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Pompe à l’huile

Wed, 24 November, 2021

Would you eat a dessert called ‘oil pump’? The name belies the taste of this wonderful, orange flavoured sweet Provençal Christmas bread.

pompe a lhuile

There is a lovely Christmas tradition in Provence: to serve thirteen desserts on Christmas Eve, symbolic of the twelve apostles and Jesus.

What’s French Christmas like?

As in many other European, traditionally Catholic countries, the main celebrations in France take place on the 24th of December.

There is a lavish dinner, with oysters, caviar, foie gras and whatever is the best of the best in a particular household, no expenses spared. Birds are roasted, pintade (guinea fowl) or pheasant, and all is washed down with champagne.

The feast called Le Reveillon traditionally should commence after the midnight mass and go on into the small hours of Christmas morning, but practical and less orthodox households have their repast at a more sensible hour of the evening.

olive oil brioche

Thirteen desserts of Christmas

But of all the French regions, Provence beats the others on the number of desserts: thirteen of them, instead of one meagre bûche de Noël in Lombardy, Gascoigne and Ile de France.

Admittedly, among the thirteen there are ready-made things: dried fruit, nuts, dates and raisins but they get an elevated status by being associated with various monk orders. There are walnuts for the Augustines, almonds for the Carmelites, raisins for the Dominicans and figs for the Franciscans. Dates are sacred and symbolise the seed of life.

There is fresh fruit in its plenty too: melons, apples and pears, figs and oranges. And amongst the baked or confected sweets, the nougats, the bûche de Noël and the calissons, there is a wheel or two of pompe à l’huile, sweet Christmas Provençal bread, orange flavoured and enriched with olive oil.

provencal christmas bread

What is pompe a l’huile?

Traditionally two wheel-shaped loaves are baked: one to consume on Christmas Eve, at Le Reveillon feast, and the other not many hours later, for Christmas Day breakfast.

It makes perfect sense to bake olive oil bread in the olive country, and the name is a clever description of how in the olive oil mills of Provence, at the end of the process, they used wheat flour to ‘pump’ or soak up the residual oil.

Oil pump is flavoured with orange zest and orange blossom water which is not to everyone’s taste as it does have a strong floral perfume. The dough is shaped into a wheel and scored with a knife or pastry cutter, so that the bread can be broken by hand and never needs to be cut.

how to shape pompe a lhuile

How to make pompe à l’huile?

There is nothing difficult about it and it’s lovely dough to work with (my recipe follows largely the one on Breadtopia).

The only unusual thing is the long proving time: it takes up to four hours for the dough in bulk to achieve the double volume stage, and almost two hours for the shaped wheels to puff up.

It’s all because of the richness, sumptuousness and all those qualities of the dough that make it so delicious in the finished product.

What does it taste like?

Pompe à l’huile is distinctly different from buttery breads. It is very soft but not particularly fluffy. The same way as it works in cakes, those baked with oil are much moister than butter-based ones. So is pompe – solid and filling, a little stodgy in the nicest way.

But thanks to that oil it keeps exceedingly well, even though it’s meant to last only two days. It also reheats wonderfully: five minutes in a warm oven or even a few seconds in the microwave brings the texture back to the freshly baked quality.

You would not think to put butter on bread so rich in olive oil, but it is indulgently delicious. I also think a drizzle of good honey is not amiss on a wedge of the pompe for a festive breakfast.

oil pump french christmas brioche

More French bread recipes

Pompe à l’huile is about oil, and brioche is about butter, of course. Here’s my personal favourite brioche recipe, suited to make one large loaf as well as several mini brioches.

In parts of Provence pompe à l’huile is called fougasse, but a festive version of it. Here’s everyday fougasse au Emmental, the savoury bread.

We can’t have ‘French bread’ heading without croissants, although it’s debatable whether they actually are ‘bread’ and not in a league completely of their own.

More Christmas dessert recipes

Continuing the French theme, here’s the famed bûche de Noël recipe, firmly demanded every year in my house.

For New Year and Epiphany, the French bake galette des rois: delicate puff pastry with gorgeous frangipane filling.

Raspberry meringue roulade with fresh cream is a stylish finale to a Christmas dinner not only in France, and it’s not that hard to make!

pompe à l’huile

Servings: 12Time: 6 hours
Rating: (2 reviews)


  • 170g (23 cup + 1 tbsp.) water
  • 24g fresh or 7g (214 tsp) instant yeast
  • 100g (12 cup) caster sugar
  • 9g (112 tsp) fine sea salt
  • 36g (3 tbsp.) orange blossom water
  • 3g (1 tsp) ground anise (or 3 whole star anise)
  • zest grated from 2 oranges
  • 36g (3 tbsp.) strained orange juice
  • 120g (12 cup) olive oil plus more for brushing
  • 500g (334 cups) strong white bread flour
  • icing sugar, for dusting


1. Divide the water between a small cup (70g) and a large jug.

2. Crumble the yeast into the water in the cup, add a pinch of sugar and stir to dissolve. Leave it to one side while you prepare the rest of ingredients.

3. Add the sugar, salt, orange blossom water and ground anise to the water in the jug. If you have whole star anise, prise the seeds from it and grind them in pestle and mortar. Add to the jug together with the orange zest. Strain the orange juice before measuring it out and add to the jug. Stir to start dissolving the sugar and salt and pour in the olive oil.

orange flavourings and oil

4. Place the flour in the bowl of the standing mixer or an ordinary large bowl if you’re making dough by hand. Pour in the orange mixture and the dissolved yeast and mix to a rough dough with a dough hook attachment in the standing mixer or a wooden spoon.

5. Increase the speed in the mixer to medium and mix for 10 minutes. If kneading by hand, apply the slap and fold technique. When the dough is smooth, shiny and not sticky, place it in lightly oiled bowl and leave, covered, in a warm place until doubled in volume, about 312 hours.

risen olive oil brioche dough

6. Turn the dough out onto clean work surface and divide in two. Shape each portion into a ball, cover with a towel and leave for 20 minutes.

7. Prepare two large baking trays lined with parchment.

8. Roll out each ball to a circle about 20cm/8 inch in diameter and 112 cm/ 12 inch thick. Transfer them onto the trays and make incisions, like spokes but not cutting to the end or the middle of the dough, with a pastry cutter or a knife. Use your fingers to stretch and open up each incision.

9. Cover the pompes with cling film and leave in a warm place to puff up and almost double in thickness, about 1 ½ hours.

10. Preheat the oven to 190C fan if available/375F/gas 5.

11. Bake the pompes one after the other on the middle rack for 15-17 minutes until uniformly golden.

baked pompe a lhuile

12. Remove from the oven and brush generously with the extra olive oil. Cool on the parchment on a wire rack and dust with icing sugar. Pompe a l’huile is the nicest barely warm, but it will keep well for a couple of days, well wrapped. You can briefly warm it in the oven to restore freshness after that time.

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Anna @ CuisineFiend
There are many different kinds of breads enriched with butter, apart from brioche. And pompe a l'huile is supposed to be quite heavy. If you tried the authentic Provencal one, you'd find it's precisely that oily.
10 months ago
I don't use butter when I'm making bread...unless I'm making Brioche. The Oil pump tastes OK but is too heavy. I need to modify it to sort that out.
10 months ago
Anna @ CuisineFiend
Oil and that amount is what makes it unique, pompe au beurre would taste just like any other bread.
10 months ago
Far too much oil in the Oil Pump. I think I'll reduce it or change it to Pompe a la buerre
10 months ago

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