Tuesday, August 24, 2010

FOUACE NANTAISE - a taste of home

NANTES, Part I


He places his index finger on the map spread out on the table in front of me and traces a careful line from the northern coast just below where land meets Channel south to La Rochelle. He wants to be closer to the ocean in a greener, quieter place than mad Paris and her lonely, dark suburbs. Closer to the ocean so this city boy born and bred can spend weekend mornings with his toes buried in the sand watching the waves crash up onto the beach, something that soothes and calms him. He wants to bring us to a friendlier place, somewhere, anywhere better for the boys yet somewhere modern and innovative where we, too, can have a productive life. We were starting over, leaving it all behind, job, home, friends, schoolmates and heading west. A new start, a new life.

We did our research. It had to be right. We were a couple without a land, homeless stragglers ever wandering the globe, looking for excitement and adventure, living on an island unto ourselves, so we really only had ourselves to please. We looked high and low, studying each and every city along the coast, listening for the one that was calling our name. And then we stumbled upon Nantes. Oh, husband had been there many times, but had never thought of it in terms of a place to rest his head and raise his family. But it had everything we desired: a city small enough to be friendly and green yet large enough, resourceful enough, innovative enough to be our hope for the future.

Mention France to any American and immediately Paris comes to mind: Eiffel Tower, Mona Lisa and Romance with a capital R. Or Provence and her luxurious rolling green countryside, fields of lavender, quaint villages, her rich, garlicky, Mediterranean cuisine. Short on time and dollars, few tourists venture outside of these well known, well-trod vacation spots. But then again, maybe one reason we chose Nantes was her lack of tourist crowds. Yet Nantes is a city with a fascinating and rich history full of powerful women, war and upheaval, struggles against foreign invaders, a playground of revolution and commerce, the birthplace of the Edict of Nantes and Jules Verne both. Fascinating, indeed.


Nantes is a city of history, both past and present, reveling in her tumultuous past while carving her own future out of exotic wood, aluminum, glass and daring. Her marketplace and monuments breathe France and her traditions, yet innovation has always been a sure sign of her personality. Henri IV selected Nantes to be the signature city of his famous Edict in 1598, an order of tolerance and religious freedom; former capital of Brittany, Nantes was the home of Anne de Bretagne, Duchess of Brittany, married to two Kings of France yet a woman who managed to keep power and control of her duchy firmly in her own hands while assuring its future unification with France. Like all French cities, the light and dark clash, a never-ending struggle in the history books; her valiant resistance during the French Revolution or the World Wars stands elbow to elbow with her turbulent role in the Commerce Triangulaire, the Slave Trade. Once one of Europe’s richest, most important port cities, she built her fame and fortune on this trade of men for goods, vanilla and spices, tobacco and rum, and her shipping magnates became very wealthy indeed.


Nantes is a city of sadness, a city of hope. Only the shadow of those former dark times whisper to us from her streets, the heartbeats and tears of how many men and women held captive pulsing up through the sidewalks where wealthy merchants sauntered, ghostly water lapping up against the sides of ships where captains once shouted orders and goods were unloaded onto the bustling, crowded quays. The streets we walk over were once this river, now sand and asphalt and tar, filled in and paved over in an effort to forget. The sidewalks still groan under the weight of the majestic white apartment buildings, elegant swirls of dark ironwork against the pure, snowy white stone, homes now buckling under the weight of time, the same once built for those proud merchants in the Glory Years of the 19th Century, apartments still paneled in wood, ceilings graced by rosaces and French windows overlooking what was once their river, luxurious buildings from which, day after day, they would step out of right into the river from which their wealth flowed.


