A Taste of Provence with Chickpea Spread

This view is from my parents-in-law’s house in the Luberon, the heart of Provence. It has always been special, whatever time of year; as in this picture, even if the pretty lavender from the fields has been harvested in August, watching the smoke rise from the distillery’s chimney down below conjures up all sorts of ideas as to what uses we have with lavender oil. (Which reminds me, I must share a lovely lavender cream recipe with you next.)

But today we’re going savoury for a change and thinking of the French’s favourite time before dinner: the apéritif. And as we’re heading to Provence this weekend to see good friends, I’m “spreading” the holiday mood with you and opening the rosé wine.

View from Saignon in Provence

This winding road takes us from Saignon to Apt, a popular Provençal market town. On summer Saturdays it transforms from sleepy town into a giant beehive of swarming tourists amongst the locals in every street and hidden nook and cranny, as we dodge past the buskers and look for the best olives, tapenade, honey, vegetables, cheeses and garlic, to name a few.

When we shop at the market, my Corsican mother-in-law and I have very different items in our shopping baskets. One of them is she doesn’t use much garlic and heaven forbid if I add any raw garlic if she is to join us. That’s just the way the cookie crumbles at her place.

garlic at the Provencal market of Apt

Ail, ail, ail!

I also love stocking up on good olive oil. Here is one of the popular olive market stalls.  Just be aware of scams. There are stands that exist that don’t sell the genuine article so ensure that you look for the quality label, AOC (Appellation d’origine contrôlée) on decanted 3-5 litre plastic containers.

Olive stand at the market in Apt Provence

On the other hand, our good friends adore garlic and the local specialities. So when they invited us for lunch “up the road”- passing the villages of Rousillon and Bonnieux – we knew it would be a Provençal treat. Valérie is the most wonderful cook. Her recipes are not only eleven out of ten on the tasty scale but they are above all simple, using the freshest of good quality local ingredients. This means there’s just enough time to have a dip in the pool.

Provence swimming pool with olive trees

As the chilled rosé is opened before the meal, Valérie produces something different each time. Last time she brought out Poichichade (pron: pwah-sheesh-ad).  It’s rather like Lebanese-style Hummous or Humus.  In Provence it’s served as an apéritif accompanied by fresh toasted thin slices of baguette and fresh crudités or vegetable sticks. Not only was it rather addictive, but it also contained a good punch of garlic, using both cooked garlic and just one fresh clove at the end to give it that touch of Provence!

Julie and Lucie were itching to make it so much as soon as our return last time, I didn’t even have time to run out and get dried chick peas!  Dare I even say it?  We used handy tinned/canned chick peas (pois chiches).  I took a quick photo of it and although it was good (and er, yellower), it wasn’t a patch on Valérie’s.  I added some parsley to make up for the different texture, even if the garlic packed a punch.  What was wrong?  We should have taken the time to soak dried chick peas.  It’s far creamier and smooth.

Apologies for this photo.  I did it quickly, as the heat was so intense last night that I didn’t manage to do a photo staging: instead just helped myself to a glass of chilled rosé and had a taste before anyone came home!

Chickpea spread or French poichichade

La Poichichade – Provençal Chickpea Spread

Thanks to my friend, Valérie for the recipe. Please do use dried chickpeas and not the ones in tins: believe me, the taste is completely different.  The hardest part is just remembering to soak them in advance!

Pre-soaking time: 12 hours (or overnight)
Preparation Time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 45 minutes
Cooling/Chilling time:  30 minutes

250g dried chickpeas (soaked overnight in water)
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
3 + 1 cloves garlic, peeled
bay leaf
Juice of a lemon
1 tsp tahini paste (optional)
3 tbsps olive oil
salt & pepper

1.  Leave the dried chickpeas to soak overnight in water.

2. Next day, rinse well. Rub them between your hands to release the skins, discard the skins and rinse again using a sieve.

