My own version of the 13 desserts of Provence this Christmas
The 13 Desserts of Provence
“The four beggars” or mediants/friars
- Raisins to represent the Domenicans
- Hazelnuts or Walnuts to represent the Augustines
- Dried figs to represent the Franciscans
- Almonds to represent the Carmelites
Pompe a l’huile – The Olive Oil Pump
Two types of nougat: black and white to represent good and evil.
Six remaining items of the 13 desserts of Provence
The six remaining items are made up of a selection of other fruits, nuts and pastries including any of the following items:
- Fresh fruit; white grapes, apples, pears, plums, mandarins, tangerines, orange (a sign of wealth)
- Quince paste or jam
- Green fleshed melon
- Dates or prunes, possibly stuffed with marzipan
- Candied fruits
- Light and dark fudge
- Calissons from Aix en Provence (a small diamond shaped marzipan pastry topped with hard icing)
- Biscotins also from Aix
- Pain d’epice or gingerbread
- Buche de Noel or Yule Log
- Casse-dents of Allauch biscuits (presumably hard as this translates as “break teeth”!)
A sweet dessert wine such as Beaumes-de-Venise would be served alongside the 13 desserts of Christmas.
Traditionally, an entire table would be heaving for a family to enjoy a little of each of the 13 desserts together; children are encouraged to name and taste all the items and might not be allowed to leave the table until they have done so. I have even read that the 13 desserts remain on the table for 3 days until December 27. However, my husband and I did not want to stuff ourselves silly on dried fruit and nuts so I have presented my version of the 13 desserts in a fairly minimal fashion, artfully arranged on a square plate alongside the fougasse. I feel this is more representative of the quantity one might feasibly eat after a large meal although it’s probably not in the spirit of having a burgeoning spread!
My version of the 13 desserts of Provence consists of (top to bottom, left to right):
1. Fresh clementine pieces
2. Quince paste (membrillo)
3. Four Almonds
4. Gingerbread studded with candied peel
5. Cumin and fennel seed sable biscuits
6. Date stuffed with marzipan
7. Grilled apricot decorated with star anise (you could splash these with Pastis too if you have any)
8. Dried fig
9. White nougat
10. Black “nougat”
11. Two caramelised walnuts
12. Raisins in milk chocolate infused with lavender
13. and of course the fougasse studded with dried cranberries
Many of these items require no more than an assembly job with the exception of:
- The raisins were melted in “New Tree” Lavender Chocolate available from Sainsburys. I apologise here for my uselessness at tempering chocolate;
- The walnuts were tossed in some palm sugar melted with a tablespoon or two of water;
- The fougasse, many many thanks to Claire at Things We Make (follow link for recipe)
- Black nougat, I struggled to find this and so melted down white nougat and added treacle and ground almonds.
- The gingerbread – as for the mini cupcake bases shown my previous post for gingerbread cupcakes.
- The sable biscuits are adapted from the Pistachio Sable biscuits in Delia’s Happy Christmas, recipe shown below:
Cumin and Fennel Seed Sable Biscuits
Makes around 25-30
Sable is French for “sand” and these yellow biscuits are made in both sweet and savoury versions. I have brought home tins of rosemary and thyme ones from biscuit “atelier”, Le Petit Duc in St Remy de Provence. These are flavoured with cumin and fennel after I read that savoury biscuits of this flavour were served as part of the 13 desserts.
15g shelled walnuts ground finely (I use a coffee grinder reserved for spices, seeds and nuts)
40g strong white flour, sifted
40g unsalted butter, diced
40g freshly grated parmesan
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp fennel seeds
a pinch of salt
1. Tip all the ingredients in a medium size bowl and rub the mixture between your fingers in the same manner as if making shortcrust pastry. When well mixed into clumps bring the mixture together into an elongated ball.
2. Spread clingfilm across your worksurface. Roll your ball of sable mixture into a sausage shape around 20cm long and 5cm in diameter. Wrap the clingfilm around the sausage, this will help you form the shape without the mixture sticking to your hands.
3. Wrapped in film, chill the dough in the freezer for 30 minutes.
4. Preheat the oven to gas mark 4 / 180c. After the log has chilled, slice it into discs around 3/4cm thick and spread them out well on a baking sheet. Keep them away from the edge though as they might burn there.
5. Bake for 10-12 minutes until they start to go golden around the edges. When cooked, give them a few minutes to cool before transferring them to a wire rack. Store in an airtight tin. They might also be served with an aperitif.
Having enjoyed all these goodies, it is time to go to midnight mass in the little church at Les Baux de Provence by way of some further images from Jose Nicolas.
I will be taking a break from posting until the New Year. See you in 2010.