French Affaires   

Celebrating travel, culture, language and l'art de vivre   
Home | About | Events | Travel | Friends of FA | Blog | Archive | Contact
  Orsay Flags

   Events & Classes

   Weekly Email

Join our mailing list
Subscribe to our once-a-week "journey" to a delicious part of France or French culture.


   Private Talks & Events

   Let Us Hear From You

   Links We Like

Archived Articles

Tastes of the Holidays

No holiday in France would be complete without festive tastes and treats. French cuisine is legendary at any time of year-and particularly around Christmas and New Year's. This vitrine (shop window) of Italian luxury clothes purveyor Dolce & Gabbana in the Rue du Faubourg St. Honoré got a head start on holiday table edibles with its fresh and candied fruits, nuts, sweets, and also panettone for that true Italian flair. Although the displays were meant as luscious eye candy, just walking by a couple of weeks ago made my mouth water. And it also got me thinking about my holiday table - French-inspired of course!

So what exactly do the French serve for their menus de fêtes (holiday menus)? Below is a whirlwind tour of some of the sumptuous tastes the French invest in around the holidays. Note that many of these items are not inexpensive, making them a special treat for the season.

Les Marrons: Whether glacés (candied) or grillés (roasted) or used in savory and sweet recipes, chestnuts are a true symbol of the holidays. You will know Christmas is approaching when les pâtisseries (pastry shops) and chocolatiers (chocolate shops) start selling candied chestnuts wrapped in gold foil. At pastry chef and chocolate maker Gérard Mulot in the sixth arrondissement, I spied a lovely bowl of marrons glacés with vanilla beans resting on top. And at the St. Sulpice church Christmas market, patrons were lining up to sample some of the hot roasted chestnuts on a freezing December day. And I was tempted to purchase some of these wild chestnuts known as châtaignes at the open-air marché in the seventh arrondissement.

Le Foie Gras: The French eat foie gras d'oie ou foie gras de canard (fatted goose or duck liver) all year round but especially for Christmas or New Year's. It can be served straight up with toasts or slightly sautéed. Either way, if you bring some to your holiday table, be sure to have a chilled dessert wine such as muscat on hand or go all out with a lovely Sauternes. Foie gras and French dessert wines were made for each other!

Les Coquillages et les Crusta cés: The French reach into the sea for many a holiday treat including saumon fumé (smoked salmon) and caviar. But it is shellfish of the mollusk variety that grab the attention of a large number of holiday chefs. Les huîtres (oysters) are served raw or cooked. I enjoyed a particularly nice amuse-bouche (small appetizer) for my birthday last December at the restaurant Hélène Darroze in Paris. Also popular are sea scallops, or coquilles Saint-Jacques, whose shells make them as good to look at as they are to eat. And of course, shellfish such as le homard (lobster) and les crevettes (shrimp) wouldn't be left out of the holiday cuisine line-up.

Les Truffes: Tis the season for truffles both literally and figuratively. Black truffles are available from November to March and are at their peak in January. You will see them used in all sorts of festive recipes and dishes for a rich, earthy flavor. In January, I enjoyed a fantastic meal of steak tartare aux truffles (steak tartare with shaved black truffles) at Georges, the super-trendy restaurant on the top of the Pompidou Center. And here is a nice specimen for sale at the Boulevard Raspail outdoor market. Be aware that buying truffles is not for the faint of heart-they are worth their weight in gold. Well, almost.

Les Bûches de Noël: Yule logs are another taste of the season. Pastry shops display all kinds of versions and flavors but the traditional bûche favors a chocolate frosted cake with meringue mushrooms. You can check out this year's collection made by the pâtisserie Ladurée at The pastry and haute cuisine house Lenôtre has its gourmet version of yule log designed by famed haute couture personality Hubert de Givenchy. Click here for the full description. If you want a bûche de Noël with real panache and prestige, then this is the haute pâtisserie for you.

Le Champagne: Of course, Champagne is de rigueur (a must) at holiday time. The French wine chain Nicolas was encouraging its clients to stock up early this December with a nice 20% discount on all types of bubbly. And I loved this larger-than-life poster of holiday Dom Perignon that hung over the entrance of La Grande Epicerie in Paris last Christmas season. For more mouth-watering Champagne experiences, click on this previous French Affaires posting.

You can see almost all of these saveurs de fêtes (holiday tastes) pulled together in this season's New Year's Eve menu, a.k.a. le menu de la Saint Sylvestre, of Ladurée's Champs-Elysées and Rue Bonaparte restaurants in Paris. Click here to savor Ladurée's seasonal cuisine à la française. And if you are in Paris next December, le Cordon Bleu cooking school is likely to offer its gourmet workshops, or ateliers gourmets, on foie gras and les bûches de Noël once again.

One holiday treat we have not yet covered is the delicious and fun galette des rois, or kings' cake, to celebrate the feast of the Epiphany on January 6th. Stay tuned for more on this seasonal goody. In the meantime, enjoy the holidays and bon appétit!

December 24, 2008

Return to list of archived articles

Home | About | Events | Travel | Friends of FA | Blog | Archive | Contact
Website Designed and Maintained by Dallas Web Design and Hosting