3. Transfer the sieved chickpeas to a heavy based pan.  Add enough water just to cover the chickpeas and add a teaspoon of  bicarbonate of soda (this makes them easy to digest).  Add 3 large cloves of garlic and the bay leaf.  Cover and cook over a low-medium heat for 45 minutes. After the first 10 minutes, skim off any impurities that rise to the top and also discard of any more chickpea skins.

4.  When cooked, drain the chickpeas and garlic, discard the bay leaf, and leave to cool for 15 minutes.

5.  Mix the chickpeas using a hand blender or mixer with the rest of the ingredients (adding the extra clove of garlic – or even more to your taste but beware – could be potent!), dribbling in the olive oil gradually until you have a good dipping consistency.  Chill for about 15 minutes.

Spoon into a bowl and drizzle with more olive oil.  Add some sesame seeds, smoked paprika or fresh parsley.  Serve with slices of good baguette, radishes, cucumber and carrots. Oh and chilled rosé – cheers!

Chickpea Spread or French poichichade - Hummous from Provence

Well I’m off to pack. I wonder what Provençal recipes I can return with this time?  Let me leave you with a view of last year’s fireworks display for Bastille Day celebrations on 14th July.

Wishing you all a wonderful long Bastille weekend from a hot and sunny Paris. Cheers!  See you in the South on Instagram.

Fireworks-Paris-Bastille-Day

Keeping Cool in a Provence Village Heatwave

Place de la Fontaine

We’re just back from Charles de Gaulle airport, dropping off our eldest for an adventure away from the nest for TWO weeks. Julie confirmed I’m a fussy mum. Have you got your identity card? Don’t forget this form and remember to … “Don’t worry. I’ve got it, Mum!”

To calm down on the way home, we called Antoine’s parents.  They are in a different world in the south.  As we were talking, stuck in Parisian traffic, they were sitting looking at this view from under the shade of an oak tree in their quiet Provençal village of Saignon.

Panoramic view of Castellet village Provence

Over the past week, this heatwave has continued to hit us hard in Paris. One way to keep our cool indoors is ensuring the shutters are closed: that’s something that my mother-in-law fusses about – even more than me.

Another rule in the south is to take an afternoon nap, or sieste. Call me a rebel, but that’s when I normally sneak out of the sleepy house and head into the village.  Although there are over 1000 habitants, as you can see from the photos I took on our last summer visit in August, most people head indoors during the hottest part of the day.  For me, it’s paradise. Even the cats were sleeping indoors.

shuttered windows in a Provencal village

Turning the corner from their driveway just underneath the imposing rock in the village, the only sounds are the drumming of the cigales (cicadas) hidden in the trees and, gradually going up the steep slope towards the church, the sounds of trickling water come from a small communal washing place or Lavoir, as if stepping back into another century.

Lavoir washing place Provence

I have always loved the chairs just outside some of the front doors.  They’re for the neighbours to gossip, chat, exchange recipes, perhaps?

Provencal village street

As you gradually climb up the village, which is 500m above the market town of Apt, many of the picturesque houses date back to the 16th century. Gargoyles included on some. The cars are far more modern…

Vintage car in Provence

This 12th Century Roman Church of Notre Dame (also known as Saint Mary of Saignon) reminds us of Julie’s very windy Christening there 14 years ago (where did the time fly?) and many other family events, joyous and not as much.

Eglise de Saignon in Provence

Just behind the church, the cinema had prepared the chairs for the night’s viewing. I guess cushions would be a good idea.

outdoor cinema in Provence

It’s also at the back of the church that the steps lead to the imposing rock in the village.  It’s not that much of a climb but we heard the story about some adventurous tourists that had to be rescued from a helicopter, as they went off track.  As you can imagine, the neighbours chatted about this one for a while.

Walk to the rock in the Provencal village of Saignon

This is only the back view of the rock.  On the other side, the view is over the Luberon valley.

