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What Are The 13 Desserts Of Christmas In France

Dried Fruit Tart

Dried Fruit Tart.
Photo: Meredith

While in most of France the end of Christmas lunch is celebrated with a Buche de Noël, a dessert in the shape of a yule log, in Provence the locals opt instead for the treize dessertsan aptly named combination of no less than thirteen different local delicacies to round off the Christmas Eve feast.

Although this tradition may seem noble, the treize desserts they are deceptively easy to prepare. Instead of thirteen pies or tarts or puddings, les treize they are mostly made up of much simpler dishes: nuts, dried fruits and local candies.

This tradition dates back centuries to Provence, where locals have long enjoyed a long list of fruits, nuts, and sweets on Christmas Eve; the number thirteen, it seems, was only mandated in the 1920s, an amalgam, perhaps, of a tradition of baking thirteen loaves of bread (representing Jesus and the twelve apostles) and this panoply of local all-natural sweets.

The hard part of editing the treize desserts, therefore, does not lie in their preparation, but simply in the choice of which to include. Despite attempts to somehow codify the thirteen, the reality is that each family assembles its own selection, influenced by geography, availability, budget and personal choice.

Create your own Treize desserts

While flexibility and creativity are encouraged in editing les treize, there are some guidelines. The most traditional way to prepare this sweet Provençal feast is as follows:

Start with four fresh fruits among the following: oranges, tangerines, apples, pears, white grapes and honeydew melon.

Add three local candiessuch as white nougat, black nougat, marzipan, homemade jam, or calisson d’Aix.

Finish with five dried fruits or nuts from the following: raisins, dried apricots, figs, hazelnuts, dates, almonds or walnuts.

Of these items, four of the foods are incredibly common due to their symbolism of the Four Mendicant Orders – four religious orders that have taken a vow of poverty. These are almonds (representing the barefoot Carmelites), figs (for the Franciscans), raisins (for the Dominicans) and walnuts or hazelnuts (for the Augustinians). While this is perhaps the most overtly Catholic part of the tradition, you don’t have to be religious to partake of it. Indeed, other Mediterranean societies have long concluded winter meals with local sweets, including the ancient Greeks, who enjoyed almonds, hazelnuts, plums and chestnuts on the winter solstice, or the Sephardic Jews, whose Rosh Hashanah traditions may include figs , almonds, grapes and nougat.

Torrone (Italian confection of nuts and nougat)
Pack of nuts and nougat.
Chef John

“Since this falls into the ‘funny’ category of religious traditions, people may be doing it for religious reasons, but it’s not a must!” says Rosa Jackson, founder of Les Petits Farçis cooking school in Nice and teacher of a course that guides people through assembling the treize desserts. “This is one of the food traditions that sets the south of France apart from the rest of the country, and people are aware of it (and proud).”

“These days, I don’t think many people would be able to tell you the symbolic meaning of each fruit or nut,” she continues, “but all of these sweets are readily available this time of year, so it’s only natural to include They.”

Lucky Thirteen

If you’ve been paying attention, you might have noticed that one last item is missing. Besides the twelve fruits and nuts, les Provencaux serve another dessert – a cake – to conclude the Christmas lunch.

The most common cake to go with your fruit and nut selection is a pumps à l’oil, a simple dessert made with local olive oil and orange blossom water. Pretty simple on its own, it’s often dipped in sweet wine or canned fruit juices to add even more flavor. Best of all, the cake is never cut.

“You should break it by hand,” explains Jackson, “since cutting is thought to lead to a year of poverty.”

In different regions, different cakes may be offered, such as Nicois tourte de blettes (a sweet chard pie), nut or jam tarts, fougasse or donuts made with local bugnes.

Fougasse
Pompemousse photo.
mousse

A contemporary breakthrough

locally, The desserts of Les Treize it’s perceived by some as an old-fashioned tradition, Jackson says. Some opt instead for the buche appreciated in other regions of France. But still others put a contemporary spin on an old tradition.

“A woman I know here says she makes several nontraditional desserts including chocolate mousse and tiramisu,” says Jackson. “These days 13 desserts can be anything you want them to be.”

It’s easy to customize les treize to fit where you come from! A fun way to bring this Provençal tradition home is to adapt it to what’s available locally in your region. In Florida, fresh local oranges can join the party; Georgians may want to open a jar of homemade ginger peach jam. Choosing the freshest ingredients available to you will help you stay in the spirit of this tradition thousands of miles away.

