Marché de Noël : Narbonne & Carcassonne

                                                                       Recently, I introduced you to Marchè Noël in a small village of approximately 700 people.
Narbonne
Narbonne
In a town like Narbonne or Carcassonne with a population of over 50,000, the Christmas Market is on a grander scale and the items available more varied. There are often rides for the young children and even a giant slide or a temporary ice rink assembled in the town square.
 Both towns are tourist destination in southwestern France in the    Languedoc-Roussillon
region.
Narbonne was the first Roman colony outside of Italy, and was located at the crossroads of the via Domitia, the Roman road linking Italy to Spain. In a future post, we can explore more about the famous via Domitia. While I have not noticed traditional carol groups, the giant puppets wander around the streets of town.
 Carcassonne draws thousands of tourists each year. Carcassonne’s  medieval fortress is a city unto itself. The town of Carcassonne was built up around La Cité and the River Aude. The temporary skating rink is set up in Place Carnot which is the center of Carcassonne and filled with shops and wonderful cafes. While it looks very cold, the ice on the fountain is added for effect. Most likely, you would be comfortable sitting outside with a cafe or hot chocolate. Between the center of town and La Gare (train station) a giant slide is erected and cabins are set up to sell crafts, food, chocolat chaud (hot chocolate), vin chaud (hot spiced wine) and other seasonal and regional delights. Both towns have much to offer and will be visited again in future posts.
Slide in Carcassonne
 Bisous,
                   Léa

Saint Malo

Saint Malo      
While I admit to going overboard with the pictures today, choosing was challenging. If you enjoy these photos, Saint Malo is definitely a place for you to visit. The pictures pale in comparison to its beauty and there is truly something there for everyone. It is the home to the largest marina in France and an hour’s drive from Mont St. Michel. The sunrises, sunsets and endless miles of beaches and so much more make it a site for romance. Its astonishing splendor steeped in centuries of history will certainly inspire and stir you. If you tire of soaking up the local culture, shopping and café’s the glorious beaches are only steps away.

The National Fort is a brief stroll during low tide and gives an excellent view of the harbor. Make sure to allow yourself plenty of time for wandering down cobbled streets, time for the best crepes, for just losing yourself (or for some, finding yourself) in this enchanting fortress city.

St-Malo was built in the Middle Ages a fortified island at the mouth of the Rance. It was built using the same granite stone as Mont St-Michel. Modern St-Malo traces its source back to a monastic colony established by saints in the sixth century. It later became infamous due to the ferocious pirates/mariners who had established themselves there. In 1590, St-Malo declared itself an independent republic that lasted for four years. English ships attempting to pass the Channel were forced to pay tribute.

St-Malo receives more visitors than any other place in Brittany. The credit for its popularity is often given to the magnificent old citadel. While I can see that there is some truth to that, it offers so much more. Brittany itself is an enigma in France. Its treasures await you regardless of it being your first time or a yearly tradition. No matter what you choose to do with your time here, the memories will linger on.

The region of Brittany is distinct from    other regions of France because of its Celtic heritage. Approximately thirty percent of its population speak Breton a Celtic language similar to Cornish and Welsh. The language, customs, and costumes are preserved mainly in the more isolated west. However, you can find the beautiful and intricate handmade laces in numerous shops around Brtittany. Rennes is Brittany’s route focus, traditional capital, and cultural center. Its university is a center of Celtic studies.

Bisous,

Léa

Tarte aux Pommes

Tarte aux Pommes/Apple Tart
The longer I live in France, the more I realize that every french woman has a different recipe for tarte aux pommes. While the variations may be slight, they are there. In the past year, I have been requested to make a number of them for choir functions and other events. Since I have a tendency to get bored easily, I like to experiment with my basic recipe so what I make one time is not the exact tarte I would serve the next. Don’t let the long list of ingredients and directions put you off. You will quickly see how fast and easy it is. Bon appetit!

Tarte aux Pommes

Ingredients

For the crust: 175g plain flour/ 6 ounces,115g /4 ounces butter, room temperature,  25g sour cream / 1 ounce

For the filling: About 6 medium tart apples, peeled, pitted and sliced, 3 large egg yolks 145g, sour cream/ 5 ounces (crème fraise), 150g granulated sugar / 5 and 1/3 ounces, 35g plain flour / 1 and a half ounces (about 1 heaping tablespoon)

For the glaze: 160g apricot preserves or jam / 5 ounces 1 tbsp Calvados (apple brandy) Whipped topping, for garnish.

For the crust: 1) Preheat the oven to 190°C/Gas 5 or 375ºF. 2) Place the flour, butter, and sour cream in a food processor and pulse to combine. 3) When the dough has formed a ball, pat with lightly floured hands into the bottom and sides of an ungreased tart pan with a removable bottom and 1cm sides, or a round au gratin dish. 4) Bake for about 18 mins, until the crust is set but not browned. Let cool while preparing the filling. 5) Lower the oven temperature to 180°C/Gas 4 or 350ºF.

For the filling: 1) Peel and thickly slice the apples. Arrange the apple slices in overlapping circles on top of the crust, until completely covered. Overfill the crust, as apples will shrink during cooking. 2) Combine the egg yolks, sour cream/crème fraise, sugar, and flour and beat until smooth. Pour the mixture over the apples. Place the tart pan on a baking sheet and bake for about 1 hr, until the custard sets and is pale golden in colour. Cover with an aluminium foil tent if the crust gets too dark. Transfer the tart pan to a wire rack to cool. When cool, remove the side wall of the pan. 

3) To make the glaze, combine the preserves or jam and calvados. Spread with a pastry brush over the top of the warm tart. Serve the tart warm, at room temperature or chilled.

Variations: I like to add the zest of an orange or lime and some grated fresh ginger to the custard mixture.

Boulangerie/pâtisserie

If pain (bread) is indeed the staff of life, the French settle for nothing but the preeminent baguette a staple of life. Gourmets in all aspects of cuisine, there is more than that golden loaf of perfection. There are cereal (wholegrain) loafs and baguettes with seeds and a myriad of additional delicacies. Typically, a boulangerie will offer sandwiches, salads, individual size quiche, pizza and grilled panini and more. In my experience, there is variation depending where in the country you happen to be.
Of course, there is much more to be found in these treasure troves of sustenance. Croissants, Pain au Chocolat, Pain au Raisin… Then we move on to the decadence of Napoleons, Charlottes, Tartines, Tarts, and specially created for holidays like Couronne and a special Galette. Couronne (Crown) is ring-shaped. The dough is the same as a regular baguette, which has been shaped into a ring. However, I have lived in the south of France for over four years and not had Couronne anywhere that was not comparable to a good brioche. Valerie and Nadine, owners of Croc en Stoc where I visited today tell me that it is a brioche type of dough and that is what I have found.
 While some are unadorned, the ones they sell in their boulongerie near La Cite in Carcassonne, are decorated with course sugar and red and green cherries. There are numerous types of galette. However, from immediately after Christmas until Epiphany the galette of choice is galette des Rois (King) cake. This flaky pastry is delicately flavored with frangipane.
While I managed to catch Valerie on camera, Nadine managed to avoid the lens. Next time she will not escape! They have been in business for over four

Croc n' StocOur daily bread and croissantspâtisserie

years. Now, dear friends, I wish them only the best and look forward to the next visit when we will explore the difference between the various types of patisserie.

Bisous, Léa