Back of the rock Saignon Provence

This is where I found people!  So quickly making my descent, headed for the main lavoir in the village’s centre, the Place de la Fontaine. Just imagine the locals from another era all gathering around here, doing their washing and catching up on the latest news…

Lavoir Saignon Provencal village

with this as their view.

pretty fountain in the village of Saignon, Provence, France

Keep your cool and have a lovely week!  I’m looking to sharing some easy yet delicious recipes from my friends in Provence.  You up for a touch of garlic?

 

Confiture de Lait Recipe and How to Store Vanilla Beans

I have a confession to make. I’m glad it hasn’t really snowed in Paris this winter but I caught myself displaying a surprise tinge of jealousy the other day, admiring our Provençal friends’ snowy winter wonderland photos. They’d taken them just before they left Avignon on the TGV (speed train) to visit us snow-deprived souls “dans le nord“.

French clock tower of the town of Apt in the luberon

The paradox is that when it’s cold in the south, it can be lovely in Paris, and vice-versa. In winter, Provence can have the added wind-chill factor with the southern Mistral winds but in summer, they are blessed with the most sun-kissed, flavoursome fruit and vegetables.

Seeing Rome’s legendary Campo dei Fiori market last week reminded me of our favourite Provençal market in Apt. My parents-in-law live nearby in the hilltop village of Saignon, so this is our local market pilgrimage during summer visits. Apt is also where we stock up on candied fruit.  Renowned as the world capital for fruits confits, buying direct from the factory by kilo is far cheaper and better quality than we can find at our Parisian super-markets.

roofs of the French market of Apt in Provence

Apt’s market is far from small; here’s just a fraction of it in the square of the Hôtel de Ville (town hall), as it snakes out into the main cobbled street, the shady side streets, and a few more animated squares. In the summer, it’s crammed with more Dutch, Belgian and British tourists than locals, and musicians from around the globe come to busk in the atmosphere.

Stocking up on our favourite lavender honey, this time around we also met Monsieur Jean-Pierre Setti, selling the most plump, natural sticky Bourbon vanilla pods/beans from Madagascar.

Vanilla beans at the French market of Apt in Provence

Can you smell their perfume? Counting up each exotic stick of fragrant magic, he gave some simple advice how to preserve vanilla pods/beans: put them in a long, sealable jar with just 1/2 cm of rum, close the lid, et voilà!

Madagascan Vanilla on sale at the market in Provence

The girls were fascinated at the next stand by these vibrant Crête de Coq flowers, as they resemble a rooster’s head. Watching the 6 Nations’ rugby yesterday reminded me of some news heard on French radio end January about a particular kind of serial killer roaming around Toulouse. Prized roosters that represent France just before rugby matches were mysteriously disappearing.  Apparently French police believed the culprit was a mink. As my friend, Mel Fenson says, “Better that it’s not human!”

Tete de Coq French Flowers at the market Provence

Back to vanilla and Monsieur Setti, and back home, I found a few long jars that used to hold shop-bought fruit coulis, poured in a measure of rum and squeezed in the vanilla that had dried very slightly from our return drive.  A week later, I’d developed a new daily ritual of opening the jar to sniff the aroma jumping out of it. Better to sniff vanilla, right?

I took a look at Mr Setti’s recipe flyer that he’d thrown in with our goodies.  One of the recipes was for confiture de lait (literally, “milk jam” – or more widely known as dulce de leche). Like salted caramel, it’s more of a perfect winter treat.

Confiture de lait recipe with vanilla bean

There are many express recipe versions on the internet using a can of sweetened condensed milk and cooking it with some water in a pressure cooker.  Call me old-fashioned but I loved popping back over to the stove now and again to stir it, having the house smell sweet on a dull and nippy Sunday afternoon.  It’s a simple, soothing way to cheer up the senses!

