Santons and Thirteen Desserts

Santons or “Provence’s Little Saints” as they are known, are an integral part of Christmas decorations in Provence.   The traditional figures carved of wood or formed from clay which first appeared at a Christmas fair in Marseilles in 1803. They quickly became one of the well loved traditions of a Provencal Christmas and have progressed to be representative of each village with the figures carefully formed and dressed to represent the local inhabitants – for example, the mayor, the boulanger, the boucher, the epicier, the café owner etc etc. There are also many “Expositions of Santons” throughout the area.  The village of Seguret, (Sablet’s close neighbor) has a Santonnier and each Christmas hosts an “Exposition des Santons” in which many of the Master Santonniers of the regions display their interpretations of their village scene of Nativity.

The Nativity (”Creche”), is an important decoration in Provence as according to legend, Jesus was born in Provence and each Creche represents the village at the time of his birth. The Nativity is made of Santons arranged on the wheat grass that was sprouted as a part of the St. Barb’s Feast Day celebration.

Although families in Provence feast on the typically French Christmas fare such as Foie Gras, Turkey, Game Hens or Goose, as a part of the Christmas Day meal, certain foods and customs remain very much a part of the festivities.

They begin on Christmas Eve with the Gros Souper.

The Gros Souper (or Big Supper), is eaten before Midnight Mass and is a traditionally “meatless” meal. Possibly the best known feature of the meal is the “Thirteen Deserts” (les Treize Deserts).

The evening proceeds as follows: The table is laid with three tablecloths (one on top of the other). During the following days each one will be uncovered as the festivities progress. Three large white candles also make up the setting – symbolizing the Holy Trinity and hope. The meal begins with the “Cache fio” or lighting of the fire. The Oldest member of the family and the youngest, carry a fruitwood log (usually cherrywood or olivewood sprinkled with sweet wine) to the fireplace – circling the dining table three times. The Gros Souper is a simple meal and consists of seven meatless dishes (to symbolize the seven sorrows of Mary). Amonsgt the dishess very often served are “L’Aigo Boulido” – a garlic and herb soup, “Brandade de Morue” – a puree of salt cod with garlic, olive oil and cream as well as a selection of vegetable dishes and local cheeses. The meal ends with “les Treize Deserts” or the thirteen deserts*

Joyeux Noel et Bonne Annee a tous!!! ……. et n’oubliez pas …BON APPETIT!!


*The Thirteen Deserts – Les Treize Deserts

The thirteen deserts symbolize Christ and the twelve apostles. Although the items can vary, they most commonly include:

Four Mendiants (the Monks who have taken a vow of poverty)

Raisins for the Dominicans

Almonds for the Carmelites

Dried Figs for the Franciscans

Hazelnuts for the Augustines

Four Poors





Four Riches (any combination of these)

Confit Fruit

Nougat Blanc

Nougat Noir

Coing – Quince paste

Any one of the following:

Panade – Apple Tart

Calisson – Marzipan candy, specialty of the Aix-en-Provence area

Fougasse or Pompe a Noel (Olive oil bread)


RECIPE: Panade – Apple Tart with Almond Frangipane

Galette Dough

1 cup Flour

1 teasp. Sugar

¼ teasp. Salt

6 tabsp. Butter – chilled and cut into 1 inch cubes

3 – 4 tabsp iced water

Combine flour, sugar and salt. Add butter and cut into flour mixture. Add 3 tabsps. Water and continue mixing until dough comes together. If dough is dry, add another tabsp. of water. Gather dough together and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 30 mins. the dough can also be froze at this poin


3 ounces Almond Paste

3 tabsp. salted butter – at room temp.

1½ teasp. Sugar

1½ tabsp. Flour

1 Egg

1/3 cup Cream

In a stand mixer, combine almond paste, butter, sugar and flour. ‘beat on medium speed until smooth. Add egg and cream – beat on low until incorporated. Use at room temp Frangipane can be stored in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.

To assemble Panade:

1 Recipe Frangipane

1 Recipe Galette dough

4 Apples – Sierra Beauty or Golden Delicious – peeled and thinly sliced.

¼ cup melted butter

1/3 cup sugar

Roll galette dough into a large round 1/8 inch thick. . Place dough in a parchment lined tart shell. Spread with Frangipane. Place sliced apples over top of frangipane in concentric circles. Pull edges of dough into the center to create a ½ inch crust around the edges. Brush the edges with butter. Sprinkle with sugar and bake in a 400 deg oven for approx. 40 -45 mins.