Cookies, Cakes, Kouing-amanns and a Coincidence

Since the salon showcases the regions of France and their specialties, tradition trumps trendiness, which explains why there are so many sausages and why so many regions offer foie gras sandwiches, pairing their offerings with the wines of their area.  Michael and I always start our fair-going with one of the sandwiches – this time we got ours from the Franche-Comte stand, where it came with a glass of (sweet) Jurancon, the honeyish white wine from the Jura Mountains (7 euros, the going price at the fair).  Fortified, we could tackle the sweets.

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I was so taken with these cookies that I forgot to write down where they came from and haven’t been able to remember since.  I want to say the Ardennes, but I’m just not sure.  (Does anyone who went to the Salon remember?)  The base cookie is a not particularly sweet nor remarkable sable, but I loved the way it was finished.  Each cookie was decorated with a still life of herbs held in place by an egg-and-splash-of-water glaze.  As for the see-through circles and flowers – they’re tiny hard candies.  The baker used teensy cookie cutters to make cut-outs in the rolled-out dough, filled the hole with the candies (and, in the cookie above, herbs, too) and then baked them.  Just like our Christmas stained-glass cookies.  I haven’t had a chance to make my own herb-topped sables, but you know I will.  And if you do – please tell me.

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It was kouign-amann that stopped us when we reached the Brittany area – of course we stop for kouing-amann no matter where we are – and it was kouing-amann that brought us back there again.  First we had this puffy kouing-amann, thickly caramelized on the outside and like a stretchy bread, almost like a croissant, on the inside. 

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Then we saw these kouign-amann, unlike any I remembered seeing, although I must have come across them in St. Malo, the kouign-amann capital of Brittany.  They were flat, as you can see, and their innards were more like yeasty puff pastry than bread… kind of like a risen millefeuille.  We later came across an award-winning kouign-amann maker at the fair who told us that these flat cakes were the most traditional form of the sweet.  And then we turned a corner and came across a huge counter filled with tourteaux de fromage.

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I think these cakes might be among the oddest in the French repertory.  A specialty of the Poitou-Charentes region, they start with a crust, rather like a pate brisee, and then they’re filled with a cheese cake mixture.  The cake is baked in a very, very hot oven — the burnt top is, in fact, burnt– and the crumb is moist and a little bready, although there is no yeast in the mix.  While you can buy these cakes in the supermarket — they come wrapped in plastic — they were traditionally only available in cheese shops, which always made me wonder when they would be eaten.  It turns out, you have permission to eat them whenever you’d like.  While they’re made with sugar, they’re not very sweet, so they make a good breakfast treat, a snack, something to have with tea, or even something to have with cheese.

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I have been fascinated by these cakes for years, so of course I was really happy that the proprietor of the stand had time to talk with me about them.  He explained to me that while the cake is most often made with goat cheese, he makes a version with cow’s milk cheese, which is the one we bought.  As we were finishing up our chat and purchase, he asked where we came from.  When I said New York, he said, "Oh, my son has a restaurant in New York."  Someone always seems to have a relative in New York and, given that New York is a big place, I always politely ask for more details and always come up empty.  But not this time.  When I asked, "What’s the name of your son’s restaurant?"  the gentleman replied, "BLT." Well, BLT is not so much a restaurant as an empire.  "You’re Laurent Tourondel’s father!" I just about squeaked and he beamed the smile of a very proud parent. 

How many times have you heard me exclaim that the food world is very small?  Well, I’m about to do it again:  The food world is very small — and very friendly too.

Dorie Greenspan

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