Confiture de lait with vanilla French Milk Jam

Confiture de Lait (Milk Jam) with Vanilla

Recipe from Monsieur Jean-Pierre Setti, although I’ve lowered the sugar quantity slightly.

Fills 2 jam jars

Preparation Time: 5 minutes
Cooking Time:  2 1/2 hours – 3 hours

1 litre whole milk (full-fat)
450g sugar
1 vanilla pod/bean

 

1. Put the milk and the sugar in a thick-based large pan.  Cut the vanilla pod or bean right down the middle from top to bottom and add it to the milk.

2. Heat until boiling then reduce the heat to low and leave to simmer away for 2h30 to 3 hours.  Every so often, stir well with a long wooden spoon.  It’s normal that nothing much happens in the first couple of hours, then you’ll see that it does thicken quite quickly towards the end.

3. Take out the vanilla pod and as soon as the jam becomes caramel-like and coats the back of a spoon nicely, take off the heat and pour into a couple of clean jam jars.

It will harden as it cools. Store in the fridge.

confiture de lait or French milk jam with vanilla. Take a spoon!

How long can you keep confiture de lait? As it’s a caramel, it will last a couple of months kept in the fridge, although I found it best kept within a month.  Reheat it for a few seconds in the microwave and dribble it on crêpes, waffles and about anything that you fancy.

I made just a few macarons with Confiture de lait.  I personally find them far too sweet in a macaron, and much prefer “plain” vanilla macarons (recipe in the book) but I’ll leave that for you to try.  In any case, the girls spread so much of this on crêpes recently that the stock didn’t last long!

P.S. The good news is that vanilla is one of the heroes in my new easy pâtisserie recipe book, “Teatime in Paris” – coming 7th May!

Annual Burgundy French Wine Festival 2015

If you know me by now, wine and I are more than just friends.  So, when you live within 3 hours’ drive from Paris to Burgundy, the Galettes des Rois have been baked, tried and tested, and good friends ask you to join them for the annual wine festival, what would you do? So I missed Burn’s Night again this weekend for this…

Le Chateau du Clos de Vougeot Bourgogne

According to the New York Times, Burgundy is one of the top 15 destinations to travel to in 2015.  I say Burgundy, but let’s say Bourgogne, darlings. If you follow the blog, you’ll remember about the Fête de Saint-Vincent Tournante in Saint Aubin last year – so I’ll not repeat about the festival’s history and background.  This year the 71st wine festival took place in two tiny villages of the Côte de Nuits: Vougeot and Gilly-lès-Cîteaux between Dijon and Beaune.

Before the Fête started on Saturday, we kicked off the weekend for dinner.  Last to arrive at the Château Tailly (that’s what happens when you leave at 4.30pm from Paris – it takes an extra hour just to drive out of it!) our lovely friends thankfully saved some Crémant de Bourgogne apéritif and we quickly dumped our bags in the Hemingway room.  Oh, to drop everything and live like a lord and lady for the weekend… Château Tailly is a Gîte de France (details on previous blog post) and a wonderful, welcoming place to stay in Bourgogne.

Chateau de Tailly Gites de France Burgundy

Like last year, our weekend was organised by our good friend, Hervé, who is Master of Organisation Extraordinaire and thrives on it.  Toma Le Courbe, our talented chef, prepared a meal around a lobster theme: starting with a lobster claw risotto to accompany a Rully 1er Cru.  This was toe-curling!  I am definitely adding more sauce from now on to my risottos. His secret?  A dash of Cognac, tarragon and nigella seeds.

