The Festive, Olive Oil Bread from Provence

As you see, my baking frenzy continues…BREAD Pompe S

BREAD Pompe cut S

When I first read a description of this traditional festive bread I was surprised by the amount of olive oil it contains. I looked up many French recipes and they all agreed that for each pound of flour there should be one full cup of olive oil added. There were few minor differences in the aromatics among the recipes, with some suggesting just a few aniseeds, and others a lot more –I chose to follow the latter. Some also had orange blossom water along with orange zest, which I preferred to leave out. Some recent version substituted butter for the olive oil (!) and also had egg in the dough. The recipe Saveur published in 2007 has no aromatics at all, and significantly more sugar; the headnote describes it as ‘a cross between a brioche and a focaccia.’ There is also a crunchy version of the Pompe a l’ Huile, which is baked in a low oven until completely dry.

Part of the traditional Christmas table in Provence this delicious olive oil bread is supposed to be torn into pieces with the hands and never cut with a knife. Pompe a l’ Huile is served along with twelve more desserts on Christmas Eve on the festive tables all around the Mediterranean coast of France. The thirteen sweetmeats include various dried fruits –figs, different kinds of grapes, plums etc.—candied pears and apples, as well as oranges and other citrus fruits, cookies and nougat.

It is an old Mediterranean tradition to have different kinds of sweets on display during the end of the year holidays. Here in Greece we also keep on the table nuts and dried fruit, plus melomakarona and kourabiedes from mid-December and up until after the New Year. Wikipedia refers also to the Sephardic Jewish tradition to serve various nuts, candied and dried fruits during Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year.  Catalans and Armenians share similar traditions.

RECIPE: Pompe a l ‘Huile: Festive Bread from Provence

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