Mad for madeleines

This weekend, France celebrates Saint Madeleine’s Day on 22 July. I should confess to having a particular soft spot for madeleines; not only do I love eating the melt-in-the mouth cakes but my teenage daughter is called Madeleine. This first name seemed an obvious choice for a little Brit born and growing up in France as it was understood on both sides of the Channel… but back to the cakes! Legend has it that a certain ‘madeleine’ made the very first of the said cakes for pilgrims en route to Santiago de Compostela in Spain, and she used a scallop shell mould, the symbol of the route, to give the madeleines the distinctive shape they have to this day.

 

Normandy boasts its very own madeleine producer, the Biscuiterie Jeanette 1850. Based just east of Caen in Démouville, this company has been making biscuits since 1850 and, like most businesses, has had its ups and downs over the years. In 2015, the workforce together with the financial backing of a local entrepreneur Georges Viana, determinedly fought off bankruptcy  to save its 150 years of traditional savoir-faire. The new company is now going strong and is a real local success story. One of the main reasons for this is their supremely yummy madeleines, which combine the traditional cake with quirkily modern flavours such as almond, chocolate, pistachio and citrus fruits. A luxury range of madeleines, created for Jeanette by the master chef, Philippe Parc, comes in flavours like Damas rose, Asian citrus fruits, chocolate with pistachio, rapsberry, mandarine and vanilla, and a range of organic madeleines is new for 2017. And now I have whet your taste buds, would you like to know where to get hold of these madeleines?

  • Visitors to the Jeanette factory can take full advantage of its shop, which is open on weekday afternoons from 1pm to 6pm and on Saturdays from 10am to 5pm
  • Elsewhere in France, Jeannette madeleines can be found in many outlets across Normandy and in the surrounding areas
  • Outside France, madeleine enthusiasts can get their fill by ordering via the Jeannette mail order service (shipping overseas is possible on request)

Vistaprint Jeannette_00040 XS ©BiscuiterieJeannette1850.jpg

Now for a little cultural history with a madeleine moment. Marcel Proust, the author of A la Recherche du Temps Perdu, sets a key scene in the novel around the sensory experience of eating the madeleine and drinking the tea offered by his aunt, which makes the narrator go back to his childhood memories. Room 414 on the 4th floor of the sumptous Grand Hôtel in Cabourg was Proust’s summer home for seven summers in a row from 1907, where he retreated to Normandy from the heat and hubbub of the capital. It is here that he is said to have written much of the A la Recherche du Temps Perdu. If you would like to sip tea and nibble on madeleines like Proust’s character, why not treat yourself to a few days in the Grand Hôtel in the very room which inspired the novelist? Situated on the promenade, the Grand Hôtel is a wonderful place to stay, combining five-star glamour with the informality of a family-friendly,  seaside hotel. The Sunday buffet lunch is a banquet fit for a king with its seafood spread being the highlight for me, together with the tinkling musical accompaniment from the regular pianist on the resident baby grand.

6913-Grand hotel de Cabourg -® L. Leloup CRT Normandie --® L. Leloup CRT Normandie .jpg
© L. Leloup / Normandy Tourist Board
Chambre Marcel Proust © Grand Hôtel Cabourg.jpg
© Grand Hôtel Cabourg

Finally, here is a short video which shows you how to make your very own madeleines if you would like to celebrate in spirit with me and my daughter this weekend: www.youtube.com/watch?v=fOIiR_zYbEc

Untitled
© YouTube / Gourmandize UK & Ireland

jeannette ©BiscuiterieJeannette1850

And if your madeleines are a storming success, why not enter the amateur madeleine baking competition held in Cabourg this September at the tea room La Maison Dupont avec Thé?

Bon appétit et bonne fête Madeleine !