Main course was lobster tail and scallop with lightly spiced bulgur and a velvet crab (étrilles) sauce.  The best wine with this was Jean-Pierre Guyon’s Nuits Saint-Georges white (pinot blanc) – a rare occasion to enjoy this, as it’s normally a red wine.  The cheese course was a typical speciality of Burgundy – more on this with a recipe to come soon.

gourmet French menu by Toma at the Chateau Tailly Burgundy

Next morning the Ceremony officially started at 6.30am –  Chefs Toma and Marie were already bravely serving for the festival.  As the procession took place amongst the winemakers and the red-golden-robed Chevaliers de Tastevin, we visited our high profile but down-to-earth winemaker friend, Jean-Pierre Guyon.  He took us through his legendary wine tastings directly from the cellar in Vosne-Romanée.  It’s not that his winery is on the national road (la route des Grands Crus – D974) and only 20 minutes walk to Vougeot, but Domaine Guyot’s wines happen to be some of the best and purest of nectars in Burgundy.

Domaine Guyot Vosne-Romanée Burgundy wines best in France

Starting from the basic of Bourgogne reds, through to other Grand Crus such as Gevrey Chambertin, we finished off with the festival’s stars, the Clos de Vougeot and Echezeaux 2013 – still in barrels and not yet ready but boy, the flavours!  If it was a blind tasting, I was convinced I was drinking a white Mersault rather than a red Clos de Vougeot (although Mersault is not that far away from here.)  The flavours of cream and soft vanilla opened up in the mouth 10 seconds later – and that was only 2013!  Top of the ladder’s lunch was the most exquisite rillettes pâté.  Needless to say, I used the spittoon if I wanted to get through the day!  Although a couple of Grand Crus accidentally slipped down.

Domaine Guyon Ban Bourguignon

Le Ban Bourguignon …

Finishing with hands in the air with the traditional Ban Bourguignon song to thank Jean-Pierre, it was time to walk to the Fête de Saint-Vincent Tournante. Luckily I was wearing long-johns and extra thermal gloves since it was absolutely freezing!

The vines dusted with snow sprinkles, take a look at the rich soil or terroir.  With 100 appellations in Bourgogne, the Côte de Nuits has 13 Grands Crus appellations.  For this event, the Grand Crus stars were both Clos de Vougeot and Echezeaux.  What’s so incredible about the wines here is that the terroir is so different in one area to the next so, even although one appellation can be near to the other, the tastes of the wines can be so varied.

Clos Vougeot Burgundy French vineyards in winter

The history of wines here stretches back 900 years when the monks constructed buildings around the vineyards. Here it wasn’t uncommon to see 1298 like this, written on buildings. The theme this year was therefore, “On the Monks’ Trail”.  Spot the monks propped up around the two villages…

Fete de Saint Vincent Tournante 2015 Vougeot

It takes the villagers weeks to voluntarily prepare for the event, decorating buildings with paper maché flowers. This year I just bought one sampling pack (well, I’d lost Antoine!): 15€ for 7 tasting tickets, a special St Vincent 2015 glass and map.

festive window in the village Veugeot Burgundy

The French postman? Eewah, eewah, ee-always loves dropping in some letters!

The glass comes in a special pochette that hangs around the neck, so you can wander about the villages without needing your glass in hand.  Just as well, as I could no longer feel my fingers!

Clos de Vougeot Grand Cru 2013 for the Fete de Saint Vincent Tournante 2015

Clos de Vougeot Grand Cru 2013 especially made for the Fete de Saint Vincent Tournante 2015

In the end, I only tasted 2 wines: the ordinary Bourgogne and one of the two Grand Cru stars, Clos de Vougeot.  Poured into a chilled glass, fighting off the snow flakes, it wasn’t just that it was over chilled: we were spoilt by tasting Jean-Pierre’s wines beforehand.  So, I just circulated to enjoy the ambience.

The village of Vougeot is particularly picturesque: I’m returning in the summer to appreciate visiting the Château du Clos Vougeot and the neighbouring wineries.

Andouillette sausages

Toma and Marie’s stand were attracting some funny-dressed crowds, as the smell of Andouillette sausages were swirling around his tent.  It reminded me of what Ann Mah says in her book, Mastering the Art of French Eating.  I cannot for the life of me even try it.  The “fragrance” is rather overwhelming. The French mock me, saying it’s the same as our Scottish Haggis. It’s not the same thing.  So roasted chestnuts were my preferred afternoon goûter or 4 o’clock treat.

