Monday, June 13, 2011

Normandy and Brittany: Butter, Apples, and Crepes

Onward in our travels from Paris to the Breton coast (Brittany) we tried some more local specialty pastries: Far Breton is a custard cake with prunes, Kouign Amann is a fresh butter pastry, as well as a butter cookie. There are all kinds of butter biscuit around Breton and they come in all shapes and sizes. The Far Breton was probably the most unique in that the custard is firm enough to be sliced into wedges, and the figs were soaked in brandy and gave the whole the thing a deep flavor that was really unusual. The chewy figs against the creamy but firm custard was also a unique texture combination. The Kouign Amann was very similar to a croissant in layers of soft pastry dough with a crispy exterior, but it was also lightly glazed with a carmelized sugar to give it just a bit extra sweetness.

Far Breton: custard cake with Prunes

Breton butter cookie

Kouign Amann, croissant-like butter pastry was carmelized sugar glaze.

Cross-section detail of the Kouign Amann and butter cookie.

We tried a lot of crepes (pronounced creh-puh, as opposed to “crapes”). In Breton, they are basically a daily part of the diet, and are typical on-the-go street food… a emporter. Galettes refer to buckwheat crepes which are filled with savory fillings. One was filled just with cheese, and grated into the hot crepe crisped around the edges like a parmesan cracker, but was soft and melted in the middle. Another was stuffed with carmelized onions, jambon - rough cut pork pieces, emmenthal cheese, and topped with a soft-cooked fried egg – very classic. Our favorite was a fantastic combination of comte cheese inside the crepe with a topping of hard-cider-marinated chicken pieces and mixed greens and tomatoes. (Sadly, we were so hungry when we got that one, we forgot to get a photo before it was consumed. We also didn't realize how delicious it was going to be that it required recording for the blog!)

Crepe with miel et noix honey and walnuts (background) and buckwheat crepe with cheese (foreground).

Crepes are white flour and generally have sweet fillings, though they can be savory as well. We had one which was simply apricot jam, and another topped with honey and toasted walnuts. My favorite is white sugar and fresh lemon juice – much better than it sounds like such simple ingredients could be. In Normandy, there are also galichots which I believe are still a buckwheat batter, but cooked more like a pancake – thicker and not stuffed or folded, just served with the toppings. One was almost like a pizza, spread with a tomato-based sauce and topped with melted cheese and served with salad, another spread with a carmelized onion jam and topped with goose pate.

Galichot - Norman buckwheat pancake with toppings of pickels and goose rillettes.

Galichot with tomato sauce, comte cheese and anchovies.

Hard apple and pear cider cidre is the beverage of choice all around Normandy and Breton. They are stronger than most beer, but still pretty light and refreshing, with just a bit of sparkle. They come in both dry sec and sweet doux versions. We tried both from the local on-tap versions, and didn’t notice huge differences, although there were some. There are also bottled cidre, but we tried to stick with what was on tap. They had a more fermented flavor that what we’ve experienced in bottled ciders at home, but we found them thirst-quenching and the appropriate beverage to go with our other snacks de terroir – of the region. In this area, all the cider we saw was served in a wide-brimmed mug, which we also saw for sale in many of the gift shops. Some mugs had tea-cup style handles, but others, like in my picture, hand no handle.

Hard apple cider in une bolee - the traditional mug for cidre.

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