Sunday, March 21, 2010

Les navettes

Navettes or li naveto, in Provençal, are a specialty of Marseille and Provence.  I have been told two different stories about these cookies.  The first story I heard about them is that they are shaped like little boats, resembling the boat that the Saintes Maries, Saint Mary Magdalene and Saint Martha were riding in when they reached the shores of Provence over 2000 years ago.  Was Saint Sara was also with them?

Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer is a town on the coast, not far from Arles, with a wonderful church and altars to the saintes.

Jean-Marie Fassy in Maillane, one of my favorite bakers and a master fougasse maker, reports in Recettes de Provence, that they symbolize this boat, too.   Les 13 desserts en Provence, a book that I bought before leaving Arles in 2008, contains a recipe for them.  The paragraph accompanying the recipe reads:  "Navettes symbolize the boat in which Saints Mary Jacobé and Marie Salomé arrived on the beaches of Provence.  Navettes are part of the 13 desserts of Christmas but are equally a part of the Chandeleur tradition (February 2) and saving some in an armoire will bring happiness all year!  The last Sunday in January, they are blessed at the shepherds' mass in Saint-Martin-de-Crau, then broken at the end of the mass as a sign of sharing and brotherhood.  We like them year-round with a good cup of coffee!"  I'll second that!
While in Arles last week at the Saturday market, I was asked if I knew the story about the cookies as we passed by a display of them.
I thought I was showing off when I answered Mais oui and I repeated the boat story.  My friend said Mais non and told me that they are in the shape of the wooden shuttles used to repair fishermen's nets.  I found this story in a couple of other places when I googled for more information.  So, a bit of controversy on this one.  I will keep up the research. (Which will, of course, involve making and eating them...)
On my final full day in Arles, last Sunday, I decided to go to my favorite bakery to see what treats I could bring home this time.  Guy LeBlanc's pâtisserie is found on Rue du 4 septembre.
Notice Tradition Gourmande on the sign.  No kidding!  I've been known to buy every single pain au chocolat to bring home to my eater sons.  Not this time, though.  The navettes in the window caught my eye.  I entered the shop, only to find five or six of my girls there, sitting at the little tables having chocolat chaud and treats.  I have indeed taught these young ladies very well.  I was so proud.  Several of them also bought handmade chocolates to bring home for family and friends.   I chose the navettes, some of them flavored with lavender grains.  Vraiment délicieux, mes amis.  They are traditionally flavored with orange water.  The un-ex prefers those.  I took lavender ones to my gourmand buddies at school.  Señor saved his to have with his evening tea and raved about it on facebook so he got a second one the next day.  I shared my recipe with him, hoping that he will tweak it and figure out how to flavor them with lavender.  It's great having friends who love to cook and eat as much as I do!!
This evening's baking project has been navettes.  For my first attempt, I decided to stick with the orange water recipe.  I will next try lavender grains in them.
Here they are as they sit "resting" on my counter before going into the oven. 

And here is the finished product.
They are not as crunchy as the ones from LeBlanc's shop.  Perhaps I should've baked them longer.  They are good, though.  Maybe I should work on this recipe they way I did with the orange brioche when I first arrived in Chef Érick's kitchen for my sabbatical.
Now, I will make myself a cup of tea to go with my warm navette.  High school-age son is circling, watching the timer until they come out of the oven...

makes 24 cookies

6 Tbsp. butter, softened
3 1/2 - 4 c. flour
1 c. sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
3 eggs, plus one yolk
2 Tbsp. orange flower water
1/2 c. water
1 tsp. milk

Cream the butter until fluffy.  Add 3 1/2 c. flour, sugar, salt, 3 eggs, flower water and water.  Mix until completely combined.  The dough should be stiff, just beyond sticky, so that you can handle it without it sticking to your hands.  You may need to add more flour to get there.

Gather the dough in a ball and divide it in two.  Divide each half into halves and then once more so that you end up with eight balls of equal size.  Each of these should be then divided into three balls for a total of 24.

Roll each ball into a 3-inch long cylinder.  Place them somewhat spaced apart on parchment paper-lined baking sheets.  Flatten each cylinder and pinch the ends to form a boat shape.  With a sharp knife, slit the cookie down the center, stopping at about 1/8 in. from each end.

Leave the cookies to rest for two hours at room temperature.  When you are ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350F.  Beat the egg yolk with the milk and brush the tops of the cookies with this.  Bake them for 20-25 minutes or until golden on the top.

** After a bit more research, I found the website Serious Eats and a recipe for Lavender Navettes.  I haven't tried it yet, so I will wait to post it.  The ingredients are in grams.  Thank goodness I bought myself a new truc not long ago- a scale that measures in ounces and grams.  It also used baking powder and only one egg instead of three.  Tomorrow night's project...

Bon appétit, les Saintes Maries de la mer et les pêcheurs de la Méditerrannée!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I tried it, and they were delicious! Will make again!