French roasted chestnuts

Then I stumbled on something, a snow storm took off and stepped back in time – to the Village des Gueux (desgueux means disgusting in French).  I was Asterix in Bourgogne.  Soup, anyone?

Village des Gueux France wine festival

Village Des Gueux

The soup was welcoming to warm frozen fingers.  Let’s say that was about it.  Motivation was strong during the long walk back in the biting winds to the mini-bus, as Toma and Marie had already left their stand and taken off to their new restaurant in Rully to prepare dinner.

Maison Le Courbe French restaurant in Rully, Burgundy

Back to civilisation, after a hot bath to defrost.  I couldn’t recommend Toma and Marie’s new restaurant any higher at the Maison Le Courbe in Rully.  The courtyard is wonderful (sorry, my photos were too poor in the dark) and would suggest you enjoy the view to the château in Rully in the summer, when the weather is more clement.

Menu Maison le Courbe Rully Burgundy

Toma’s culinary skills showed off with his entrée of an Opéra of Foie Gras, smoked duck, pain d’épices and a blackcurrant coulis.  Chicken was stuffed with snails (yes, I eat these too!  Not bad for an ex-vegetarian!) in a creamy garlic sauce.  Cheese?  I must write about this separately!  To finish off was a Paris Brest.  I’d love to do a Paris-Bourgogne soon! Inspiration indeed, Toma.

Domaine Guyon Vosne-Romanée best wines in Burgundy

At the end of the weekend, Antoine surprised me with some boxes of my favourite wines from Jean-Pierre to take back home.  You mean, you went all the way down to the cellars to get it for me? Oh baby, baby you shouldn’t have.  I’m in love…

Cheers from Bourgogne on #TravelTuesday!

Maison Le Courbe
19 rue Saint Laurent
71150 Rully
FRANCE

 

 

A Lazy Gourmet Visit to Yvoire – one of France’s Prettiest Villages

Summer this year was all pretty much last-minute.  On return from our New York visit,  the French parents-in-law were disappointed that us ‘Parisiens‘ hadn’t yet thought of visiting them in Provence in August.  So, with that said, we threw a few bags in the car, leaving plenty of space for eventual goodies from the local Provençal market (my list was longer than a happy sunflower), and headed down the Autoroute de Soleil to Avignon.

As our plans were so last-minute it meant we could aim to follow the sunshine, hoping that the good people at the méteo weather centre hadn’t gone on holiday too.  You see, curiously, the normally radiant August sun in France was playing hard to get and the so-called Autoroute de ‘Soleil‘ was sulking under thick rain-clouds.  As we drove south, our goal was to leave the steely skies in the back mirror and so ended up taking a sunny detour via Haute-Savoie and the fresh air in the mountains of Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur.

Medieval Town of Yvoire in France

One of the highlights of Haute-Savoie has to be the medieval village of Yvoire.  It’s right on Lake Léman, which separates France from Switzerland. “Make sure you reserve a table at Les Jardins du Léman and order the local catch”, advised Hervé, a wonderful gastronomic connaisseur and bon vivant friend.  So, not to disappoint him, we parked the car on the outskirts of the town and headed straight to our table.

Lake view from the top terrace of the Jardins du Leman restaurant Yvoire

Our table was on the top terrace where this secret ambience was hiding excited chattering, chilled rosé being poured and long platters of homemade frites.  Such a view was already enticing but the top terrace overlooks the lake and dominant Château d’Yvoire.  (Incidentally, you can’t visit it unless you know the owners: I need to work at networking, as my Mum has already placed her order for a Granny flat.) Back to the lake.  No wonder fish is what to order here.

