Tuesday, December 20

Thirteen desserts of Provence

Cooking signs on a streets of Provencal villages

I have spent the summer in Provence yet haven't written much about it. It's a great "escape" to remember and write about, now in this cold and gloomy Vancouver winter weather.
I began missing the Riviera's sun and beaches the minute I returned home. But Provencal villages and their gastronomy were the highlight of my trip.

Luckily, the gastronomy will stay with me forever thanks to Pierre and Celine and "La Cuisine Authentique de nos Grands-meres".  This cookbook brought me back to Provence and inspired me for the thing that I am most interested in: authentic local traditions and food.

Holiday cooking in that region has more symbolism than anywhere else. For example, to honor Christ's Last supper, Provencal Christmas eve dinner-"le gros souper" which takes place just before midnight mass, must end with exactly thirteen desserts. Each guest must taste each dessert, the same quantity, to ensure good luck and success for years to come. These desserts are often served with cooked wine , Ratafia cherries liqueur  or Cartagena wine and "Cachat" spicy, fermented spreadable cheese. Those desserts have to stay on the table for three days. Actual desserts and recipes, vary by local and family traditions.
In reality, there is no list of 13 Christmas desserts. Several associations of Aix en Provence filed in 1998, an "official list" to try to get everyone to agree.

Every region or city has it's own specialty, but at Provencal tables at this time, you would have to find thirteen of these traditional Christmas desserts:

(symbolizing the 4 beggars):
Hazelnuts or walnuts (symbolizing the order of St Augustin )
Dry figs (symbolizing the Franciscan order)
Almonds (symbolizing the Carmelite order)
Raisins (symbolizing the Dominican order)
La pompe a huile (the olive oil pump)*
Les 2 nougats:
White nougat *(made with pine nuts, pistachio and hazelnuts)
Black nougat ( very simple to make from caramelized honey, sugar and almonds)
Calisson d'aix  (marzipan cookies)*
Quince fruit paste *(or jam)
Fresh white grapes
Christmas melon, called green espiran in English due to its colour.
Fresh oranges (sign of wealth)
Candied melons
Winter pear and apples

Some of the recipes for these original Thirteen desserts of Provence can be find below and more photos from Provence on my Craft blog - ethno.

Bienvenue a Provence et Happy Holiday cooking!

Thirteen Provencal desserts - authentic recipes

*Pompe a huile


300 g flour
100 g powder sugar
1 tbs dry yeast 
1 tbs orange flower water
zest of 1 orange
t tbs olive oil
1 cup water

In a big bowl mix in order flour, sugar, oil, orange flower water, zest and water. Well combine until you get nice soft dough. Let it rise on room temperature for about two hours. Preheat oven to 180 C. Knead the dough and make a oval shaped dough and for Provencal look, make incisions with knife like on photo. Let it rise for half an hour more and bake for about twenty minutes.

Cool before serving.

*Quince pate

Before explaining the whole method of preparing this rare pate/paste, I want to thank my friend Kathy G. who provided quinces. This precious and unusual fruit  is almost impossible to find in Vancouver stores.

2 lb (1kg) fresh quince
1 lb (0.5 kg) crystallized sugar
juice from 1 lemon

Cook washed quinces covered in water until soft. Cool them, take out peel and core. Mash quince and add sugar and lemon.

Put in clay or other good dish and cook on mild temperature long enough until it looks like thick and have jello like consistency. Spread it 2 cm thick on a flat pan or sheet, and leave it to dry on draught for three to five days.

Cut in squares and serve or roll them in sugar before serving.

*Le nougat blanc
(White nougat)

White nougat


250 g (¾ cup) honey
250 g sugar
1 tbs orange flower water
1 egg white whisked
500 g (1lb) sweet blanched almonds (or other nuts)
rice paper

Cook honey and sugar until “soft crack” - 129 C (264F). Add orange water and egg white. Melt over low heat, stirring constantly and bring temperature to 109 C (228 F) (soft peak). Add chopped almonds. Put mixture in shallow pan lined with rice paper sheets. Cover with more rice paper and place something heavy on a top. While is still warm, cut in squares.



