On Evoking Travel Memories Through Fragrance (Navette Recipe)
Photos can trigger your memory of wonderful places you visited, but it doesn’t quite capture it. Your mind has to fill in the cool air on your skin and the subtle reflections of light that the camera couldn’t replicate.
When I serve mint tea with orange blossom, my friends comment on how it changes the whole atmosphere in the room. They (nor I) haven’t been to Northern Africa or the Middle East, but they know it’s something foreign. Without knowing, we are transported elsewhere.
When I returned from South of France, I realized that the same orange blossom water can transport me back there, prepared as navettes (French shortbread like cookies in a shape of a boat). While South of France is more famous for lavender than orange blossoms, the Arabic influence has permeated their pastry tradition. Navettes are sold everywhere with specialty shops scattered around town, weekend markets and more. I am not experienced with dealing with pastry and dough, but it was quite easy with the following recipe. Every bite perfumes the room, transporting you back to Southern France.
Orange blossom water goes a long way. I look forward to trying different recipes of the navettes as well as other uses for the water.
Navettes â la fleur d’oranger
- Cream 4 tablespoons of butter (salted or unsalted) at room temperature with 1/2 cup of sugar (you can do this all the mixing steps using a food processor or a hand-held mixer, but I did it with just fork and it turned out ok).
- Add 1 large egg and beat until the mixture is uniform.
- Add 3 tablespoons of orange blossom water. Continue to whisk.
- Add 2 cups of all-purpose flour (1/2 cup at a time) with 1/4 teaspoon of salt (or 1/8 if using salted butter, though I don’t find it makes much of a difference)
- If the dough is too crumbly to come together, don’t worry. Add a sprinkle or two of vodka for the dough to come together. Because vodka is liquid but contains less water molecules which activates gluten in flour, you can afford to make the dough a little less crumbly without introducing much water.
- Empty the dough on a lightly floured surface and knead it to form a ball.
- Divide the ball in half, and put a plastic wrap around each and store in the refrigerator for at least an hour.
- Take one of the dough balls out of the refrigerator and divide it into 4 pieces. Roll each one with your palm to form a thick rope, about 3 inches long. Cut each rope into 2.
- Line a baking sheet with parchment paper for you to be able to lay down the cookies as you prep them. (The cookies can be very tightly arranged because they don’t tend to spread out as other cookies).
- Pinch the ends of each piece, as if you are trying to make the log into a shape of lips. Use the side of your palm to press down the center of the dough so it starts to look like a tiny boat. Using the back of a butter knife, cut a slit (almost all the way down the bottom), and wiggle the knife a bit so the slit is a little widened.
- Preheat the oven to 350˚F. Repeat the process with the other dough ball.
- Beat an egg yolk with 1 tablespoon of water and brush the egg wash onto the cookies. Bake for 15 min. or until the tips of the cookies turn golden brown.
Enjoy your trip to Provence!
Photo: Palais des Papes (Papal Palace) in Provence, France