This is the first post in a series I’ll be doing on how French families celebrate Christmas. My first topic (because it’s often children’s favorite thing to eat) is dessert!
Treating food (both its preparation and consumption) as art was one of the things that made French cuisine famous worldwide. They (along with the Japanese) emphasize the importance of presentation as well as taste. Young children in France are taught to ‘dress’ (rather than merely set) the table. They are even taught how to pick color themes for festive dinners (‘anise green’ was the color chosen by the 11-year old daughter of friends of ours recently, for the first dinner she cooked).
So it’s no surprise that French desserts at Christmas are both delicious and gorgeous to look at. The traditional dessert is a ‘Bûche de Noël‘ (a Christmas ‘log’, Noël being the French word for Christmas). The traditional bûche is made with a moist chocolate sponge cake, baked in a very large, shallow Swiss rollpan. The cake is frosted (usually with a chocolate buttercream, but the French now use a wild variety of frosting flavors), rolled (like a roulade) to form a cylinder, and then frosted again with dark chocolate to resemble a fallen log. The frosting is then ‘carved’ to resemble bark, and the log is decorated with powdered sugar (the snow), tree branches, fresh berries, and other woodland treats (like mushrooms made of marzipan).
The Bûche de Noël is what most French families will eat for dessert this Christmas. But not all! Ever restlessly in search of novelty and aesthetic pleasure (remember, ‘food is art’), French food designers and ‘patissiers’ (dessert chefs, or literally ‘pastry-makers’) produce beautiful variations on the traditional Christmas theme every year. The ideas are pure genius: Christmas trees carved out of chocolate, stylish geometric cakes, and even cakes with modern art themes.
Here’s a bilingual blog (one of the very few in France) with photos of some of the most intriguing Christmas desserts in France. A feast for the eyes!
ps If you know of any bakeries that make great Bûche de Noël in your town, let me know. In Vancouver, our favorite is La Baguette et L’Echalote on Granville Island.