Karen, at Lavender and Lovage, announced that the theme for this month's Tea Time Treats challenge was to be French baking, I thought it would be easy. I try to fit all my blogging challenges into my usual baking routine, which basically means not making anything which the family won't eat, or which isn't needed, or which is too similar to the last few things I've made. I also like it to be something which challenges my baking skills, if possible, although I don't always have time to try something new.
But French baking still sounded OK, as there is so much to choose from. Additionally, I've always wanted to try making macarons, the classic and currently fashionable, French treat. The fact that they were reputed to be difficult to make only added to the challenge, and made them a more suitable thing to try. It was after the fruit of a morning's labour ended up in the rubbish bin that I realised I was in trouble. If that wasn't going to work, what else would fit my own requirements?
There were eclairs - but I didn't want the fuss of choux pastry after going wrong with macarons. How about palmiers? Unrolling a sheet of puff pastry was hardly in the spirit of the challenge, was it? Gateaux were too fussy for a mid-week bake, and besides, I wanted to save the more extravagent bakes until Easter. Similarly, not eating desserts midweek ruled out things such as lemon and chocolate tarts, glazed fruit tartlets, and pithiviers, which is something else on my 'to do' list! Madeleines - I'd need to buy a tin! Cake salé - FB didn't like them!
Phil, from As Strong as Soup, was keen on traditional French baking - perhaps I could find inspiration there! I ruled out his plainer cake recipes on the grounds that they were similar to a lot of the cakes I've made recently, but his biscuit/cookie recipes caught my eye. In particular this recipe for Navettes looked very appealing. Further investigation found some more interesting stories, other than Phil's, about the origins of the shape and name of these biscuits - either they were named after the boats in which Saint Mary Magdalene and Saint Martha were travelling when they reached Provence, or they were shaped and named after the shuttle used on weaving looms - also navette in French. You can judge from the picture above whether that's likely.
Most of the recipes I found were very similar to Phil's - the only question was whether or not to add baking powder? In the end, I chose a recipe which didn't use it. I followed the recipe exactly, and needed 450g of flour to make a soft but not sticky dough. The recipe wasn't exact on the amount of flour as it's the feel of the dough that's important. I was a little worried that my orange flower water had lost it's potency, so I added a few drops of lemon oil extract as well.
After glazing and baking, I wasn't entirely happy with the appearance of the biscuits, as I realised I should have glazed the whole biscuit, not just the flat tops. To rectify this, I dusted them with icing sugar before serving.
These were strange little biscuits - quite hard and dry, but richly flavoured due to the butter and eggs. The texture reminded me of biscotti after the first baking, and they were good as a dunking biscuit! I tried them with my evening coffee rather than wine! The flavour was very delicate - I think I was right about my orange flower water, and I should have added more lemon oil to compensate.
(rules here) is a monthly baking challenge co-hosted by Karen, of Lavender and Lovage, and Kate, of What Kate Baked. Each month a theme is chosen on which to base our production of food fit for a tea-table. Karen is this month's host, and all the delicious French baking submitted to the challenge will be posted in a round-up on her blog, at the end of the month.