Lake Leman between France and Switzerland

What a menu!  Julie, who isn’t as fond as white fish as ourselves, changed her mind that afternoon.  With perch fillets sautéd in a creamy basil sauce and served with the thinnest, crispiest, homemade frites, what was not to love?  I took Hervé’s advice and was in seventh heaven with the Féra du Léman, the local freshwater fish with the most exquisitely-cooked vegetables and the best risotto I’ve tasted in a while.

The best fish restaurant in Yvoire France

Dare I say I couldn’t even manage dessert?  I mean, who could resist choux cream puffs, une Réligieuse in her iced crowning glory hiding a light vanilla pastry cream or the freshest of raspberry tarts?  The portions were so ample that I had to pass – but it just means that we’ll need to return to taste them!  Instead, we needed a walk to merit something at 4 o’clock goûter teatime.

Boats in the harbour of Yvoire in France

The views and fresh air from the lake would surely work up a sweeter appetite.

The harbour in Yvoire, France

Classy passenger boats on the jetty go to and fro the Swiss town of Nyon, on the other side of the lake.  I was content just gazing at the sailing boats.  In any case, there were too many clouds on the Swiss side…

View of Switzerland on Lake Leman

The castle certainly dominates the landscape.  Imagine having your home on a restaurant’s business card?

Yvoire castle on Lake Leman

Nicolas here, also dominated this street with his giant gingerbread rounds, or Pain d’Epices.

Gingerbread or Pain d'epices stall

It didn’t need much to spice up my afternoon when I saw this macaron sign on the Grande Rue – with even more exclamation marks than Mad About Macarons!

French macaron tasting sign

The girls and I tasted their chocolate and passion fruit macarons.  Delicious.  Apparently they produced the biggest macaron pyramid last year. On return home, I looked up their website but it doesn’t exist.  And I’ve looked everywhere on Facebook for them in vain.  Never mind.  If you can’t get to Yvoire, you’ll just have to make your own macarons like the French.  Just saying.

bright coloured rows of macarons

rows and rose of macarons!

Back to street meanderings, the girls couldn’t help looking into Crêperies and ice cream boutiques.

pedestrian streets village of Yvoire France

This boutique confirmed the latest trend: mixing alcoholic drinks with Red Bull.  Now there’s an idea for your macarons, my friends – mind-blowing!

French ice cream flavours - fashionable or à la mode

Incidentally, have you tried my Pistachio, green tea and wasabi ice cream recipe yet?  It goes deliciously well with the same flavour of macaron (recipe is in the book).

As we sat under the shade of a giant fig tree, we watched others do like us: exchange ice creams.  Do you do that too?  We also reminisced that over the space of just a few hours, we’d had the most lazy yet gourmet and sunny afternoon.

Fig tree at the church in Yvoire

Speaking of lazy gourmet, have you tried this ridiculously easy recipe of roasted figs with honey and lavender?  As we’re smack bang in the middle of the short fig season in France, go for it!

roasted figs in honey and lavender

A quick fig dessert


Note: We were not guests anywhere here and all opinions are my own, as usual.  I’m just sharing our family holiday highlights.

Le Touquet – where France meets England over Macarons

It’s more likely to be in the Eurotunnel or over a football match.  But this weekend – birthday partying in between – as most normal people were drawn to cafés and bars to watch the World Cup on big screens, I was drawn instead to this pâtisserie window. Well, wouldn’t you if you’re mad about macarons?

macaron window display at Serge's in Le Touquay, Normandy, France

England is closer to Le Touquet than us ‘southerners’ in Paris.  This swanky coastal resort, known as Le Touquet-Paris-Plage in the Pas-de Calais, is only a straight 2.5 hour drive on the A16 from Paris yet it’s next door to Calais to jump on the Eurostar to London, and even closer a drive along the coastal road to Belgium.  So, when Serge Leveau decided to change direction from restaurants and open his own pâtisserie, Arts Gourmands on one of the main streets in Le Touquet, he picked a great location.