For a complete festive meal, check out a traditional French Christmas menu. And don’t miss our collection of French recipes.


While in most of France the end of Christmas lunch is celebrated with a Buche de Noël, a dessert in the shape of a yule log, in Provence the locals opt instead for the treize dessertsan aptly named combination of no less than thirteen different local delicacies to round off the Christmas Eve feast.

Although this tradition may seem noble, the treize desserts they are deceptively easy to prepare. Instead of thirteen pies or tarts or puddings, les treize they are mostly made up of much simpler dishes: nuts, dried fruits and local candies.

This tradition dates back centuries to Provence, where locals have long enjoyed a long list of fruits, nuts, and sweets on Christmas Eve; the number thirteen, it seems, was only mandated in the 1920s, an amalgam, perhaps, of a tradition of baking thirteen loaves of bread (representing Jesus and the twelve apostles) and this panoply of local all-natural sweets.

The hard part of editing the treize desserts, therefore, does not lie in their preparation, but simply in the choice of which to include. Despite attempts to somehow codify the thirteen, the reality is that each family assembles its own selection, influenced by geography, availability, budget and personal choice.

Create your own Treize desserts

While flexibility and creativity are encouraged in editing les treize, there are some guidelines. The most traditional way to prepare this sweet Provençal feast is as follows:

Start with four fresh fruits among the following: oranges, tangerines, apples, pears, white grapes and honeydew melon.

Add three local candiessuch as white nougat, black nougat, marzipan, homemade jam, or calisson d’Aix.

Finish with five dried fruits or nuts from the following: raisins, dried apricots, figs, hazelnuts, dates, almonds or walnuts.

Of these items, four of the foods are incredibly common due to their symbolism of the Four Mendicant Orders – four religious orders that have taken a vow of poverty. These are almonds (representing the barefoot Carmelites), figs (for the Franciscans), raisins (for the Dominicans) and walnuts or hazelnuts (for the Augustinians). While this is perhaps the most overtly Catholic part of the tradition, you don’t have to be religious to partake of it. Indeed, other Mediterranean societies have long concluded winter meals with local sweets, including the ancient Greeks, who enjoyed almonds, hazelnuts, plums and chestnuts on the winter solstice, or the Sephardic Jews, whose Rosh Hashanah traditions may include figs , almonds, grapes and nougat.

Torrone (Italian confection of nuts and nougat)
Pack of nuts and nougat.
Chef John

“Since this falls into the ‘funny’ category of religious traditions, people may be doing it for religious reasons, but it’s not a must!” says Rosa Jackson, founder of Les Petits Farçis cooking school in Nice and teacher of a course that guides people through assembling the treize desserts. “This is one of the food traditions that sets the south of France apart from the rest of the country, and people are aware of it (and proud).”

“These days, I don’t think many people would be able to tell you the symbolic meaning of each fruit or nut,” she continues, “but all of these sweets are readily available this time of year, so it’s only natural to include They.”

Lucky Thirteen

If you’ve been paying attention, you might have noticed that one last item is missing. Besides the twelve fruits and nuts, les Provencaux serve another dessert – a cake – to conclude the Christmas dinner.

The most common cake to go with your fruit and nut selection is a pumps à l’oil, a simple dessert made with local olive oil and orange blossom water. Pretty simple on its own, it’s often dipped in sweet wine or canned fruit juices to add even more flavor. Best of all, the cake is never cut.

“You should break it by hand,” explains Jackson, “since cutting is thought to lead to a year of poverty.”

In different regions, different cakes may be offered, such as Nicois tourte de blettes (a sweet chard pie), nut or jam tarts, fougasse or donuts made with local bugnes.

Fougasse
Pompemousse photo.
mousse

A contemporary breakthrough

locally, The desserts of Les Treize it’s perceived by some as an old-fashioned tradition, Jackson says. Some opt instead for the buche appreciated in other regions of France. But still others put a contemporary spin on an old tradition.

“A woman I know here says she makes several nontraditional desserts including chocolate mousse and tiramisu,” says Jackson. “These days 13 desserts can be anything you want them to be.”

It’s easy to customize les treize to fit where you come from! A fun way to bring this Provençal tradition home is to adapt it to what’s available locally in your region. In Florida, fresh local oranges can join the party; Georgians may want to open a jar of homemade ginger peach jam. Choosing the freshest ingredients available to you will help you stay in the spirit of this tradition thousands of miles away.

For a complete festive meal, check out a traditional French Christmas menu. And don’t miss our collection of French recipes.


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