Tuesday, December 27, 2011

French Cuisine & Christmas Traditions: By Haleigh H. Burgon

Intro: Bonjour and Hello! My name is Haleigh Heaps Burgon and I am married to Erin’s cousin Gavin. I’m thrilled to be able to share a few of my thoughts on Christmas, food, and France. As a little introduction, I first traveled to France with my grandmother and aunt during the summer after my 8th grade year. After three weeks, I was hooked: I studied French at BYU and then went on a semester abroad to Paris. At the end of those four months, I was even more passionate about the French culture. One year later, I moved back and worked as an intern to the dean of the business school at the Université Catholique de Lille. Throughout each of these sojourns, I was invited into many homes and was fortunate to devour many delicacies from the various regions. I could drone on and on about dozens of my favorite cheeses, desserts, and hors d’oeuvres, but I’d better stick to the point.

A Christmas Memory: Growing up, each year on Christmas Eve, one of our Danish relatives would make traditional rice pudding with slivered almonds and raspberry coulis, and before arriving, she would hide one whole blanched almond in the bowl. So, after dishing out a portion to everyone at the party, each person would try to eat his/her bowl in hopes of finding and hiding the whole almond. If you were lucky enough to find it and keep it hidden in your mouth until the last person finished his/her bowl, you won a fabulous box of chocolates and some money!

Christmas Cuisine Traditions from France:

Many of you may have heard of a bûche de noel Yule log cake, but the following tradition is one you may not recognize: It is known as “les treize desserts”. Here is a little history and then I’ll explain how I did my own version of it: The thirteen desserts are the traditional dessert foods used in celebrating Christmas in the French region of Provence. The "big supper" (le gros souper) held on Christmas Eve ends with a ritual 13 desserts, representing Jesus Christ and the 12 apostles. The desserts always number thirteen but the exact items vary by local or familial tradition. The food traditionally is set out Christmas Eve and remains on the table three days until December 27. The first four of these are known as the "four beggars" (les quatre mendiants), representing the four mendicant monastic orders: Dominicans, Franciscans, Augustinian and Carmelites. Raisins (Dominicans) Walnuts or hazelnuts (Augustines) Dried figs (Franciscans) Almonds (Carmelites). Oftentimes the main dessert is a bûche de Noël. The biggest dessert, which represents Christ, is always the most delicious and most complex to make. A few other examples of common desserts used are dates, representing the foods of the region where Christ lived and died, two kinds of nougat, symbolizing good and evil, winter melon, pain d'epice (spice bread), etc… Here is a picture of what a French spread would look like.

With my family, I did my own thirteen desserts evening and we included: Clementines, kettle corn, mince pie, cinnamon bread, mixed nuts, almond tuille cookies, madeleines, chocolate cake, pain au chocolat, gingerbread cake with a lemon spread, cheesecake bites, white chocolate dipped Oreos, homemade peanut butter cup cookies, Danish rice pudding with strawberry sauce, vegetables with dip, and a cheesy spice dip. Every single dish was delicious! I think this should become a family tradition each year! However, I’d like to find away to incorporate symbolism into each dish, like the French do.

A Recipe: I’m sorry, I’ve probably taken up way more space than Erin had hoped for…so I’ll quickly leave you with one of my favorite French dessert recipes. It is so simple, but something they eat often and when you can find authentic French chocolate bars to use with a high count of cocoa, it makes all the difference in the world.

Mousse au Chocolat (Serves 4)

4 ounces semisweet chocolate (splurge a little for the high cocoa content bars)

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

4 large eggs, separated

Pinch of cream tartar

1/2 cup heavy cream

Directions: In a double boiler, (Or a glass bowl over a pan of boiling water-make sure it doesn’t actually touch the water) melt together chocolate and butter, stirring occasionally until smooth. Remove from heat, and transfer to a large bowl. Whisk in egg yolks, stirring well. Let cool to room temperature. (Be careful not to curdle the eggs-let it cool just a tad before adding them.)

In a large bowl, beat egg whites with cream of tartar until stiff. Whisk a third of the whites into chocolate mixture; gently fold in remainder of the egg whites. (Fold gently, you want your mousse to be as fluffy as possible).

Whip cream until it holds soft peaks, and fold into chocolate mixture. Chill until set, about 1 hour.

This can be served with an apple tart as my French host mother did (picture) or any other dessert you choose.

This is naturally gluten free, so no adjustments need to be made. I hope you enjoyed hearing a little of the food related history of France and that you all are enjoying your holidays. I too keep a food blog with my recipes and if you’d care to check it out, go to Merci…-Haleigh.


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