French Christmas
Making merry Christmas cookies

Whether you’re planning a Reveillon feast or looking to recreate a traditional French Christmas, how many of these French holiday traditions will make it to your table this year?

What’s Reveillon?

A tradition in French speaking countries and former French colonies. This is a long meal that happens on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve. Traditionally, the feast takes place after Midnight Mass. Across Europe, Reveillon dinners still occur in France, Belgium, Portugal and Romania. Around the world, Reveillon feasts are popular in Brazil, Quebec and New Orleans.

An aperitif to begin

An aperitif or apero is typically served with amuse-gueules, which might be light nibbles like nuts or full scale canapes. Will your aperitif of choice be pure Champagne or will you add a splash of crème de cassis to create a Kir Royale? Perhaps you’ll step outside the box with a Lillet over ice, a delightful aperitif wine produced in Podensac, Burgundy. For those with an affinity for gin, switch to Dubonnet this Christmas – quinine features in the red version that rumour has it is a favourite tipple of Queen Elizabeth II.

Now will you say “Santé!” or “Tchin Tchin!”

A canape with that

A reveillon feast would nowadays typically feature caviar. A canape of smoked salmon and caviar combines so naturally and sits perfectly perched upon a blini. A meaty alternative would have to incorporate foie gras. This rich liver parfait balances perfectly with a crisp melba toast that adds wonderful texture to the morsel without impeding the flavour of the pate.

An entrée to really get things started

Foie gras often makes it way to the entrée too. In these larger portions it goes down well with a fruit compote and if in Paris or Bordeaux you might find it accompanied with a sweet wine like Sauternes.

Continuing the decadent theme, how about oysters – might be wise to ask the fishmonger to shuck them for you! They go down beautifully with some shallot and red wine vinegar or break the mould and grill them for a couple of minutes covered in a champagne sabayon.

However, one of the simplest supper talking points has to be escargots in a garlic or herb butter – a particular French Christmas favourite in Burgundy. They might be the Marmite of the dinner table, but just like oysters, until you try one you’ll never know!

The main affair – your plat principal

Sticking to an extravagant thread, you’ll often find game a feature of a revellion main course. And for those closer to the sea or with a penchant for seafood, it has to be lobster and/or crab.

If you’d rather stick to a traditional turkey, fear not it’s the preferred plat principal in Burgundy.

Whichever way you lean, find a way to incorporate chestnuts. Chestnuts feature heavily in French Christmas recipes. They find a natural home in stuffings and are the perfect focus for a vegetarian dish or nut roast.

Next up: du fromage

A cheese that’s only made during the dark months of winter and comes into its own between October and February is Vacherin Mont d’Or. It’s an unpasteurized cow’s milk cheese that you’ll need to spoon from its traditional wooden box if you do right by it and leave it at room temperature before dinner begins.

Now that you’ve got something runny covered, add some texture in the form of Comte and its alcohol infused flavours and firm yet smooth texture. You’ll need a blue cheese too and thoughts naturally turn to the sheep’s milk Roquefort – it’s as old as the tradition of Christmas. Bring some nuttiness to the board with a goat’s cheese log.

You’ve left room for desserts haven’t you

Yes, we do mean multiple desserts. Thirteen, in fact if you’re celebrating Provence style. A traditional platter of 13 desserts to represent Jesus and his 12 disciples doesn’t have to be as extravagant as you think. Often a curation of dried fruit, fresh seasonal fruits, candied fruit, pain d’epice, nougat, pate de coing (quince cheese) oreillettes (think, pastry like waffles) a pompe a l’huile cake, and some regional variations like biscotins and calissons d’Aix.

Outside of Provence we’ll let you off with a portion of buche de noel – a traditional Yule Log.

After all that you deserve to celebrate, so bring out the Champagne again before retiring in time for Saint Nicolas (or Pere Noel) to make his appearance.

While we don’t expect you to indulge in the tradition Reveillon supper after midnight mass – you’ll still be going in the early hours of the morning – we do hope you savour some of these delicious French foods this Christmas.

A very Merry French Christmas from us all at French Waterways!

French Christmas Cookies