Thirteen Christmas Desserts

Beth Asaff
Christmas table setting

13 Traditional Christmas Desserts of Provence

Christmas traditions in Provence extend through the meals and desserts. The table is laid with three white tablecloths and set with three candles. Once the meat, cheese, and fish dishes have been eaten, the highlight of the evening begins with the 13 desserts. The number of desserts represents Christ and his 12 apostles. These desserts are broken into categories: the first four desserts represent the first four orders of friars, followed by foods from the land where Christ was born, and then a mixture of fresh fruits and sweets local to each area.

Raisins

Raisins

Every Provence Christmas dessert table begins with raisins, which are on the table to represent the Dominicans. The first four desserts are collectively known as The Beggars, and the colors are chosen to help represent the colors of their robes.

Dried figs

Figs

Dried figs are the next of the desserts to represent the four beggars or monk orders. Figs represent the Franciscans.

Almonds

Almonds

Almonds are representative of the third of the mendicants, or beggars, and are on the table to represesnt the Carmelites.

Hazelnuts

Hazelnuts

Hazelnuts are the fourth offering on the table to represent the mendicants and they stand for the Augustines.

Walnuts

Walnuts

Walnuts are almost always used as one of the 13 desserts in Provence. They are occasionally used in place of hazelnuts to represent the Augustines, and are sometimes included on their own just after the four beggars are served.

Dates

Dates

Dates are on the table to represent the region that Christ was from, as dates are an abundant and frequently eaten food there. The dates served for dessert may be dried, candied, or stuffed, depending on the region.

Dried plums

Dried Plums

Dried fruit in general is often served as one of the 13 desserts and the fruit may change by region and avialability. Dried plums are one of the more frequently used options, because of their ties to Christ's birthplace.

Tangerines

Tangerines

Fresh fruit also accompanied the other desserts on the table for traditional Christmas dinners. Apples, pears, grapes, winter melon, and other fruits are all used, but tangerines grace many tables.

Candied fruit

Candied Fruit

In addition to fresh and dried fruits, candied fruits, particularly candied citrus fruits and citrus peel, were often served as part of the 13 desserts.

White nougat

White Nougat

While different regions will substitute in their own sweets and fruits, one of the more common desserts seen in nearly all regions is nougat. White nougat represents good and is nearly always present on the table.

Black nougat

Black Nougat

To balance out the white nougat, representing good, most Provence tables will also include some black nougat. The black nougat represents evil and acknowledges its presence.

Yule log cake

Yule Log

While Yule logs are seldom burned any longer, their effigy can still be found amongst the 13 desserts on many Provence dinner tables. The log is made up of chocolate sponge cake and rolled with a chocolate filling that is also spread on top.

Pompe à l’Huile

Pompe à l’Huile

Another traditional dessert that frequently finishes off the 13 desserts is the pompe à l'huile, which literally translates to "oil pump". The pompe à l'huile is actually an egg-based cake flavored with olive oil and orange. It is not cut, but torn and eaten after dipping into mulled wine.

If these 13 traditional desserts aren't enough to satisfy your family during the holidays, try making some additional creative Christmas recipes to complete the meal.

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Thirteen Christmas Desserts