For more information on food and drink in Normandy, visit the Normandy Tourist Board website.

norm2 - Copy

All photos © Biscuiterie Jeannette 1850 unless otherwise stated | Writer: Alison Weatherhead

Eggcellent omelette at La Mère Poulard

A thousand years of history, faith, and talent have shaped the Mont-Saint-Michel, the ‘Wonder of the West’. Legend has it that in 708, the Archangel Saint-Michel appeared before Bishop Aubert and commanded that a sanctuary be built on Mount Tombe, an island in the middle of the bay that saw some of the highest tides in the world.

Thus the Abbey of the Mont-Saint-Michel was built, and over the coming centuries a village grew up around it. The Mont-Saint-Michel and its bay has since become a site of spiritual and cultural pilgrimage for Christians and non-believers from all over the world, so much so that in 1972, UNESCO classified them both as a world heritage site.

Vue d'ensemble
© L. Leloup / Normandy Tourist Board
5725-Mont-Saint-Michel (c) E. Ursule - Normandy Tourist Board
© Normandy Tourist Board
6955-Looking over the Bay of the Mont-Saint-Michel (c) D. Dumas - Normandy Tourist Board
© D. Dumas / Normandy Tourist Board

Today, the famous La Mère Poulard restaurant and inn on the Mont-Saint-Michel is an important part of this world heritage. In 1888, local lass Annette Poulard, previously a chamber maid at the abbey who had married the local baker, opened an inn in the medieval village on the mount. Annette became renowned for her culinary talents, and over her lengthy career at the inn she rustled up some 700 different dishes, from savoury delights (more on that shortly) to her famous biscuits. Her efforts earnt her the title of ‘Mère’, reserved for exceptional cooks. Lo and behold, ‘La Mère Poulard’ was born!

normandy_montstmichel_lunch4.jpg
© Christopher Brown / The Curious Collection

One thing in particular for which La Mère Poulard is renowned is her famous omelette, which is somewhat of an institution. But did you know that it was never intended to be anything more than a starter? In the nineteenth century, guests at the inn (for the most part, pilgrims) were only able to reach the mount at low tide, so would arrive at the inn at all hours of the day and night. When they arrived, Annette would quickly prepare her special omelette as an appetiser before cooking her guests a more substantial meal.

normandy_montstmichel_lunch2-1024x765
© Christopher Brown / The Curious Collection

That same fluffy, souffléd omelette is served at the restaurant to this day, and anyone can watch the omelettes being made over the open fire. Firstly, eggs are beaten for at least five minutes until they’re light and fluffy. The mixture is poured into a copper skillet and cooked over the open fire until the bottom is browned, but the inside is still slightly frothy. The omelettes are served either plain or with a choice of bacon, potatoes, Camembert (naturally), ratatouille, foie gras, shrimps or lobster.

IMG_4432.JPG
© F. Lambert / Normandy Tourist Board

Combining tradition and simplicity, La Mère Poulard’s omelette was surprisingly contemporary for its time, and is still seen as one of the most original French dishes. For this very reason, the restaurant remains one of the most best known in France and across the world. As many as 4 million French and foreign tourists and gourmets come to the Mont-Saint-Michel each year, and most visit either the restaurant to sample La Mère Poulard’s delicious omelette or the biscuit shop across the road to buy her tasty biscuits.

For more information on La Mère Poulard, click here. For more information on food and drink in Normandy, visit the Normandy Tourist Board website.

norm2 - Copy

Cover photo © Christopher Brown / The Curious Collection | Writer: Fran Lambert

La Renaissance’s star is rising

It is not often that you get to eat in a Michelin-starred establishment. Which is why, when offered the opportunity to do just that, I jumped at it. On 1 February 2016, Arnaud Viel, chef at La Renaissance restaurant/hotel in Argentan, was awarded his first Michelin star, bringing the total number of Michelin starred restaurants in the Orne département up to three!

