Day 5 of French regional Christmas specialities: Treize desserts

There used to be no ‘set’ amount of desserts until the early 20th century, although people from Provence still choose 13 desserts from a selection of 55

Nougat is one of the four mandatory dishes included in the provençal Treize desserts.
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Every day from December 1-12, The Connexion will be sharing a French regional Christmas speciality. Today we look at the Treize desserts of Provence.

What are the Treize desserts?

Treize desserts are a tradition from the Provence region, which involves… serving 13 desserts at the Christmas table.

The tradition has existed since the 17th century, but no precise number had been officially acknowledged until 1925, when a local newspaper mentioned ‘13 desserts’ specifically.

The number is believed to honour each of the 12 apostles, plus Jesus, during the Last Supper.

There are no specific 13 desserts, however, and local tradition even suggests there is actually a choice of 55 desserts. There are, however, mandatory ‘categories’, as described below.

Treize desserts are always served with fortified wine.

Which are the categories?

The first mandatory category is caramelised fruits. There must be four desserts of this type, and they are called the ‘four beggars’ in reference to four religious orders as follows:

  • Figs because their grey colour represents the Franciscans

  • Grapes for the Dominicans

  • Almonds for the Carmelites

  • Chestnuts or nuts for the Augustines

  • Some families now include other fruits too, such as grapes, melon, mandarin oranges, dates, pineapples, kiwis, or mangos.

    The next mandatory desserts on the Christmas table are sweets, mainly two types of nougat.

    The other dessert and last mandatory feature is a pastry called pompe à l’huile, a sourdough-based sweet pastry, which should not be confused with other local desserts such as gibassié, which is drier, and fougasse, which is more of a savoury bread.

    Pompe à l’huile is a dough made with flour, sugar, sourdough, eggs, and olive oil, which is cooked at 150 degrees for 10-15 minutes.

    Other desserts can include calissons from Aix-en-Provence, a candied fruit diamond-shaped biscuit; dates stuffed with almond paste; biscotins, a type of rounded, almond biscuit; oreillettes, a variety of crispy, thin pastries; and papillotes, foil-wrapped Christmas chocolates.

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