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13 Desserts of Christmas

13 Desserts de Noel - Les treize

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The thirteen desserts of Christmas, or Les Treize Desserts de Noël, are enjoyed after Gros Souper in Provence. The thirteen desserts are in reference to Jesus and his twelve apostles at the Last Supper. As tradition goes, there must be at least thirteen sweet available, they are all served at once, and each guest must have at least a small bit of each dessert.

Fougasse or pompe à l'Huile, an olive oil flatbread, is eaten with grape jam made during the last harvest season. The tradition is to break the bread into individual servings with the fingers, rather than cut the bread with a knife. Legend goes that this protects one's wealth from bankruptcy in the coming year.

The "four beggars" portion of lez treize stands for four monastic communities: Augustinians, Carmelites, Dominicans, and Franciscans. Walnuts stand for the Augustinians, almonds for the Carmelites, raisins for the Dominicans, and figs for the Franciscans. A platter of fresh fruit usually counts as one dessert, and is always served after Gros Souper. It can be a selection of oranges, apples, pears, and grapes. Any combination of seasonal fruit is welcome, and fresh berries rarely make the list, although they would be considered acceptable, as well.

The following dessert recipes are the ones most likely to appear during the "thirteen desserts."

1. Quince Paste Recipe

Alexandra Grablewski/FoodPix
This quince paste recipe is in the classic style of Cotignac D'Orleans. A specialty of the French city of Orleans since the 15th century, this quince paste is notably less sweet than similarly prepared pates de fruits, or fruit paste candy. Serve slices of the prepared quince paste with a selection of cheese, nuts, and fruit on a cheese board.

2. Nougat Blanc Recipe

©Gaetan Lee

Desserts de noel always feature a selection of white and black nougat, to represent good and evil, respectively.

This nougat blanc recipe is a classic Montelimar-style candy. Nougat de Montelimar is specifically protected by an AOC (Appellation d’origine contrôlée, or controlled term of origin). The famous candy must hail from the city in southeastern France and contain at least 28% almonds, 25% honey, and 2% pistachios, all of the highest quality. This recipe meets the ingredients standard, and although you may not be sitting in Montelimar right now, you can whip up a delicious batch of the low-fat candy in your own kitchen!

3. Nougat Noir Recipe

©Stuart Spivack
Typically, nougat is a chewy, whipped, egg white-based candy. This black nougat recipe couldn’t be farther from the classic version. In this recipe, two varieties of honey reduce into a dark – not black, like the name suggests – nut-studded brittle.

4. Chocolate Buche de Noel Recipe

Brian Hagiwara/Getty Images
The first Christmas yule log cake, or buche de Noel, recipe was cleverly created in the late 1800s by a French pastry chef looking to replace and pay culinary homage to the original yule log tradition. This new, gastronomic tradition caught on in spectacular fashion, and the Christmas dessert is now celebrated worldwide. This chocolate buche de Noel recipe showcases a light-as-air, vanilla Genoise cake rolled into a cylinder with the richest, homemade chocolate buttercream frosting.

5. Calissons Recipe

Sarah Maternini
Most of the world’s supply of Calissons – a unique almond paste candy – comes from Aix en Provence. Most visitors to Aix come away with a penchant for the distinctive candy. They’re hard to find, but taking the time to make them from scratch is worth the effort.

6. Pain d'Epices Recipe

©Rebecca Franklin, Licensed to About.com
Warm spices and an unexpected shot of rich hazelnut flavor give a comforting twist to this classic pain d'epices, or French gingerbread recipe. It’s wonderful accompanied by a steaming mug of cafe creme.

7. Chocolate Orange Biscotin Recipe

These chocolate orange biscotins are a flavorful twist on the classic love knot-shaped cookie. They have just the right amount of sweet, tangy orange flavor to kick up the smooth chocolate dough. Slightly crisp on the outside and dry throughout, they’re traditionally enjoyed with a small glass of dessert wine or hot coffee. This dessert is often served at Provencal gros souper, or Christmas Eve dinner.
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