Our love affair with France began in 2014 when our family had the opportunity to spend a portion of our holiday in Paris. Arriving the day after Christmas, we spent our time exploring museums, markets, cafes, ice skating the Grand Palais and finally bringing in the New Year along the Champs-Élysées. From Paris to the smallest of villages, lights are hung to envelop the tree lined streets. Christmas time in France is magical.
Near the end of November, Marchés de Noël (Christmas markets) are set up in the city centers. There, you can peruse the tents that sell various seasonal items—from vin chaud (hot wine) to grilled chestnuts, homemade chocolates, foie gras, oysters, and locally-made crafts and toys. We love walking the markets at night under the lights. Many French holiday traditions are much like ours in Tennessee: Christmas trees (in our village) are delivered and decorated, and gifts are opened either Christmas Eve or Day. Le Réveillon (Christmas dinner) is planned on either Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, as well.
Turkey used to be the sole Christmas entrée, however, now le réveillon consists of oysters, foie gras, venison, lamb, a turkey stuffed with chestnuts, or even lobster. The one thing that hasn’t changed is the dessert—a bûche de Noël (chocolate sponge cake in the shape of a yule log). The French eat a lot of chocolate during Christmas! Over the years, a great joy for us and our friends is sharing our traditions. A couple years ago, our family spent Thanksgiving in France and invited our neighbors over to a traditional Thanksgiving feast. They were intrigued by the flavors of sage and nutmeg, as well as having a sweet dish such as sweet potatoes during the meal and not after. This Christmas, I would like to meld some French traditions along with ours. One item that is on my wish list is a crèche de Noël (a nativity scene). Small clay figures called santons sold at the Christmas Markets include baby Jesus, Mary, Joseph, and also common villagers such as the town crier and the washerwoman. For Christmas dinner, a rack of lamb sounds interesting, possibly with an oyster dish, and to start with a foie gras would be nice for a change. I’ll most certainly make a bûche de Noël!
Bûche de Noël – Recipe
The Yule-log dessert served around the holidays, Bûche de Noël is a distinctly French tradition. The sweet log-shaped treat would make a pretty impressive addition to your family’s roster of Christmastime desserts, if you don’t make it already. Inside that thick chocolate ganache lies a little twist of chocolate cake rolled around a layer of whipped cream icing. You actually start with a flat cake baked in a 9×13 jelly roll pan. Each bite is flavorful and festive, but a slice is actually pretty light. Ingredients:
butter, for the pan
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon fine salt
4 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3/4 cup plus
3 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
1 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon sour cream
For step-by-step instructions, please visit www.realsimple.com