Eating My Way Through New Year in France

Eating My Way Through New Year in France

If France is a land of food, then the months of December and January are the season of desserts. Rather than completely give in to the cold and damp that are winter’s dear friends, the French stage their annual resistance in the form of the Christmas log cake (or bûche de Noël) and the galette des rois (king cake). These are social desserts: easily portable and made for company.

My first taste of a bûche was at the lycee (high school) where I work for part of the week. One of my colleagues had brought two cakes to share: one raspberry and the other chocolate. As I have yet to lose the mindset of a hungry college student, I eagerly sampled both flavors. The crunchy sweetness of the sugar crystals mixed with the soft tartness of the sponge cake and raspberry filling. That Christmas log cake in December marked the start of my holiday season.

I had felt disconnected from the festiveness of the holiday season. Perhaps it was the aggressive commercialization of Christmas that I missed, or the absurd Christmas sweaters.

Even as English-language carols blared in the city center, I had felt disconnected from the festiveness of the holiday season. Perhaps it was the aggressive commercialization of Christmas that I missed, or the absurd Christmas sweaters. Maybe it was seeing all the houses decorated, some tastefully and others not. Either way, my festive feelings about the approaching holiday and New Year’s season did not materialize. Then I made a decision: as a lonely American living near the French Alps, perhaps I should make it my mission to celebrate Christmas and New Year’s as the French do – with cakes and Christmas markets and quiet yet social events.

Eating My Way Through New Year in France

So with the first requisite holiday cake – the log cake – eaten, I set my sights on the second: the galette des rois. I knew it was the key to receiving invitations as, even in the relative warmth of the valley where I live, the holiday season is a time for rest. A flaky puff pastry filled with frangipane, this cake is the true secret to tempting the French out of their winter calm. If log cakes or galettes are not included, it can be hard to rustle up company otherwise. Late December to mid-February is “galette season”, and the only time when the cake can be purchased. The king cake can be spotted, adorned with a paper crown, in many a patisserie window.

For a nation that prides itself as the capital of food, it makes sense that the trick to friendship and celebration in France would be food.

To achieve my sneaky social goals, I texted friends, casually saying we should eat a galette together. My hunch on the social temptation of galettes was correct: during those first three weeks of January, I ate three buches, or one per week. I tasted a delicious classic galette, a fresh galette with raspberry topping and a homemade galette with hazelnut filling instead of frangipane. What made each of these galettes special wasn’t simply that they were delightful in and of themselves, but that I was able to share them with others.

In the US, it’s very easy to become caught up in the spectacle and the lights, the pomp and the circumstance of the holiday season. It’s our only large and notable break until the heat of summer. At first, I expected my French holiday season to look like that as well. But, upon looking a little further and adapting a “when in Rome” perspective, I naturally stumbled onto the French tradition of social cake eating. For a nation that prides itself as the capital of food, it makes sense that the trick to friendship and celebration in France would be food. Still, I’m glad to have celebrated and marked this holiday season not in days but in cakes and company. If life is a series of moments linked together, why not link them with sweetness?

About Zubin Hill

Zubin HillA former Alabamian, Zubin recently graduated from Bryn Mawr College with a degree in International Studies. Since leaving the South, she’s traveled to China, France, England, Spain, Belgium, Ghana, Togo and within the US. Of all the places she’s visited, New Orleans remains her favorite. Now, as a teaching assistant with the Teaching Assistant Program in France (TAPIF), she hopes to continue exploring Europe and learning about other cultures.

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