Blink, it’s almost Christmas! Seriously, I can’t even believe that another year has passed. It has been such an eventful year and time of my life. So much joy and hardship have been rolled into this year and now I get the chance to celebrate this wondrous year with the two men in my life. I am so enormously blessed. Christmas is somewhat different in France, not really the traditions, but the fact that you’re celebrating it alone. The lights are up, Christmas decorations are stacked in shop windows and people are busy buying gifts for their loved ones.

Luckily, I get to spend two weeks in sunny SA before returning just before Christmas. I will arrive at a very cold, but a cheery little town. Christmas markets will be up and running and there will be the smell of Nutella crepes, hot chocolate and roasted chestnuts. As you will remember, last year around Christmas I was 37 weeks pregnant. How we all should celebrate all the different phases of our lives. Even when it’s alone and somewhat uncomfortable. That’s life and it should be celebrated.

I remember a while back I read a post about this stage of life and that it is hard. Like one of my friends said, becoming a mother allows you to enjoy the little things in life. She gave me the advice to really just enjoy painting your nails when the opportunity presents itself or just taking a nap, but unfortunately, I have the tendency to not sit still, which led to utter exhaustion at one point. What have I learned from 2017? Life is hard and you’re not perfect and can’t do everything and you know that it’s okay.

I look back at the past and all the Christmases that I have celebrated. During our first Christmas as newlyweds, we were alone and new to the culture in France, surrounded by new friends. We were feeling somewhat awkward and alone. The following Christmas we celebrated in-between the mountains in Chamonix. Our third year in Montpellier was celebrated with many South Africans surrounded by all the Christmas comfort food that we all know and love. In 2016, we moved yet again and during our first year in Castres I was 37 weeks along pregnant and spent Christmas with family guests. Cooking has become my forte, but at 37 weeks you’re not quite so enthusiastic anymore, but you do it all with a smile (on the inside). Now in 2017, we celebrate this year with more love, spit-ups and little cuddles that I could even ask for.

So obviously food should be on the table and I am planning a much more low-key Christmas… Oh, who am I kidding, right? I always seem to overdo it when I get the opportunity to host. My mother-in-law will be visiting, so this gives me the chance to cook to heart’s content while I have a babysitter. We have also ordered our Christmas pyjamas and will be spending Christmas morning in Santa Claus printed pyjamas. Don’t even go there, my husband did the picking, lol! We bought it from Pat Pat; they have such a broad variety. We’ll just certainly have to wear undergarments, because they are not as thick as we thought they would be. I don’t want to scare my kid off Christmas completely!

What are the French traditions for Christmas? Well, it seems as though they are pretty much like us when it comes to celebrating Noël. Big dinners are planned and the family is invited with copious amounts of food. The traditional cake is Bouche de Noël (if you are looking for the recipe, check out this post from last year). I have asked a few Frenchies what they traditionally make to eat and they all seem to have the same response: “We’ll have whatever we want.” Well, to elaborate a bit, turkey, duck, beef, et cetera can be on the menu alongside a few known desserts like crème brûlée, chocolate dipped churros, et cetera. There are a few courses though so this Christmas celebration can take a while, just like the French know to do.

So, I am going to share just a few dessert recipes with you this week to get you started for the festive season ahead. I know there are so many options to choose from and even I get overwhelmed. When I have just too many things to choose from, I can’t decide at all! Some are healthy and some are not so healthy, but that is why indulging is needed to cope with the family drama going around. Whereas we will try and keep our almost nine-month-old on a very close watch, he is grabbing everything at this stage. I’ll leave the baking and cooking to you guys; hopefully, you’ll get a few things done!

Recipes

Espresso caramel self-saucing pudding

Preparation time: 10 minutes
Baking time: 12 minutes
Serves: 20–25 cookies

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour/rye flour or plain flour
  • 1 tbsp. almond flour
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar or coconut sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 3 1/2 tsp. cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp. espresso powder
  • 1 tsp. caramel essence
  • 1/2 cup milk/coconut milk/cream
  • 35 g vegan butter or normal butter
  • 1 flax egg or 1 normal egg
  • 1/2 cup coconut sugar or brown sugar
  • 1 cup boiling water

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C.
  2. Sift together the flour, almond meal, sugar, baking powder and two spoons cocoa powder.
  3. Spoon this mixture into ovenproof cups or crème brûlée cups.
  4. Mix together the other spoon of cocoa powder and the rest of the sugar, sprinkle a spoonful over every cup and then pour over the boiling water.
  5. Bake for 12–15 minutes till cooked.
  6. Serve hot out of the oven with coconut whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

Speculoos gingerbread men

Preparation time: 20 minutes
Baking time: 10 minutes
Serves: 20–25 cookies

Ingredients

  • 1 cup rye flour
  • 1 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
  • 70 g vegetable butter (like soy or coconut)
  • 1 tsp. speculoos spice (Dille et Kamille) or gingerbread spice
  • 50 g coconut oil
  • 125 g coconut sugar
  • A pinch of salt
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. vanilla essence
  • 1 egg yellow or 1 vegan flax egg
  • 2/3 cup maple syrup/agave/molasses

Icing ingredients

  • 1 egg white or coconut oil
  • 125 g white sugar
  • Drops of lemon juice

Method

  1. Heat up the oven to 175°C.
  2. Mix together the butter, coconut oil and sugar until nice and smooth.
  3. Add the dry ingredients and then mix well till dough forms.
  4. Scoop the dough out on a flour surface area and roll out with a rolling pin.
  5. Press out gingerbread men and place on a parchment paper lined baking tray. (Cookie press bought from Dille et Kamille.)
  6. Bake for 9–12 minutes till nice and brown and remove to cool.
  7. Let the cookies cool completely before adding the frosting and let them dry in a dry place at room temperature.

Gingerbread icing

  1. Mix all these ingredients together and let it rest for a bit before pouring into a piping bag with a small nozzle.
  2. Decorate your cookies and let them dry at room temperature.
  3. Store in an airtight container.

Ingredients

  • 125 g salted butter
  • 1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour (farina de ble)
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1 slab of peppermint chocolate
  • Funfetti sprinkles
  • Silver cake sprinkles

Method

  1. Heat up the oven to 180°C.
  2. Mix together the softened butter and sugar, add the egg and mix slightly more.
  3. Add the dry ingredients and the chopped chocolate. Mix well until pliable dough forms and scoop the dough out into the giant cookie press. (Bought from Maison du Monde.)
  4. Remove some of the dough so that the cookie dough does not bake over the sides of the cookie press. You can make extra cookies with this dough.
  5. Now it’s time to add the sprinkles and other decorations.
  6. Bake for 14–20 minutes till nice and gold.
  7. Let it rest a bit before you remove it from the cookie press and decorate a bit further if you like. Wrap it up and give it as a present to someone special!

Happy festive baking! I am on my way to South Africa for a bit of sunshine before Christmas. Wish me luck, I will be flying on my own! For more recipes, be sure to check out my Instagram and Facebook page.

You can read Mariza’s blog, Life in the South, here and follow her on social media. Her blog is a place where you can be more than one thing: mom, cook, photographer and traveller all rolled into one. Find some recipes, travel information, DIY, useful tips and how to survive living abroad…

This post is also available in: Afrikaans

Mariza Ebersohn
Mariza Ebersohn

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