macaron vase display patisserie window Le Touquay Normandy France

This may sound weird, but do you also love stacking up macarons, one by one, until it’s in the dangerous falling zone? He manages an impressive macaron tower of 11 or 12! Forget the flowers, this is a lovely decor idea: macarons in a giant vase.

choice of designer eclairs by Serge in Le Touquay, Normandy France

Serge Leveau is also an éclair genius. His lovely wife tempts you with gleaming fondant-coated varieties such as pistachio, Mars, Bounty, Twix, Saffron, Lagavulin (och, who can resist that one, Jimmy?), cherry, Strumph, chocolate, espresso and Madagascar Vanilla.  Incidentally, I also bought the fattest, juiciest looking Tahitian vanilla pods/beans. Tahitian are much subtler in flavour than Madagascan – I can’t wait to try them out at home, even if I do prefer more up-front flavours. 

Guimauves - artisanal marshmallows by Serge, Le Touquay, Normandy

Eyeing the pastel-shade guimauves, I hauled myself away just with éclairs for tea-time and would get the rest tomorrow (well, I was supposed to be celebrating a special dinner so no need to over-do it!). 4 o’clock. On the dot. Goûter time with our éclair picnic on the windy beach. Without the cup of tea. I wish he had a tea salon.

picnic on le Touquay Normandy Beach, France

 As it’s right in the midst of cherry season, I had to pounce on this beauty with its cherry melting on to the brilliant fondant.

Serge’s fillings are generous, light, creamy and flavours extremely subtle. For chocolate fans, his éclairs have a film of either white or dark chocolate as a base.

pistachio eclair filling

Sunday I popped back to the shop to stock up on the macarons, whose flavours were calling.  Check out this packaging for a box of 12 macarons.  La Classe.

Creative macaron packaging for 12

Carried away (why does that always happen in pastry shops?) I bought more than I ‘needed’.  Well, I had to taste the espresso macarons, the violet, speculoos, apricot, rhubarb and one of my personal favourites, coquelicot: French poppy. What would you choose?

apricot macarons by Serge, Le Touquay

Starting with the subtle and sweet apricot and rhubarb, the French poppy had more fragrance as I prefer. Who loves speculoos? I’m saving that until last.

When I asked Serge if he made his macarons using French or Italian meringue, his cheeky, smiling answer was “My own way.”
Well. Then.

apricot macarons and pistachio by Serge, Le Touquay, Normandy, France

I was seriously contemplating attacking these fresh cherry guimauve marshmallows with my café-crème and croissant breakfast but luckily, Serge let me taste a little beforehand so self restraint ruled.  I also bought a whopping 85% chocolate spread – this one is for the adult squirrel corner and well away from any of the kids’ sweet Nutella!

cherry marshmallows handmade in Le Touquay, Normandy

Four éclairs for er, three of us.  To be honest (ok, I’m lying), I forgot that our eldest is on a German exchange and it was reflex, Sir. Honest it was.  Caribbean 66% chocolate (which was very low on sugar for the chocolate to shine through), Poppy, Espresso (this was our winner as it was slightly stronger in flavour than the others) and Lagavulin.

gourmet eclairs

And this is how the sweet weekend ended on Father’s Day: a Lagavulin Whisky éclair with its extra syringe of Scottish Malt (a double whisky?).  Ah, the Auld Alliance!  Where France meets Scotland over an éclair.  For a Franco-Scottish macaron, don’t forget I have a MacClair (Coffee and Whisky) macaron recipe in the book on page 84.

A touch of Lagavulin Whisky eclair by Serge in Le Touquay Normandy

Cheers!

Let’s just say I may just need another dose from Le Touquet-Paris-Plage. There’s still a chocolate factory and the Tarte au Sucre to discover next time…

Arts Gourmands
80 rue de Metz
62520 Le Touquet-Paris-Plage

street pianist playing in Le Touquet, Pas-de-Calais, France

Have a tuneful week!