Great food and exceptional wine is always a centerpiece of life. But, on Christmas Eve, known as the Réveillon, the French spare no expense. Serving the finest beverages and Champagne, cheeses, baguettes, fresh seafood, wild meats, and sumptuous desserts is expected. It's a spectacle of what is so special about French cuisine.
Naturally, the Christmas markets are well stocked with seasonal ingredients and treats, including one favorite that has been eaten for centuries - chestnuts! Of course no holiday meal would be complete without the traditional Bûche de Noël. To learn how to make delicious desserts try one of these baking and pastry classes in Paris.
To begin the festive feast, guests are served a variety of drinks and are entertained with oysters, prawns, lobster, and smoked salmon. Raw clams and oysters are carefully shucked open and presented on the half shell on top of a bed of crushed ice with lemon wedges, salted butter, and sliced homemade baked bread.
Next, the main course may include the unique flavors of game meat like venison, boar, or capon. However, roast lamb and turkey are more common. Meats are sometimes marinated for a couple of days in a mixture of Cognac, olive oil, juniper berries, cloves, thyme, and bay leaf. Side dishes include garlic or chestnut soup, salad, cranberries, and seasonal vegetables like peas, carrots, potatoes, and green beans.
The people of France are known all over the world for their love of fancy sweets. Therefore, a variety of pastries, fruits, nuts, and puddings are prepared. Chocolates decorated with shiny wrappers and candies such as pralines, truffles, orangettes, and ganaches, are savored throughout the celebration. In some areas, it is a family tradition to serve 13 desserts after midnight mass on Christmas. It's said they symbolize the 12 Apostles and Christ. Everyone has a bite of each of the desserts.
Additionally, it wouldn't be Christmas without the aroma of an alcohol drenched cherry wood log crackling in the fireplace. To emulate this theme, a creative pastry chef crafted the first Yule Log dessert in the 1800's. It's made of a chocolate sponge cake rolled-up and decorated with a buttercream frosting. Over the years, many variations have been invented by bakers incorporating ice cream (bûche glacée), raspberry filling, liquor flavored icings, marzipan, and chestnut. Most are topped with little toys the children love to collect.
Finally, chestnuts roasting on an open fire is a common sight during Christmastime. Not only are piping hot chestnuts enjoyed on-the-go from a street vendor, they find their way into savory soups, side dishes, gravies, and desserts - such as candied chestnuts or marrons glacés, during the season. Some say chestnuts were introduced to the court of Louis XIV in the late 1600's, others claim they go all the way back to the Roman era.
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