place loaf pan in water bath with water half-way up sides of pan. Bake at 350°F. (180°C) for 1 1/4 hours. Remove from loaf pan and let cool.
Wrap and refrigerate until serving time.
Serve, sliced, with crusty bread, butter lettuce, salad and Dijon mustard on the side.
Brouillade De Truffes (Omelet With Truffles)
8 large eggs
1 ounce black truffles, finely chopped or shaved
6 tablespoons butter, softened
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
Note: Take care to continue whisking the eggs as they cook to produce this recipe’s signature curd-like texture. If you allow the eggs to cook without stirring, they will produce a scrambled egg texture - not the intended result.
Heat water to simmering in a double boiler. Whisk together the eggs and truffles in the top portion of the double boiler and add the butter. Continue whisking the eggs over the simmering water until they form small curds resembling cottage cheese. Remove the eggs from the heat, season with the salt and pepper, and then serve immediately, while hot.
This recipe makes 4 servings.
Roasted Capon (A Small Bird).
Salad, Peas, Green Beans, Carrots And Potatoes.
Aigo-Boulido (Garlic Soup)
4 cups water
10 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
6 sage leaves
1 small bay leaf
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 egg yolks, beaten
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
3 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
6 slices baguette
1/2 cup grated Gruyere cheese
In a large saucepan, bring the water, 10 cloves garlic, sage, bay leaf, salt and pepper to a simmer. Continue simmering the broth until the garlic is softened and cooked through, about 10 to 15 minutes. Turn off the burner and strain the garlic and herbs from the water. Return the water to the pan.
Remove the bay leaf and sage leaves from the garlic and discard. Using a fork, smash the garlic into a paste and return it to the pan. Bring the soup to just under a simmer and rapidly stir in the beaten eggs yolks. Continue stirring for 30 seconds, until the eggs are set into thin strands.
In medium saucepan over low heat, sauté garlic in the oil and butter until tender – about 7-10 minutes total. Transfer the garlic to a plate. Place baguette slices into hot oil and sauté both sides until they are golden brown.
Place each finished crouton into an ovenproof bowl, top with the soup, and garnish with a bit of Gruyere cheese. Melt the cheese under a broiler, if desired.
Makes 4 to 6 servings.
Papillottes (small chocolate candies wrapped in shiny paper).
Many people spend Christmas Day quietly and some attend a special church service. Popular activities also include walking in a park or the countryside and sharing a meal with family and close friends.
Le pain calendeau (in southern France) - Christmas loaf, part of which is given to a poor person.
Three Kings' Cake : La Galette des Rois (on Epiphany) - round cake which is cut into pieces and distributed by a child, known as le petit roi or l'enfant soleil, hiding under the table. Whoever finds la fève - the charm hidden inside - is King or Queen and can choose a partner.
After all the excitement of Christmas and the new year, there's still one more interesting French tradition: the "pulling of the kings." This celebration takes place at Epiphany, which has a variable date - it can either be 6 January or the first Sunday of the month.
Even more interesting is the galette des rois (literally, kings' cake). This special cake is generally eaten throughout the month of January. Depending on the region, the cake comes in different varieties: it can be made of puff pastry or like a brioche, some are filled with almond paste, and others are decorated with candied fruits. But what sets the galette des rois apart from other cakes is the fève inside, or even two: a real fava bean, and often a figurine or small knickknack as well.
During the tirage des rois (the cutting of the cake), the person who pulls the fève (that is, who finds it in his/her slice of cake) becomes king or queen, receives a paper crown (provided by the bakery), and chooses a partner.
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