Now these old buildings, still elegant and proud, reminders of her turbulent past, stand side by side new, gorgeous, contemporary buildings, signs of her future, all iron, wood, glass and cement, astonishing in their colors, silver, blue, orange, black & white, buildings that twist and turn and bend at odd angles, buildings that curve gracefully, buildings that incorporate the old and the new, buildings sprinkled higgledy-piggledy all over this modern town that we have grown to love so well. Gardens bloom throughout the city, Japanese gardens on the Ile de Versailles, exotic gardens built under the graceful metal vaults of former smelting works on the Ile de Nante or sprouting from iron, cement and steel of what was once the city’s shipyard. Nantes is an exciting city that lives and breathes her history every single day, this former proud capital of Brittany, home of Kings and Queens, yet equally a city that embraces everything that is new and modern, a city that has successfully and harmoniously wedded the past and the future in more than just her architecture, having given birth to such diverse festivals as La Folle Journée (classical music), Les Rendez-Vous de l'Erdre (Jazz), Utopiales (Science Fiction) and La Festival des 3 Continents (the Cinema of 3 Continents: Asia, Africa & Latin America). Nantes is the home of the outlandish machines of the world famous Royal de Luxe theatre bringing the futuristic stories of Jules Verne to the streets. Nantes was the birthplace of such forward-thinking, socially innovative yet traditional industries as LU, the world famous cookie factory and was the city of the first public transport system in the world with the creation of public omnibuses and the first city in France to have a public tramway system.


I will be offering you a 3-part series, a glance at my adopted city, Nantes. Three peeks at a beautiful city followed by three sweet recipes. You will notice that the one ingredient that ties these three recipes, these three very special, traditional treats together is rum; Nantes built her fortune on trade with the French West Indies, former trade partners, former colonies. Ships based in Nantes would be sent to Africa where their captains would exchange European goods for men and women who would then, in turn, be brought to the Caribbean to work on the sugar, tobacco and spice plantations. The ships would then return to Nantes, bringing back vanilla, pepper, ginger, cinnamon, things tropical and exotic, along with the tobacco and cane sugar, adding, in the 19th Century, rum to their cargo. Rum, that earthy, amber-colored, magical brew, shimmering like gold. Rum, dark, woodsy, exotic, heady with the scent of the West Indies, rich with the flavor of far-off lands did so intrigue the people of Nantes that it became part of their culinary repertoire, enriching the gastronomic pleasures of this part of the world. It is difficult to find a local sweet specialty that isn’t spiked with either rum or Muscadet, her own local wine.


I offer you this first recipe, a specialty of my city of Nantes. La Fouace Nantaise, the Nantes’ fougasse, is a brioche-type bread, gently sweetened, redolent of rum, shaped like a macaron or a 5- or 6-sided star. This butter and egg rich treat was created in the 19th century in the neighboring town of La Haye-Fouassière (“fouassière” comes from the word “fouasse” or “fouace”: “fougasse”), a town nestled in Muscadet country amid the vines and producers. The fouace was traditionally dunked in the local wine and now takes pride of place at the annual fête des vendanges, the yearly grape harvest festival where it is accompanied, of course, by a glass of Muscadet.

In researching this very old recipe, I gathered about 5 different versions of it, including one from my Larousse Gastronomique and a few from sites listing the gastronomic specialties of Nantes. Each one was just too different from the next in either ingredient quantities or procedure that, relying on my intuitive nature and using my bread baking skills finely honed over many years of trial and error, I came up with this recipe and it worked like magic! My fouace nantaise was light yet tender and slightly dense and chewy like the perfect brioche, barely sweet, eggy rich and heady with the aroma and flavor of rum, just a hint of orange blossom. Perfect and moist for the first day or two, use this brioche when slightly stale (or even fresh!) for wonderful pain perdu (French toast, of course) or a decadent bread pudding. Enjoy!


This rum-spiked brioche is perfect for this month’s Bread Baking Day, our favorite monthly bread-baking event created by Zorra of 1x umrûhren bitte. BBD #33 is being hosted by Baking Powders who chose the theme Breads With Booze.

I will also send this fouace nantaise to Susan at Wild Yeast for her weekly yeast-baking event Yeastspotting.


