Saturday, 3 August 2013

Croquets à la Lavande

When I come back from holiday I always want to cook things that evoke where I've been. Sometimes rather more successfully than others, I have to admit! This time I came home from Provence armed with a bag of "amandes Provençales" and a bottle of "eau de fleur d'oranger" as well as a recipe from my Provençale friend, Christiane, for "croquets", known locally in Provence as "casse-dents" or "tooth-breakers".

"Croquets" are very similar to Italian "cantuccini" (but, I have to say, croquets are better). Italian cantuccini keep brilliantly for weeks, or even months, in a sealed tin and, when dunked in a caffè latte, a cappuccino or their traditional accompaniment of a glass of vin santo, they probably won't break your teeth.  Un-dunked though, they might well! The Provençal version is slightly, mesmerisingly, softer and requires no dunking although Christiane tells me they are very good dipped in a glass of white wine. I haven't tried this yet, as they are just too moreish exactly as they are.

I often make cantuccini at Christmastime and I usually flavour them with orange oil (or zest) and fresh rosemary. Returning from Provence, armed with the wherewithal to make the French version, I gave them a whirl yesterday and am happy to report they knock my Italian version into a cocked hat although, being slightly less dry, they may not keep as well. May be difficult to assess this, at the rate they are disappearing however.

They are sweet, but not too sweet and their delicate perfume evokes Provence in a trice. I recommend them! I've tweaked the recipe a little bit by adding some lavender flowers as well as the eau de fleur d'oranger flavouring because, well, it seemed like a good idea at the time and lavender and Provence hunt together, pretty much, but you can omit the lavender if you haven't got any to hand or prefer the idea of them without.

The basic recipe is Christiane's and all I've added, apart from the lavender, is a translation and an anglicised method.

What you need

300g plain white flour
175g caster sugar
1/2 tsp baking powder
2 eggs (large ones) + an extra egg to glaze the outside of the croquets with
about 50 ml of good quality, extra virgin olive oil
1 dsp eau de fleur d'oranger or orange blossom water - in the UK you can get this from Waitrose and probably elsewhere too
4 sprigs of fresh lavender
150g natural almonds, shelled but not skinned. In French they are called "amandes brutes" which I rather like as a phrase; they are particularly good at this time of year when the almonds are new season ones and deliciously milky and fragrant. Buy enough to allow for natural wastage / teenage depredations / quality control testing (delete as applicable) in the course of the cooking!

What you do

Preheat the oven to 170 - 180C. (I used 170C in my fan oven)

Mix the flour, sugar and baking powder in a large bowl. Strip the florets from the lavender sprigs and add to the bowl.

Whisk the eggs, orange flower water and olive oil together in a jug. Pour into the dry ingredients and begin to mix with a spoon. Before the dough completely comes together, add in the almonds. You might need to add another tablespoonful or so of olive oil, if the dough seems reluctant to coalesce.

Divide the resulting firm dough into two and shape into long slightly flattened sausages about 30 cm long each. Place on a baking sheet lined with non-stick baking parchment.

Whisk the remaining egg and brush the outside of the dough to give the outer surface a golden glaze.

Bake for about 25 minutes until lightly golden and the outsides are just set. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for a few minutes.

Then using a sharp and heavy knife, carefully cut each sausage into slices of about 1 - 1.5 cm or so thick. The sausages are quite fragile at this stage so you need to use the knife firmly but gently. Turn the slices onto their sides on the same lined baking sheet and return to the oven for another 10 minutes or so to dry out the middles.

Cool on a wire rack. They are great with tea or coffee and make good accompaniments to poached fruit or ice cream. We had ours last night with apricots poached in a lavender syrup. Very, very good, though I say it myself. Lavender brings out the scent of the apricots beautifully and the whole thing just sang of summer.

You don't need much lavender either in the croquets or the apricots - just three or four sprigs to lend a subtle hint of aromatic fragrance. Don't taste-test as you add, by the way, as lavender is a mild anaesthetic and if you keep tasting, you may end up adding too much as your tastebuds become anaesthetised!

