Most French holiday foods are enjoyed at the end of the year, either for Christmas or New Year's Eve celebrations. For many people living in France, these foods are inseparable from this time of year and the grocery stores really pile it on, devoting many aisles to these special foods.
Foie gras – Fattened duck or goose liver, a specialty of the south west of France, is widely consumed during the holiday season. These days it is incorporated into all sorts of recipes, but more typically it might be served on spice bread (pain d'épices) or just on plain, thin toast. Foie gras is frequently enjoyed with a vin de Sauternes (a sweet wine from the Bordeaux region) or, of course …
Champagne – If you want to include just one typical French holiday food in your celebration, this would be a good choice. The French will crack out a bottle of bubbly for just about any special occasion and the holidays certainly qualify. It might be enjoyed before dinner with a light appetizer or it might be served with dessert at the end of a meal.
Seafood – End of the year celebrating in France frequently calls for a platter of seafood (plateau de fruits de mer) and the fishmonger always enjoys a special popularity at Christmas time. Oysters (huitres) are probably the most popular, but people will go for all kinds of things, including scallops, shrimp, sea snails, and small lobsters.
Poultry – Many people will undertake cooking a large bird for the holiday meal. Turkeys are often available at the end of the year, but the range of poultry available will also include goose, duck, and pheasant. This poultry will get stuffed with all sorts of special foods, including truffles (rare black mushrooms) and chestnuts.
Bûche de noël – A classic French dessert at Christmas time, this cake that takes on the form of a yule log, comes in a near infinite range of possibilities. The traditional rolled cake might be frosted in chocolate butter cream and topped with meringue mushrooms, but many people opt for a frozen bache made with various ice cream combinations. Every year the most famous pastry makers of the country will create a new fabulous interpretation of the buche de noel and the creativity they show is over the top.
Nuts and dried fruits – A bit more down to earth, platters of attractively arranged nuts and dried fruits are sold ready to be offered as a gift or just enjoyed towards the end of a meal. Many times these arrangements will include some brightly colored marzipan.
Exotic fruits – French grocery stores might carry a small, year-round selection of fruit that has been shipped across the globe. As Christmas approaches this selection grows and diversifies and people might enjoy passion fruit, litchi nuts, soursop or other exotic fruits as part of their holiday meals.
The 13 desserts of Provence – In the south of France, in the area known as Provence, people are likely to enjoy this beautiful spread of sweets. If you are thinking ooey gooey chocolate and cream, think again. The 13 desserts are much more humble and represent the bounty of the Provenal harvest. A typical spread might include: hazelnuts, almonds, raisins, dried figs, dates, apples, pears, clementines, white nougat, black nougat, candied fruit, fruit jellies and finally the star of the show: la pompe a l'huile. This sweet bread, whose name literally means oil pump, is made with olive oil.
Chocolates – Even people who are not inclined to do any holiday cooking will still find something to enjoy in the vast offering of truffles, candied chestnuts, filled chocolates, fruit jellies, marzipan and more available in any French grocery store during the holidays.
Other Holiday Foods
Two other French holiday foods deserve special mention as they are quite popular and very well known in France.
Galette des rois – This is a puff pastry cake that is stuffed with almond cream (frangipane) and served on (or around) Epiphany, which falls on January sixth. A small porcelain figurine (la fève) is baked into the galette and whoever receives the fève in their piece is crowned king or queen.
Crepes – Soon after Epiphany, comes Candlemas, known as Chandeleur in France. On this day (February second), people will gather to enjoy a stack of homemade crepes, either sweet or made from buckwheat. Many times a glass or two of hard cider will be enjoyed as well.