The Lou Messugo Blog - life in the south of France from a British/Australian TCK's perspective, bringing you French culture, travel on the Côte d'Azur and beyond, expat issues and a little bit of je ne sais quoi all mixed up with a hefty dose of photography.

Food & Drink

Mouna - the Easter brioche

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On Easter Sunday we'll be eating Mouna.  It sounds like we're going to eat a prized hen or even a little lamb we've been fattening up, doesn't it?  It's such a pretty name.  But no, we'll be eating a scrummy type of brioche (sweet bread) made specially for Easter and found mainly in the south.

            Mouna

Mouna comes from Pied-Noir cuisine in Algeria; the Pieds-Noirs being both French nationals of Algerian origin and more commonly French expatriates who lived in north Africa until independance in the late fifties and early 1960s.  It is shaped in a dome or crown, delicately flavoured with orange flower water, or lemon peel, and aniseed and traditionally baked at home by the mother and children. It should not be bought, but given and shared on Easter Sunday with leftovers eaten on Easter Monday.  It was introduced into the south of France in the 1960s with the repatriation of the Pieds-Noirs.  

               Mouna Easter image

I had never heard of Mouna, even after 10 years of living in the Paris area, until I moved south but now I've discovered it, I can't get enough of it.  It's fluffy, sweet (but not too sweet) and melt-in-the-mouth light with a little crunch in the crust. But I have to admit to buying it.  I'd love to say I bake it myself but the boulangeries around here are just so good that honestly, why would I try and compete?  I'm supporting local commerce!  I've also written about Easter in France and chocolate at Easter if you're interested.  Just click on the brown highlighted links.

Happy Easter everyone, joyeuses pâques.

 

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Café Gourmand - love or hate?

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The café gourmand ("greedy coffee" or coffee for someone who really likes their food) is a relative newcomer on the dessert scene in French restaurants.  I think I became aware of it about four years ago but I can't be sure.  The thing is, it's got the food critics all in a twist -  they either love it or hate it.  What is it and why such strong feelings?

                  mon café gourmand

The café gourmand is basically your after-meal coffee - for a French person this is always going to be an espresso, for me it's a "noisette" (an espresso with a drop of milk) - accompanied by a selection of mini desserts, usually around 3 to 5 depending on the establishment.  These often include chocolate mousse, crème brulée, a cake of some sort like a madeleine or financier, perhaps a fruit tarte, a macaron, some ice-cream, panna cotta, the list is endless and only limited by the chef's imagination.... By serving coffee and dessert at the same time the client saves time and has dessert without really having dessert!  And if you're like me and can never make up your mind what you want, the choice is done for you.  A little bit of everything.  Perfect.  

                  café gourmand

But there are purists and critics who don't like it.  Some say it's a way for the restaurant to get rid of its leftovers and that the quality isn't great.  Some say a coffee should never be accompanied by dessert, it should always be afterwards. But I'm all for innovation and even if it is a way to use up leftovers, that's ecological in this day of food waste, isn't it?  I'm definitely in the "love" camp.

                                   café gourmand 2

What about you? Have you tried café gourmand?  Do you like the idea of it?  Love or hate?

 

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café gourmand the best dessert in France

 

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Ganses - food for carnival

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It's Carnival Time. Carnaval de Nice starts today which means, to put it bluntly, it's time to pig out on "ganses"!  Traditionally made for Mardi Gras, the last day when you can eat fat before Lent, ganses are delicious light deep-fried sweet pastries from Nice.  The boulangeries are all groaning with them at this time of year. 

ganses

You can find similar treats in many parts of France - called bugnes in Lyon, oreillettes in Provence, merveilles in Bordeaux  and bougnettes in the Languedoc - but one of the distinguishing differences between other regions' offerings and those from around here is that they are flavoured with orange flower water.  In reality the regional differences are slight, it's really only the name that changes.  

Ganses ("li gansa" in the local Niçois language) are commonly know as "beignets de carnaval" (carnival doughnuts) as they are to carnival what crêpes are to Chandeleur - vital!   They have a delicate taste and melt-in-the-mouth texture and are best served warm, lightly powdered with icing sugar.  

Miam miam, bon ap'!

 

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What is Goûter? It's tea-time, kids!

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Definition:  Goûter v. to taste, n. a light meal in the afternoon.  

gouter1Goûter is an institution in France without a real equivalent in British culture.  It's tea-time, almost religiously eaten at 4.30 pm, almost exclusively by children as they come out of school, consisting solely of sweet treats.

My first experience of goûter was as an 10 year old on a French exchange for a month at school in Vernon near Paris. Most of that exchange was horrendous but it introduced me to the delights of squares of chocolate in a chunk of baguette and the classic tea-time biscuit "Prince".  Oh, what a treat!  Chocolate in bread has got to be one of life's greatest simple pleasures.