I have another lavender recipe somewhere for lavender, honey and gin ice cream. I think this may also be calling me though I may have to run up another batch of croquets to go with it!

Merci, Christiane, pour ta belle recette - elle se trouve déjà une favorite!
E x


  1. They sound divine and very, very French. Elegant but delicious too. x

  2. Your croquets are amazing, and the lavender is a very clever addition ! I wish I was here to share apricots and croquets "à la lavande" with you !


    1. Je le souhaite aussi! Mes croquets ne sont pas aussi bons que les tiens mais ils sont tout de même délicieux et j'en suis fort contente de mes premiers efforts! E xxx

  3. That hey just look divine, I can almost taste and smell them! :) x

  4. It sounds like a delicious and very easy recipe. I must try to find some lavender and give it a go. Thanks for sharing! x

  5. Yum! And I'd never have thought of putting lavender with apricots ... thank you for the tip. And for the recipe of course :)

    I was secretly pleased to discover my French was up to reading the untranslated ingredients list.

  6. My favourite thing about the recipe, is seeing it in Christiane's unmistakably French handwriting. So beautiful.

  7. I always find it difficult to judge how much lavender to use - it seems a fine line between no lavender taste at all and tasting like the inside of Granny's lavender scented chest of drawers. Will have to try with your quantities, though a little wary of the tooth-breaker qualities! Ax

  8. Miam miam miam!!!!!

    With lavender, i know it is so good....i love lavender

    I hope you have nice holidays and i hope to see you the next Time

    Muriel du

  9. Thanks for sharing - may have to give this one a go. One of my oldest friends is Italian and I always loved going to her parents' an having a variety of almond based biscuits, but as I've aged I've found the rigidity of the cantucinni a little bit tooth-defying. I didn't know that there was a French version. Having time off school at the moment means that I've been in the kitchen more so I think these will have to be next on the 'experimental' list. Have a good week, Judy.

  10. Elizabeth,

    You have outdone yourself with the photography for this post. The images are stunning. I am amazed at the vibrant color of the lavender. I definitely plan to try this recipe. I did make your cherry strudel when I returned home from our visit, and my family loved it. I also purchased a bread-maker (for three dollars and 99 cents from Goodwill!)and made some delicious dinner rolls and homemade hamburger buns. The bread-maker was probably sold new in 1997, but it still had the written instructions and accompanying video--I don't think the previous owners had even touched it. I also found a yogurt maker at Goodwill (for $1.99) and have to say that the yogurt I made is really good. I've been adding a little bit of your raspberry jam to it and taking it to school for a snack during the day. I also found a recipe for scones and made a batch and took them to school for the staff. They were very popular! I found some clotted cream at a gourmet store and brought some jam to go along with it, too. Your wonderful cooking really inspired me!

    I have a blog post I need to edit and get up, but the weekend is almost over and I think I'm going to wait until tomorrow. All my love to you and your family. I hope all are well. Liz

  11. This is a wonderful and inspiring post; as Liz mentions, your photography is stunning. Interestingly enough, I actually have all the ingredients for the croquets in my pantry and garden RIGHT NOW, and am planning on giving this a try. I know what you mean about the Italian cantuccini being quite hard and am looking forward to seeing how these turn out. Thank you for sharing this recipe so beautifully!

  12. How on earth did I miss this post??? I love lavender...had lavender ice-cream once and am still thinking about it.

    I am going this...lavender is plentiful in the garden at this time. :-)

    Tell me what is caster sugar?

    Beautiful post!

    1. Caster sugar is, I think, superfine sugar in the US. Glad you too like lavender ice cream! E x

  13. You really, really need to make a cookbook using your blog photographs! Your cooking is beautiful, no matter if you are making a soup (I'm thinking especially of your multi-colored soup photos) or croquets:)


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