Fittingly, Arnaud hails from Argentan. Making his debut in Paris at the 5-star Sofitel Hotel at the Centre of New Industries and Technologies (CNIT), he went on to be a finalist in the French Dessert Championships in 1996 and the Lauréate d’Or in 1997. But he never forgot his roots, and returned to Normandy to work as a chef at Argentan’s Auberge de l’Ancienne Abbaye.

In 1998, Arnaud opened his own restaurant/hotel La Renaissance with wife Cécilia. Together, they came up with a stylish design for the hotel and devised a whole host of delicious specialties to serve at the restaurant.

So it was that earlier this month I found myself dining with three journalists and my colleague at La Renaissance, enjoying a deliciously refreshing cocktail of Calvados and tonic with lemon and lime, accompanied by what can only described as the most intricate canapé selection of foie gras, carrot purée, feta parcel with caviar and horseradish with soured cream. One word in particular came to mind – yum!

We were then led into the sumptuous dining room, which looked out onto the hotel grounds (and might I add, a rather appealing spa), sat down at our table and were presented with the menu and a delectable sorbet and popcorn amuse-bouche.

And what a menu!

Tuna tartar served with cold cucumber soup and creamy burrata cheese:

IMG_0590.JPG

A choice of either line-caught loin of yellow pollock with fried red onions, artichokes, wild mushrooms, oyster croquette and creamy garlic sauce or the chef’s choice of meat fresh from the market (which was pork on this occasion):

IMG_0592.JPG

IMG_0594.JPG

The ‘pre-dessert’ – praline pastry, chocolate cherry lollipop and pistachio macaroon:

IMG_0596.JPG

And to finish, the first Gariguette strawberries of the season served with caramelised rhubard, rose, basil and strawberry and rhubarb sorbet:

IMG_0597.JPG

Suffice it to say, Chef Arnaud’s cooking is the epitome of haute cuisine – visually stunning and innovative – and his gourmet menus boast the best quality Normandy produce, all sourced locally and all delicious!

La Renaissance is open seven days a week, lunchtimes and evenings. To book a table online, click here. Or why not make a weekend of it, and eat at the restaurant, stay at the hotel and enjoy the spa and swimming pool? Prices start at €95/night, to reserve a room online, click here.

For more details on food and drink in Normandy, visit the Normandy Tourist Board website.

norm2 - Copy

Cover photo © Normandy Tourist Board / F. Lambert | Writer: Fran Lambert

Happiness at Le Bréard in Honfleur

Many casual visitors to Honfleur congregate on the restaurant terraces around the picturesque Vieux Bassin. You can’t blame them for soaking up that glorious view, but take the trouble to explore the narrow streets that lead gently uphill behind the wooden church of St Catherine and you could be in for a treat, especially if you’re lucky enough to bag a table at Le Bréard at 7 rue du Puits.

Billed simply as a ‘Restaurant Gastronomique, Le Bréard’s motto translates as ‘Gastronomy is the art of using food to create happiness.’ And what happiness! Read the menu beside the door and it’s impossible to imagine the subtle flavours and creativity that chef Fabrice Sébire puts into every dish, a fusion of French and Oriental cuisine.

portrait du chef Fabrice Sébire.jpg
© Restaurant Le Bréard, Honfleur / Honfleur Tourist Office
20170301144857(1) FREE
© Restaurant Le Bréard, Honfleur

Local lad Fabrice trained in Caen before working under some of the top chefs in Paris, but he has also been heavily influenced by time spent in Japan. In 2004, Fabrice and his wife Karine – who manages front-of-house – took over Le Bréard and made it their own. Today it is one of the must-try restaurants in Honfleur.

20170126085426(2) FREE.jpg
© Restaurant Le Bréard, Honfleur

The décor is elegant but understated, decorated with soothing, natural colours, but this is an address where all are welcome. A French family with two impeccably behaved small boys ate dinner at the next table to us and we could hear the odd contented gurgle from a baby beyond the partition wall, whilst a solo American businessman tucked in at a nearby table.