FOUACE NANTAISE

1 lb (500 g) flour, divided, plus more for kneading
2 ¼ tsp (15 g) active dry yeast
½ cup (115 ml) milk, warmed to body temperature
large pinch of salt
¼ cup (50 g) sugar
7 Tbs (100 g) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
1 small juice or wine glass of rum, about 3 oz (90 ml)
1 Tbs fleur d’oranger (orange flower water)
4 eggs, lightly beaten
1 additional egg for egg wash, lightly beaten


Place 1 cup (125 g) of the flour in a medium-sized mixing bowl with the yeast and 1 teaspoon of the sugar. Add the warm milk and stir briefly just to wet all of the dry ingredients. Allow to proof for 20 – 40 minutes or until doubled in size, puffy and bubbly.


While the yeast mixture is proofing, place the rest of the flour into a large mixing bowl with a large pinch of salt (about ½ teaspoon), the remaining sugar, the softened butter, the glass of rum, the fleur d’oranger and the 4 lightly beaten eggs. Stir with a wooden spoon until all of the dry ingredients have been moistened and the mixture is well blended. Add the proofed yeast mixture and stir the together until well blended. It will be very sticky, too sticky to handle.


Scrape the dough onto a well-floured work surface. Knead the dough, adding enough extra flour until the dough is no longer sticky and it is soft, smooth and homogenous. Carefully divide the dough into 5 or 6 equal parts, form into balls and place one in the center of a parchment-lined baking/cookie tray. Place the other balls of dough around the outside of the center ball to form a star shape. Don’t worry if there are gaps between the balls of dough. Cover lightly with a piece of plastic wrap then a clean kitchen towel and allow to rise until doubled in size, 1 ½ to 2 hours.


Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Brush the dough with the beaten egg and bake for 40 minutes. The fouace will have risen and be a deep golden brown. The “branches” of the star will have started to pull away from the center ball of brioche.


Now pop the cork on that chilled bottle of Muscadet and enjoy!


53 comments:

Rosa's Yummy Yums said...

A wonderful sweet bread recipe.Yummy!

Cheers,

Rosa

Angie's Recipes said...

The city looks beautiful.
I like the homemade bread. Yours must have tasted as wonderful as it looks...fresh, soft and full of pleasant flavours and aromas.

Juls @Juls' Kitchen said...

The riecipe looks beautiful indeed, and your description makes me hunger!
But Nantes, Nantes... you have so infused your post with story, adventure, legend, love and sensitiveness that I really would like to visit that part of France, sooner or later!

maybe in Autumn, with a scarf! ;)

Edd said...

Beautiful post, I visited Nantes once when I was about 12. I did my French exchange with a school called College Jean Monet in Vertou and we visited Nantes for the day, and ever since I have wanted to go back, the post definitely brought back some memories

Jamie said...

@Rosa's Yummy Yums - Thanks, Rosa!

@Angie's Recipes - It's a wonderful city and this is a wonderful brioche. Thanks!

@Giulia - Nantes! Bring your scarf, your camera and your appetite, darling, and we'll enjoy Autumn together!

@Edd - Really? How cool! Vertou is lovely and Nantes has changed so much in just the 7 years we've been here. You won't recognize parts of it!

browniegirl said...

OH OH!!! Can I pop over pretty please for a visit? What a beautiful post about a beautiful city written by a beautiful soul and ended with beautiful rum laded brioche type bread......I want some NOW!! Fabulous post Jamie. And this recipe I shall have to replicate here in my beautiful city :o) Well done and thank you! MWAH!!

Cathy said...

What a wonderful post, Jamie. I'm looking forward to reading more about your new home.

Bread with Booze - I love the challenge and your mouthwatering brioche.

elra said...

Wow, those buildings are really work of art. Would love to visit one day.

Your bread is of course always tempting and delicious looking.

Cecilia said...

Jamie! You had me at LU! I love love love petit ecolier biscuits! My grandmother and I would sit down for tea in the afternoons with petit ecolier biscuits as a treat. Your narrative of the city makes me want to visit. And your bread is gorgeous! I can not imagine a brioche type bread with rum and orange blossom. Must taste delicious.

margot Desmarais said...

succulente fouace nantaise des dimanches de mon enfance grignotée en promenade le long des bords de Loire... d'autant plus émue en découvrant que cette recette est donnée par une américaine vivant à Nantes ! souvenirs, souvenirs... de l'Amérique où moi-même je m'essayais à faire les recettes de "Family Circle" pour me sentir de nouveau "à la maison" ! sweet memories of our common efforts to keep a taste of home !

