Merry Christmas from France, our third stop on Christmas Around The World. French families celebrate Christmas with a creche (or nativity) in their homes and also at church. Carols are sung as baby Jesus is placed in his manger bed. The three wise men are not placed with the creche until Epiphany Eve on January 6th. At that time a "Cake of Kings" is baked with a hidden bean inside. The finder of the bean receives a lucky crown and becomes king of the party. (This is definitely the favorite part of my two charges, although I admit the indulgence of placing two beans and having two crowns at the ready. Happiness and harmony is what matters most with children, to quote the mother of Veruca Salt-and we all know what a good job she did with her little angel.) Children in France leave their shoes out by the fire on Christmas Eve, in hopes that Pere Noel will fill them with little surprises. Naughty children may receive a birch stick as a reminder to behave a little better in the coming year. (Sounds a bit more aggressive than a lump of coal, don't you think?) Adults attend a Christmas Eve midnight mass followed by an extravagant "Reveillon" supper, considered the culinary high point of the year.
And as today is also Barefoot Thursdays, the twice monthly baking club that prepares Ina Garten's gorgeous recipes, I've made coq au vin with my fellow Barefooters. Although it is a very classic French dish, it certainly wouldn't not be considered a Christmas dinner. But, besides being absolutely delicious, it sure takes the snap out of the air on a chilly December night. And any leftovers make a wonderful warm lunch as well. Click here for Ina's five-star rated recipe. (I made a few substitutions in my coq au vin-I used a mixture of white grape juice, tomato paste and red wine vinegar for the red wine. I also used boneless chicken breasts instead of a whole chicken cut into parts. For my fellow penny pinchers, estimated cost using my methods is about $6.00 for four servings)
I've also included a buttery "sable" recipe, a French cookie with an appealing sandy texture. My family polished off a dozen in about as many minutes. With colored sugar, they're festive enough for your Christmas cookie tray.
Money Saving Tips: This is a great time of year to buy butter, since many stores will try to entice you in with their baking sales. I'm always hopeful to find butter for no more than $2 a lb.
Dorie Greenspan's Sable cookies
Dorie Greenspan's Sable cookies
Estimated Cost: $2.50 for about 4 dozen
Notes: I think it's easier to make good sables without a mixer, so I'll give directions accordingly.1 cup butter (2 sticks), at room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup confectioner's sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 large egg yolks, at room temperature
2 cups flour
additional egg for decorating
coarse sugar for decorating
In a medium bowl, stir butter until creamy, about 1 minute. Stir in both sugars and salt and mix until incorporated. Stir in egg yolks. Add flour, all at once and stir only until flour is in the dough. Shape dough into 2 nine inch logs. Wrap logs in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 3 hours. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Brush logs all over with additional beaten egg. Sprinkle outside with coarse sugar. Cut logs into 1/3 inch slices. Place on cookie sheets and bake for 15-19 minutes, or until edges are golden brown.
Christmas in Sweden