Seasonal local produce features prominently on Le Bréard’s menu, which offers sufficient variety without being overwhelming, and spices and textures make every course into a treat for the eyes as well as the taste buds. Menus are priced at 32 euros for three courses and 48 or 58 for four, with amuse-bouche and gourmandises included.

20170301142330(1) FREE
© Restaurant Le Bréard, Honfleur
20170126085625(2) FREE
© Restaurant Le Bréard, Honfleur

I began with salmon with beetroot and radishes a delicate balance of flavours which complemented each other perfectly. To follow, I couldn’t resist the breast of guinea fowl served on a bed of Chinese cabbage and bacon, with vegetable ravioli and ginger – a thoroughly good choice. And after the cheese plate, my hot passion fruit soufflé proved a dream dessert, fluffy and flavourful with a delightful hint of decadence.

bréard.jpg
© Restaurant Le Bréard, Honfleur / Honfleur Tourist Office

Le Bréard is closed all day on Monday, as well as lunchtimes from Tuesday to Thursday. Every table was taken when we visited on a Thursday evening, so it clearly pays to book ahead – it would be a real shame to miss out on such satisfying but subtle food!

For more details on food and drink in Normandy, visit the Normandy Tourist Board website.

norm2 - Copy

Cover photo © Restaurant Le Bréard, Honfleur | Writer: Gillian Thornton

Eat like a king at the Étape Louis XIII

I love a good restaurant recommendation, especially when it comes from a local. I was planning a trip deep into rural Normandy in search of a new Norman foodie trend – red flesh apples – and needed a stop for lunch. My local partner Capucine suggested the restaurant Etape Louis XIII in the village of Beaumesnil, approximately halfway between Lisieux and Bernay. Chef Sébastien is part of a chef’s association, the Toques Normandes, who are passionate about working with Norman produce and exist to promote Norman cuisine.

IMG_6690.JPG
© M. McNulty / Normandy Tourist Board

No sooner do I arrive in the village when I round a corner and am suddenly awe-struck by the magnificent Château de Beaumesnil. It may be lunchtime but I have to stop for a photo.

IMG_6701.JPG
© M. McNulty / Normandy Tourist Board

I see a sign for a potager (kitchen garden to you and me) just down a path from the entrance to the chateau so I go to have a look. I learn later that they grow over 500 varieties of vegetables here, including some that are near extinction, and they host a vegetable festival every September.

1.JPG
© M. McNulty / Normandy Tourist Board

Back in the car and in no time at all, I pass through the main hub of the village, and arrive at my destination. I park up and walk through a beautifully kept garden to reach a very pretty traditional Norman building with half-timbered façades and geraniums spilling out of the window boxes. The building dates from 1612 and was originally intended as a rectory – I then realise that the name alludes to this building dating to the reign of Louis XIII!

2.
© M. McNulty / Normandy Tourist Board

I step through the front door into a dimly lit wood-paneled entrance hall and am greeted by the lovely Aurélie, who ushers me into the dining room. A huge fire place dominates the room and acts as a divider between what must once have been two smaller rooms. The fire is lit and the room is cosy and intimate with a touch of sophistication.

There’s a very calm atmosphere as classical music plays gently in the background and the restaurant’s diners have hushed conversations across tables.  The service is equally discreet and attentive.

6..JPG
© M. McNulty / Normandy Tourist Board

There’s a good selection on the menu and the starters and deserts feature quite a few French and Norman classics with a bit of a twist. For starters there are warm oysters with Camembert, Saint-Jacques scallops or Andouille tart with apples and creamy Pommeau sauce, home-made foie gras on toast with a cinnamon biscuit.

5.JPG
© M. McNulty / Normandy Tourist Board

I go straight in for the main and choose the plat du jour: salmon with a carrot purée and seasonal vegetables. It is deliciously tender and I detect cumin, a squeeze of orange and a garnish of fennel that liven the accompanying vegetables. It’s rich, flavoursome and just the right amount.