2 large eggs
1/2 cup milk
4 tsp. rum
pinch of salt
3 cups flour
4 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
4 tsp superfine sugar
grated zest of one orange

peanut (or vegetable) oil for frying
confectioners' sugar for dusting

In a small bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, rum, and salt. Set aside. Put the flour into the bowl, add the melted butter and mix well. Add the sugar, orange zest, and the egg mixture and continue beating until well combined. Form the dough into a ball, cover the bowl with a kitchen towel and let the dough rest for two hours.
Using a rolling pin, roll the dough paper thin, as possible. If it is too thick the oreillettes will turn into heavy puffs rather than the light-as-air crisps they are meant to be. (If your counter is not large enough, divide the dough in half and roll in 2 batches.)
Using a pizza cutter or sharp knife, cut the dough into  medium big (3" x 4") rectangles. Let the rectangles rest a few minutes while you heat the oil. Fry each oreillette until the underside is golden, about 30 seconds to 1 minute, then fry the other side. As they are done, transfer the oreillettes to absorbent paper.
Sift confectioners' sugar  over the oreillettes while they are still warm.

*Callisons d'aix

Calissons have been a specialty of Aix-en-Provence since the 15th century. History says that Jeanne de Laval was an austere woman who never smiled. She got married to King René in 1454 and the legend says that on their wedding day, she started smiling after tasting a “calisson”. Guests inquired what she had eaten that made her smile. “Di calin soun” was the reply, meaning “cuddling” in Provençal. The confection was given the name “calisson” as a result of the smile of the queen.
Another legend says that the candy name “calisson” comes from the word “chalice”. As the city of Aix-en-Provence was devastated by an epidemic of plague in 1630, small biscuits of marzipan that had been blessed by the archbishop were given to the faithful to protect them against the infection. 
Some would also connect word "Chalice" with Holy Grail and this region.

Ingredients (for about twenty calissons):

300 g ground almonds
200 g icing sugar
10 oz (1 cup )of water
50 g apricot or orange jam
150 g melon confit
1 tbsp orange blossom water

For the icing:
1 egg white
200 g of icing sugar

In a saucepan, mix the ground almonds and icing sugar. Add water, mix well and cook for a few minutes. Pour the mixture into the bowl add the apricot jam (or orange). Add the candied melon, orange blossom water and mix the preparation. Pour the mixture into a square baking pan 20x20 cm, covered with parchment paper. Spread mixture. Let dry in the open overnight. For the icing, mix icing sugar with the egg white. Pour the icing over dried preparation with spatula and allow to dry 2 to 3 hours more. Cut into strips and then cut diamonds.

That was Thirteen Provencal desserts recipe list.

In addition, here is the recipe, for one of the most popular French Christmas desserts:

Chocolate mint truffles

It is not only Provençal tradition but a custom in all France to give chocolate truffles as a gift for the Holidays.
These truffles are very light, without heavy cream, as suggested by famous french chef Jacques Pepin.
I also added my own twist here, by replacing mint with dry candied fruits.
Provencal way..


¼ lb (0.5 kg) bittersweet chocolate
2 tbsp milk
1 egg yolk
2 tsp finely minced mint
    (or candied fruit)
2 tsp unsweetened cocoa powder

Melt the chocolate and milk together, either in a double boiler over hot water, or in a microwave. Stir to combine, then add the egg yolk and mint, and mix well. (At this point, the mixture can be heated in a double boiler to 140° and held at the temperature for 3 to 4 minutes to kill any possible salmonella bacteria in the egg yolk.)
Cool the mixture, and then cover and refrigerate it for at least 1 hour until firm.
Divide the cold chocolate mixture into 20 small pieces and shape into a roundish balls. Sprinkle cocoa over the balls. Transfer the truffles to a clean plate and refrigerate them until serving time.


Anonymous said...

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Zexxy's wife said...

Thank you RevS, same to you.
I hope to see more of your blog in the New Year!