Jamie said...

@margot - Quel plaisir! Ah I grew up with Family Circle and even brought some old ones from the 70's back to France. J'adore les rencontres comme ceci et je suis très contente de connaître quelqu'un qui a mangé des fouaces dans sa jeunesse! Merci pour la visite et les mots très gentilles!

Asha @ FSK said...

Boozy bread indeed!!! what a lovely bread.. and like this travelogue series Jamie!!!

Ken said...

So nice to get a sense of your beautiful home town through your eyes and words. Look forward to read the next two installment.

Heavenly Housewife said...

Wonderful photos and some fabulous architecture. What a beautiful city...
... and what a bread daaaahling, is this your way of including booze into your early morning toast ritual? Naughty! :D
*kisses* HH

Barbara Bakes said...

It looks like a wonderful place to live. It would be so nice to be able to visit one day. Your bread does sound like a special treat.

A Thought For Food said...

What a fantastic post this is! It was one year ago that we were in France (Provence) and I miss it terribly. Especially the bread... which looks incredible and is now going on my list of things to make.

MeetaK said...

looks like our next spice meet will have to be in nantes - especially now that i know a specific lookalike of a studmuffin walks the markets of nantes!! lol!

i like this recipe looks incredible, fluffy and perfect!

Eliana said...

Wonderful post. I absolutely love sweet breads and this one looks amazing Jaime.

Maria said...

Love the bread and photos!

Hilda said...

Another bread recipe I'm going to have to try and which will probably work wonders for this yeast-averse baker. It looks delicious Jamie and I love the whole post, so interesting. I've never been to Nantes, only driven by.

Barbara said...

Jamie I love the new look.

Nantes sounds a wonderful city to live in. Interesting mix of architecture.

And your bread looks delicious.

Sippity Sup said...

Why are cities always "women". Hurricanes I understand by why cities? (insert smiley face here) GREG

5 Star Foodie said...

Nantes looks like such a beautiful city to visit! It is definitely on our list for our next trip to France. The rum-spiked brioches sound incredibly delicious!

The Cooking Ninja said...

Beautiful Brioche and the pictures bring back lots of good memories of my 7 year stay in Nantes. City that I came to love but hate the rainy weather.

RamblingTart said...

Wondrous photos, Jamie!! You made my heart happy today, bringing back such lovely feelings of belonging and exploration and discovery. I'm hoping to be in Europe again in December and your photos are a wondrous prelude. Beautiful bread too! :-)

Deeba PAB said...

What a truly beautiful connect Jamie... I think only you could have tied it all together with so much depth and love. Nantes is lucky to have you as residents ... you bring glory to it! One day shall wing my way across sistah! Did you buy this weeks ticket yet? xoxo

sarah meredith said...

It feels like serendipity to have discovered your blog this morning. I am heading to France tonight to spend two months painting in Argenton Chateau, which is about an hour southeast of Nantes. Last time I was in AC, I spent a wonderful day exploring your city and, though I only scraped the surface, I thought it was beautiful, sophisticated and unusually friendly. I hope to get back there again this time to look around some more. Meantime, my first order of business when I get settled is a loaf of fouace nantaise!

gastroanthropologist said...

Sounds like a lovely town with a lot more than meets the eye. Bread pudding and french toast is almost always made with brioche in my house. Think a bit of a rummy brioche would make the most delicious bread pudding.

girlichef said...

Oh, what a stunning boozy bread! I want to rip off a hunk for myself. I can't wait to read and see more of Nantes, as well...believe it or not, it's a place I've always wanted to visit. I used to work with a French chef that talked about Nantes!

