Printemps est enfin arrivée à Washington and for springtime à la française, one of the best treats is the classic navette, an individual, boat-shaped cookie traditionally made à la fleur oranger: with a touch of citrus and a hint of floral that will help you welcome the blooms — and take your mind off those allergies!
The ideal place to find navettes is in Marseille, where the historic origins lie, but you can make them at home, too, and it may not be as hard as you think. In fact, you probably already have all the ingredients you’ll need.
According to official Maseilleise lore, the navette issues from the country’s Catholic roots, and was created as a souvenir of the wooden statue of Our Lady of the New Fire that washed up on the banks of the Lacydon in the 13th century. The statue was seen as a sign of fortune and protection to the residents of Marseille, an event that a local baker memorialized with his now legendary biscuit.
Other stories claim that the cookie was originally being made to commemorate the arrival of Saint Lazarus, Saint Mary Magdalene, and Saint Martha in Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer over 2,000 years ago.
Regardless, the peak day in popularity for the sweet is February 2, la Chandeleur, or Candlemas, the Catholic holiday recognizing the presentation of the baby Jesus. Though the holiday is also known as le jour des crêpes, many in the South prefer to celebrate with a navette.
Navettes are such a simple cookie that they can be easily altered by region or taste preference. Because they are a bit crunchy like the Italian cantuccini (commonly called biscotti in English), it is recommended that they be served as a tea cookie, but it also means that when stored properly, navettes will keep quite a lot longer than other cookies.
The traditional navette from Marseille is flavored with du fleur d’oranger (orange blossom), though regional variations include lavender (in Provence, bien sûr), vanilla, chocolate — take your pick. Like a crêpe in Brittany, these treats are impossible to miss in the south and are a can’t-miss experience for any visitor to the region.
The bakeries famous for producing navettes have garnered cult followings as well, but if you’re willing to wait in line, head to a few to make your comparisons. The best place to start is at the oldest bakery in Marseille, the Four des Navettes, whose founder also dreamed up the shop’s namesake cookie and where they have been making them since 1781.
Of course, you can always try your hand at home as well.
Navette Recipe (from EatWell)
Makes about 70 small cookies:
1 lb (470g) flour
3 ounces (85g) butter
7 ounces (200g) sugar
Flavoring: aniseed, orange blossom or lemon zest
1. In a large bowl mix the sugar and softened butter. Stir until you get a homogeneous yellowish sand texture.
2. Add the eggs one at a time then add the chosen flavoring.
3. Work all the ingredients with your fingertips, adding the flour gradually.
4. Divide the dough into several parts and roll each piece on a floured surface.
5. Cut each roll into even slices and shape them by pinching the ends to give them the “Navette” shape which forms a little ship.
6. Set the cookies on a baking sheet or a baking mat (silicone mats work best).
7. With a knife, score each “Navette” in the middle in the longitudinal direction.
8. Bake for 15-20 minutes at 390°F (200°C).