Now, as a mum in France, goûter is very much part of everyday life.  When I first started giving my children afternoon snacks to keep them going I would insist on pieces of fruit, dried fruit and raw vegetables.  At birthday parties I would always serve sausage rolls, crisps and sandwiches but no one touched them.  I remember feeling quite mortified when a French mum remarked "savoury at goûter, gosh, how odd!" (in French of course) as the realisation dawned that it just wasn't done.  But, hey, I gouter2wasn't French and I wouldn't change just because I was in France, I'd continue my resistance to a 100% sweet tea (for just a little bit longer!)  More than ten years later I realise how much of my adopted country I've assimilated as I now take a packet of chocolate biscuits or a pain au chocolat to the school gate along with everyone else!

The thing is, dinner in France is usually served around 8 to 8.30 in the evening and children eat with their parents so they need something to keep them going.  Primary school and maternelle (pre-school from 3-6 years old) have the longest school day in the world, from 8.30am to 4.30pm and the kids usually come out starving.  If they are then going straight to sports or other extra-curricular activities (which is very often the case particularly on Tuesday evenings as there's no school on a Wednesday) they need to eat goûter on the trot.  Hence the packet of biscuits at the school gate.  If they eat at home the snack may consist of a tartine (open sandwich) with jam or nutella, or a croissant or chocolate in bread or some biscuits (usually chocolate, are you gouter3getting the theme here?) accompanied by a glass of milk or Grenadine. French children are brought up on Grenadine in the way British have Ribena. It's a mixed red fruit cordial (not pomegranate as the name should suggest, grenade meaning pomegranate) diluted with water.  It's so sweet it makes your teeth curl!

Whether you approve of this sugar intense snack or not, it can't be all wrong when you consider the fact that French children suffer far less from obesity than in other industrialised countries.  Yes it is beginning to creep in now but that's probably more related to fastfood and the ever increasing presence of readymeals than this age-old mid-afternoon snack.  It is still very rare to see an overweight child in most of France and I can honestly say there are none in our local primary school of 600 or so kids.  

Is this yet another example of the French paradox?  What do you think of this?

 

 

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Pancake Day - la Chandeleur - another French feast!

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The 2nd of February is Pancake Day in France, called la Chandeleur.  It marks the end of the Christmas period coming exactly 40 days after Christmas and is a Catholic holiday, Candlemas. 

crêpes crêpes

The word "chandeleur" comes from "chandelle" meaning candle which associates it with light (the day is sometimes referred to as la fête de la Lumière) but like most celebrations to do with the Nativity, Chandeleur is also traditionally linked to purification and fecundity, being the day the Virgin Mary was allowed back into the church having given birth to Jesus. Nowadays it's a family time most simply associated with eating crêpes, the delicious thin French pancakes.

crêpe with banana and chocolateChandeleur is celebrated throughout France as la fête des crêpes.  A week or so before the date you start to notice supermarket displays of flour, eggs, jam, Cointreau, cider and Nutella and then you know Chandeleur is just around the corner.  The region of Brittany is most associated with crêpes as a local speciality and it is from there that the tradition of drinking cider with them comes from.  So these days no matter where you are in France at Chandeleur it's common to accompany your crêpe with a bowl of cider. (Yes, bowl not glass!) Here in the south there are no local particularities so we just indulge any old way. The overwhelming favourite for my boys is, like most kids I reckon, crêpe au Nutella, a wickedly scrummy chocolate and hazlenut spread (for those of you not yet initiated into this heavenly delight!) but a close second is ham, cheese and egg.

crêpes Chandeleur

There are many superstitions surrounding Chandeleur, nearly all to do with the weather. These date back to when France was primarily an agricultural land and the weather played a vital part in everybody's prosperity and welfare.  Researching this post I came across numerous proverbs warning of the consequences of specific weather at Chandeleur:  "Soleil de la Chandeleur, annonce hiver et malheur" (if it's sunny at Candlemas winter will continue bringing bad luck).  Others warned of 40 days lost if snow was still on the ground "Chandeleur couverte, quarante jours de perte" and even the exact opposite of the first, heralding in good news if the day was fine: "Si la chandelle est belle et claire, nous avons l'hiver derrière". Confusing! Luckily for us today is a nothing day weatherwise.  It's as dull as can be, cloudy, breezy, no sun, no rain and no snow so I think we're just about covered for all eventualities.  

crepes for Chandeleur at school in France

Yesterday afternoon the Parents' Association at our primary school handed out crêpes to all the children for free - made by volunteers for all 650 kids!  This evening we'll be flipping pancakes en famille.  Tradition has it that you hold a gold coin in the hand that you write with and flip the pan with the other.  If you catch the crêpe you are guaranteed prosperity in the coming year.  Tradition in my family has it that most flipped pancakes end up on the floor or drooping precariously over the side of the pan, but they taste great and so far I think our levels of prosperity are good enough!

flipping a crêpe at Chandeleur

Do you like crêpes?  See my simple recipe for authentic French pancakes and have a go at making them yourself, it's easier than you might think.

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Pancake Day in France is called la Chandeleur

credit for first photo (piles of mini crêpes)

 

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