There is no better way to travel than by taste. And as far from home as I am, this is the one recipe that can send me there, even once a year, just as Proust traveled to Combray through his cup of tea and madeleine.
With one bite of this bread, I am instantly transported to the stairs my siblings and I ran down on Christmas morning, before running back up as we were made to take a picture half-asleep at the top. We then ran down again to see what Santa had left us—nothing was labeled by name; we navigated based on a shared understanding of each other’s personalities. The Legos weren’t for me, but anything about France was.
This is my third Christmas in France, and this recipe is what has brought me home each year (except one, where it was replaced by croissants and foie gras. Not at the same time!). It’s a recipe that traveled with my family through four cities—and four different flights of stairs—as we moved and moved again, and survives still as we, the children, are increasingly left at the helm of ensuring the Christmas bread gets made (even the one year I accidentally emptied an entire oregano container on it). It was always the launching point of our Christmas day—only those stacks of unwrapped presents from Santa could be played with before the bread was eaten. Wrapped presents were for after, and lots of coffee fell in between.
Its origins stem from so long ago I thought of them as mythical and had to ask my mom, who said she was inspired to tweak a bread recipe when her mom gave her a Christmas tree-shaped pan more than 20 years ago. All of us have come to know the recipe—or at least its flavors—by heart, and while I don’t have (or have space for) a tree pan now, I try my hardest to form it as such with whatever I have.
It’s a recipe that could easily be made for apéro year-round instead of a savory breakfast, and the ingredients can change for the pickiest of eaters—for years, my mom left the top of the tree without onions or mustard to appease my sister and I.
Now, whenever people ask for family recipes this is the only one that comes to mind, the one whose taste surrounds me with Christmas trees as they spring into being and the coffee brews far too early in the morning. And while it may not taste like Christmas to you, I promise it’s worth it all the same. ♦
- 1 package of store-bought pizza dough, French bread dough, or croissant dough
- One medium onion, minced
- Between ⅓ cup and ½ cup shredded cheddar cheese (see note)
- ½ cup bacon (around 100 grams)
- 3 tsp. Dijon mustard
- 1 tsp. oregano
- Preheat oven per the instructions on the bread dough package and grease a metal baking pan (interesting shapes work well here!). Roll out the dough so it forms a rectangular shape if it doesn't already.
- Cook bacon until it is lightly browned and roughly chop it.
- In the same skillet (without removing the bacon grease), brown the onions.
- While the bacon and onions are cooking, spread the Dijon mustard to cover the dough, then sprinkle on half of the oregano.
- When the onions have finished cooking and have cooled slightly, evenly sprinkle them on the dough. Repeat this process with the bacon and then cheese (use your discretion on how much cheese, it should only be a light cover).
- Sprinkle the remaining oregano on top of the cheese.
- Carefully roll the dough into a pinwheel shape, making sure the fillings stay in as you roll.
- Slice the roll into 1" pieces, and place the circles on the greased baking pan.
- Cook bread per the instructions on the package.
Adjust the amounts of cheese and bacon to the amount of dough you're working with.