Christmas Dinner in Provence: tradition and gourmet treats galore! - Provence

The thirteen stars of Christmas in Provence!

Provence is a master of upholding traditions. And when it comes to Christmas cheer, we like to think big! Togetherness, festiveness and gourmet treats galore… The magic of Christmas also means a big and beautiful spread of no less than thirteen desserts.

First there were four

Wind up your feast with dried fruit

Christmas is Provence is simply inconceivable without the stars of the show, the Quatre Mendiants (Four Beggars). In the 13th century, these dried fruits were gifted by the people to monks from the mendicant orders, who had taken a vow of poverty. Today, they are often savoured on little chocolate petits fours. According to tradition, each fruit is associated with a different order: walnuts and hazelnuts for the Augustinians, raisins for the Dominicans, almonds for the Carmelites and dried figs for the Franciscans.

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The more the merrier!

Prolonging the pleasure with the 13 desserts

Once your Four Beggars are laid out, you can roll out the remaining line-up of celebrity desserts. Local “pompe à huile” flatbread made with olive oil and orange flower water – to be broken not cut! -, dates and “calisson” candies are next on the list. One of the best places to get “calissons” is the Léonard Parli boutique in Aix. Then of course comes black and white nougat courtesy of artisan nougat-makers from Vaucluse (from the Silvain or Laurmar boutiques) and the Var area (from Maison Jonquier or Fouque). Still keeping count? Pop in some chocolate delicacies from Chocolaterie Puyricard or Aline Gehant in Avignon. Last but not least, add a personal touch of flavour and colour in the shape of seasonal or candied fruit, quince jelly or sweet “bugne” fritters… Although the number 13 appears at first sight to refer to Jesus and the 12 disciples, its interpretation varies according to the area and family. And it might just be to make sure there’s plenty to go round, for as every foodie knows, you can never have too much of a good thing!

The King’s choice  

Traditions and flavours of Provence

When exactly do the Christmas festivities end in Provence? On the Epiphany, on the first Sunday of January. To wind things up in style, head to the kitchen to make a delicious King’s Cake or “Gâteau des Rois”. What’s that? It’s a golden-brown, crown-shaped brioche sprinkled with little multicoloured jewels… And as far as candied fruit goes, Apt definitely rules! The town has been a master of the art of candied fruit since the 14th century, under the influence of Avignon’s papacy. Its secrets have been handed down through the generations ever since, as witnessed by the Maison du fruit confit in Apt or Confiserie Lilamand confectionery in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. Fill up your basket, remember to buy yeast, flour, eggs, butter, sugar and orange flower water and get going with our traditional recipe !

 

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Gateau des Rois (King’s Cake) recipe

A crown good enough to eat

Ingredients

For the leaven:

  • 50 g yeast
  • 300g flour and water

For the dough:

  • 1 kg flour
  • 8 eggs
  • 400 g butter
  • 300g chopped candied fruit and orange peel
  • Orange flower water
  • Granulated sugar

Preparation:

  • Mix the 3 ingredients for the leaven and leave to rest.
  • Mix and knead the remaining ingredients. Incorporate the leaven, candied fruit, orange peel and orange flower water. Leave for 6-8 hours.
  • Shape into a crown. Place the lucky broad bean (“la fève”) and porcelain figurine inside the dough.
  • Leave to rise for another 1½ hours. Brush with egg yolk and sprinkle with granulated sugar.
  • Cook at a low temperature. Decorate with candied fruit.

Traditions and talents of Provence

A Provence lifestyle market

Every year, over 150 top artisans come to Arles to show off their expertise at the Provence Prestige fair. Meanwhile, the village of Cotignac celebrates the quince in every shape and form. You’ll also find traditional Christmas markets in the four corners of Provence: this year, Avignon is even offering guided tours of its ancient lanes from December 21st to 23rd. In Toulon, a pop-up village takes over the town square and the Var area’s charming ports from Cassis to La Ciotat twinkle with Christmas illuminations. The magic of Christmas is also to be found at the region’s “santon” figurine fairs – don’t miss a visit to the famous Gilbert Orsini crib scene in Allauch on display from November 17th, 2019 to February 2nd, 2020. In Marseille, Provence’s oldest “santon” figurine scene tells the story of the Marseille Resistance. You can admire it on the city’s Old Port (Vieux Port) from November 16th to January 5th.