I love holiday traditions and beautiful customs, especially when they involve handmade holiday gifts made with care and love.
My friend Patricia has a lovely way of celebrating friendship during the holidays. It not only involves good company, but also involves sinfully good desserts, children and chocolate mendiants! Around Christmastime, Patricia invites an intimate group of friends (and their little ones) to her home for an amazing Atelier Chocolat (Chocolate Workshop), a dégustation of desserts and a little chocolate workshop for the littlest of hands.
A wife and mother of three young boys, Patricia is energetic, creative, and a lovely person in so many ways. She’s also French, très chic, and an excellent cook. So when she invited me to her atelier, I knew it would be nothing short of absolutely fabulous, and that it was! As soon as my little one and I walked into her home for the atelier, I noticed the irresistibly sweet and comforting smell of rich chocolate that filled the air. Spread across her table were beautiful serving plates filled with neatly aligned treasures—chocolate truffles, orangettes, white and dark nougats, biscuits made of dried fruits, ganache covered fruit squares, and more…all homemade, vegan and gluten free!!! I don’t have photos of all of them, but I can tell you they were absolutely divine!
While the children played, we sipped warm chai, talked, laughed and sampled Patricia’s amazing masterpieces. Nibbling away, we oo-ed and ahh-ed and were in awe of her culinary ingenuity. Without hesitation, we all asked for recipes.
Soon after, the Atelier Chocolat continued when the kids (aged 2-12) started to make chocolate mendiants, a classic French Christmas treat.
The history of mendiants (“beggar” in French) is quite interesting. Related to mendicants, religious orders that relied on charity for income, chocolate mendiants were traditionally bejeweled with four fruits and nuts meant to symbolize the colors of the robes of the four major mendicant orders of the Roman Catholic Church: almonds (Carmelites), hazelnuts (Augustins), dried figs (Franciscans), and raisins (Dominicans). Today, however, a variety of dried fruits and nuts can be used to adorn mendiants. They’re not only a fun holiday treat to make with kids, but also a great opportunity to let your imagination run wild and exercise some creativity.
After Patricia spread small liquid disks of melted chocolate in front of each child, it was nice to see how each of them chose to make arrangements on their little chocolate canvases, all ready to be topped with a variety of shapes, textures, colors and flavors. Sitting on my lap, my little one was eager to participate in the atelier. As I watched his little fingers carefully decorate each of his chocolate mendiants, his gift to take home to papa, I knew making this classic holiday treat would be a tradition I’d repeat for years to come.
The rituals and traditions we choose to practice everyday and year not only say a lot about our identities, but can also be an expression of thoughtful sentiments we wish to convey to friends and family. I left Patricia’s Atelier Chocolat not only with a box filled with her delicious and decadent homemade gifts, but was also filled by a lovely expression from the heart of her love and friendship.
Patricia’s Atelier was a reminder that making and giving homemade gifts always means a lot and adds an extra special touch to the practice of gift giving during the holiday season.
1 pound semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped
A variety of nuts (almonds, pistachios, walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, cashews, etc.)
A variety of dried fruits (raisins, apricots, figs, cranberries, etc.)
Line several baking sheets with parchment paper or use silicone baking mats.
In a heat-proof bowl, melt the chocolate over a pan of simmering water on low heat.
Drop small spoonfuls of melted chocolate onto the baking sheets. Gently spread chocolate to create small discs. Place a few of the toppings on each chocolate disc.
Place baking sheets in a cool place for about 10 to 15 minutes to allow mendiants set.
Gently lift mendiants off the parchment paper and place on a serving plate or store in an air tight container.