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December has arrived! Are you one of those counting the days to Christmas or are you finding it a daunting task trying to juggle a busy lifestyle and trying to organise the Christmas presents, Christmas food and family parties etc.

Christmas traditions seem to be fading somewhat in the past few decades with more elaborate and commercial enterprises taking over and reducing people to nothing more than frenzied shoppers trying to buy everything in sight in case they don't have enough for the holiday!

Oh to go back a little in time to when it was a much less expensive and elaborate affair. I am not sure if it's because I see things differently as I get older but it really upsets me to see families struggling to buy the next best thing on the market for their kids just because it is on the list of best 'must haves' this Christmas.

Instead of spending a great deal on Christmas a great idea would be to have a wonderful Christmas break away in France! This is really a great time of year to experience the atmosphere and the tastes that France has to offer. As always you will find something to suit your pocket at French Connections

Of course Christmas in France, or Noel as it is known, is not that much different than anywhere else in some respects. It is celebrated here as in many other countries, as a public holiday on December 25th.

However, Christmas in France actually begins on December 5th, the eve of St Nicholas when family and friends give each other small gifts.

Even though they have this tradition, many still wait until Christmas eve itself before celebrating by exchanging gifts and awaiting for Père Noël or Father Christmas to visit their homes. Some families celebrate both these days with gifts.

The giving of gifts and of course putting up the Christmas decorations are only two of the traditions in France. If you are lucky enough to visit France at this time of year you will find that many of the celebrations are very similar to those in your own country with the exception that they don't decorate the outside of their homes.

However, although they do have a Christmas tree, it is not as popular in France as elsewhere but it is still to be found in many homes and indeed in towns and cities decorated at Christmas time. The putting up of "sapin de Noel" which is the Christmas tree began in France in the 18th century.

The main focus for decorating the traditional French home and many churches, is the Creche or the Nativity Scene. It usually consists of little figures made of clay, called "santons" or little saints and these are arranged in the creche to depict the Holy Family, the Magi, and the shepherds. In addition to these familiar figures, the French creche may also include other figures in the form of local characters. The santons are often colourfully made to add life to the creche.

If you visit France at this time of year you will be able to buy your own creche from one of the many markets and this would make a really great gift either for yourself or as a Christmas present for family and friends.

The hanging of mistletoe or "le gui" above the door is a tradition meant to bring good fortune to homes and families. The French make use of the mistletoe to decorate their homes although more during the New Year celebrations than at Christmas time.

Food is wonderful in France at any time of year but if you are lucky enough to spend your Christmas Holiday in France here is a sample of what you may taste.

Many traditional Christmas foods are served and these can range from the most humble dishes to the most elaborate and expensive treats.

One of the most popular French foods at this time of year has to be "foie gras" which is made of goose or duck liver that has been fattened through a special feeding process.

You will often see oysters and smoked salmon on the menus as well as foie gras and many fine French cheeses fit for a King!

Crepes or very thin pancakes made from wheat flour are also on the menu in many homes and restaurants and are usually filled with ham, eggs, mushrooms, and cheese. You will also find sweet crepes for those who prefer them, filled with fruits and fruit spreads, maple syrup, or simply with powdered sugar.

Often the main course for Christmas dinner will be Dinde Aux Marrons - Turkey stuffed with chestnuts and is served in many homes in France during Christmas.

Instead of the usual fruit Christmas cake with which many of us are familiar the French have a traditional Christmas cake "buche de Noel" or Christmas Yule log traditionally made with chestnuts and chocolate but nowadays can be in a variety of flavours.

There may also be lots of  "calissons" or fruit-flavoured candies and quince cheese which is a sweet, thick jelly.

They all sound so good and this month I have chosen a traditional French Christmas recipe that you can make at home and will be sure to please everyone - young and old alike. In fact you could make it in advance and freeze it to give yourself more time to relax.

It is of course the traditional Christmas Yule Log or the "Buche de Noel"

The Yule LogThe Yule Log

Christmas Yule Log Recipe

This recipe is enough to serve 6 - 8 people

Ingredients

  • 4oz/1 cup confectioners sugar (icing sugar)
  • 3 eggs plus 1 egg yolk
  • 2 1/2oz(65g,1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons)  flour
  • 2lb/900g unsweetened chestnut puree
  • 11oz/300g softened butter
  • 4oz/100g/1/2 cup castor sugar
  • 2 tablespoons rum

Method

  • Preheat your oven to 220C/425C/Gas7
  • Prepare a 14"x10"/35x25cm Swiss roll tin (jelly roll pan) by lightly greasing it with butter and lining it with greaseproof paper.
  • Sift the icing sugar into a large mixing bowl.
  • Add the eggs and whisk until they are light and creamy and fluffy. Add the rum as you whisk them.
  • Fold the flour in very gently until well mixed.
  • Pour the mixture into your prepared tin.
  • Place in the preheated oven for about 7 minutes.

While it is baking, cut a piece of baking paper or greaseproof paper just a little larger than the tin. When your Yule log recipe is baked, turn it out on to the prepared baking paper. Don't worry if the edges are a little crisp (it happens sometimes!), simply trim the edges. Using the baking paper, take hold of the ends and roll your Yule log into a roll with the paper inside it and allow to go cold.

Whilst the log is cooling prepare the Chestnut Cream Filling/Topping by beating the chestnut puree and the butter together, then gradually add in the sugar and the rum.

When the sponge has cooled unwind it and remove the paper. Spread about a third of the filling on the sponge and roll it up into the log again.

Decorating Your Yule Log

To decorate your Yule log, cut off the ends on a slant to give it a more authentic Yule log effect. Cover with the remainder of the chestnut cream by either piping it with a star tube close to one another on the top and sides to imitate the bark or simply cover and mark with a fork.

To complete your Christmas Yule Log recipe, you can scatter some finely chopped pistachios nuts on it to look like moss, or pine cones etc and dredge some icing sugar to imitate snow.

You can of course use any decorations you wish and a chocolate or coffee butter cream would also be delicious instead of the chestnut cream - in fact why not make both!

Your Christmas Yule log recipe can be transformed into the most beautiful cake with the addition of a small Father Christmas placed on it and some imitation fir leaves. A piece of marzipan with some piped icing such as 'Merry Christmas' or 'Joyeux Noel' also looks amazing.

Tip

If you cannot get chestnut puree or would prefer a coffee or chocolate filling, here is a quick recipe for it.

  • 12oz icing sugar
  • 6oz butter, softened
  • 1 -2 tablespoons good quality coffee/cocoa dissolved in 1 tablespoon warm water and allowed to cool.
  • Simply sift the icing sugar and place in a large bowl with the softened butter.
  • Cream them together, adding the flavouring slowly until you get the desired consistency. You may prefer more coffee or chocolate cocoa to your liking.

Decorate your Yule Log as above using your flavoured cream.

If you would like some more ideas for recipes for Christmas, you will find them at www.french-recipes-to-love.com/christmas-recipes.html

Bon Appétit and a Joyeux Noël