IMG_6669.JPG
© M. McNulty / Normandy Tourist Board

I would have been more than satisfied to stop there but when I declined a desert, the gentleman on the table next to me intervened and said that I couldn’t leave the restaurant without trying the calvados soufflé – he always orders two! My arm is sufficiently twisted…

IMG_6686
© M. McNulty / Normandy Tourist Board

Wow! I’ve tried calvados is a few culinary forms but this by far tops them all. It’s light, fluffy, melts in your mouth and emits a heavenly aroma. When I meet Chef Sébastien after my meal he tells me that when he took over the restaurant a few years ago, he learnt this recipe from his predecessor as it was a firm favourite with previous clients.

IMG_6675.JPG
© M. McNulty / Normandy Tourist Board

So there you have it, the Etape Louis XIII is well worth the journey, if only for the calvados soufflé! I expect you’ll be won over with the rest of the menu too. Two courses are priced at €25 and three are €33. Given the quality of my meal, this strikes me as excellent value.  L’Etape Louis XIII is open for lunch and dinner every day except for Tuesday and Monday evenings. And while you’re there, why not pop by the Château de Beaumesnil? It’s known locally as the little Versailles and with its beautiful gardens, it’s well worth a visit.

For more details on food and drink in Normandy, visit the Normandy Tourist Board website.

norm2 - Copy

Cover photo © M. McNulty / Normandy Tourist Board | Writer: Maggie McNulty

 

Teurgoule: the queen of rice puddings

The ultimate in comfort foods is good old fashioned rice pudding and Normandy’s Teurgoule is no exception. I first came across this yummy local dessert when I moved here to Normandy some twenty years ago. My husband and I were invited at the last minute to stay for a typical family dinner and the highlight was the arrival at the end of the meal of a large, earthenware bowl with a rather off-putting volcanic crust covering the dish. Our hosts laughed at our reaction, broke through the crust to reveal a creamy rice pudding with a definite cinnamon kick. Since then I have been a Teurgoule convert.

The recipe is a simple combination of five basic ingredients and should ideally include Normandy’s unique creamy milk. The secret is to leave the pudding to cook at a low temperature for a good long while in an earthenware dish. Originally the Teurgoule was put in a wood burning bread oven to cook slowly in the embers at the end of the day’s baking. Traditionally the pudding is served with a brioche called fallue and a glass or two of cider.

1127-192-Gastronomie teurgoule (c) E.BENARD-(c) E.BENARD
© E. Benard

The name mostly likely comes from the expression se tordre la gueule [to pull a face] as the pudding is piping hot when it first comes out of the oven and can catch you unawares!

Nowadays you can buy Teurgoule on most local markets and also from producers who sell direct from their farms in the Bienvenue à la Ferme scheme.

1128-194-Gastronomie teurgoule (c) E.BENARD-(c) E.BENARD.jpg
© E. Benard

Here is the definitive recipe from the Confrérie of Teurgoule, which holds its annual Teurgoule and Fallue competition in Houlgate every September:

Preparation: 10 minutes
Cooking: 6 hours

– 2 litres of full fat milk
– 150g rice
– 180g white caster sugar
– 1 pinch of salt
– 2 level teaspoons of ground cinnamon

Put the rice into an earthenware bowl with a 2 litre capacity.

Add in the caster sugar, salt and cinnamon and stir with a spatula.

Gently pour in the milk so that the rice stays put at the bottom of the dish.

Put the dish in a preheated oven at gas mark 5 (150°C) for one hour and then lower the heat to gas mark 3 (110°C) for four hours. The Teurgoule is ready when the dish is crusted over and the excess liquid has evaporated.

Bon appétit !

TEURGOULE06L DECHAMPS-CALVADOS-TOURISME (2).jpg
© Calvados Tourisme

log_normandie_gb1For more information on food and drink in Normandy, visit the Normandy Tourist Board website.