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

Jamie, thankyou so much for showing us Nantes! This is a wonderful guide to it via pictures, words and food! :D

lisaiscooking said...

You've convinced me I need to visit Nantes! Of course, I need to see the historic and contemporary architecture, and now that I know it's known for a love of rum I would be very happy there. Beautiful brioche, and it's sounds delicious.

tasteofbeirut said...

I have never visited Nantes but now I feel like I ought to! Love that brad and its shape! Of course, breads is one thing about France I love a bit too much!

Mary said...

What a lovely introduction to "your" city, Jamie. Your photos are almost as lovely as that glorious fouace. I can't tell you how much I look forward to my visits here. I hope you have a wonderful day. Blessings...Mary

asiangrrl said...

What a loving tribute to your home. And the bread? YUM!

P.S. First time I've commented since the new design was showcase. I love me my black, but this look is very classy!

MC said...

What a great introduction to a wonderful city. One of my nieces lives there and wouldn't dream of moving anywhere else. Your fouace looks perfect too!

Bergamot said...

The city looks beautiful. All that research on the bread paid off. It looks scrumptious.

Joudie's Mood Food said...

Hi Jamie, i am loving this post. I am making this today for sure. It looks so fluffy and delicious! I love sweet breads!

Carolyn Jung said...

What a gorgeous city, and what an irresistible bread. Mmm, with rum, to boot! I don't know if I'll ever be lucky enough to visit Nantes. But at least I can bake a pull-apart loaf of this heavenly treat.

coco cooks said...

What a great post on wonderful town. Love history. And any baked good with Rum is always a favorite in my book.

Sarah said...

I have family from Nantes and lived there when I was 5. I remember eating a simple butter cake but with a hidden surprise baked inside. Do you know the name of it? I also remember my older brother pointing to a snail and saying- people eat that. I didn't believe him ;-)

Jamie said...

@sarah - the only cake I know that has a surprise baked inside is either the Galette des Rois (an almond cream/paste filled puff pastry) or a briochee studded with candied fruit that is also made for La Fête des Rois or Epiphany. There is a surprise, a bean, a coin or small ceramic figurine placed inside. Read this article I wrote about it:

http://dailytiffin.blogspot.com/2010/01/la-galette-des-rois.html

Joudie's Mood Food said...

Hi Jamie, so i made this and it is just wonderful. Shame that my rum had finished and orange blossom was missing for some reason. Even though some items were missing. it still turned out AMAZING!

Jamie said...

@Joudie - I am THRILLED! Yay! So happy that you not only made this bread but loved it! I am sure that rum is not the most important ingredient anyway :-) Thanks so much for letting us know!

Jamie said...

@Hilda - Go on, then... try this one. Easy and delicious. Then come visit Nantes!

Jeanne @ CookSister said...

Rum bread? OMG yo had me at hello! Love the potted history of nantes (and the pics of the amazing modern buildings!). I am always in awe of people who so carefully choose a place to live. Where I have ended up has always been purely an accident, of birth or otherwise!

natalia said...

this is a wonderful recipe ad the shape of the fouace is so charming !! Love it !Ciao

Sara said...

Jamie, I'm so jealous!!! you live in such a gorgeous town!!! I wish I could visit one day and eat your Homemade Fouace Nantaise!!! Congrats on the Daily Faire on Saveur Mag feature today!!! :)

Kitty M said...

Jamie, so lovely to meet you 'virtually' I just stumbled across your blog whilst researching Fouace Recipes and i am so glad I did! My husband and I are moving from the UK to the Averyone next April, to manage a small Chambre D'Hote and Salon de the - so a BIG adventure. I loved reading about how you found your home :-)

recette tiramisu speculoos said...

thank's admin really it's helpfull

Hanaâ said...

Beautiful. The interior looks so light and fluffy. I'm bookmarking this one. Thanks for sharing the recipe!! :o)

Gregoire said...

Being from Nantes, I really enjoyed this article. Fouace brings back so many memories... I like how it's only a seasonal thing: every year when fall arrived, my mom would buy us fouace from the bakery. Today I live in Paris and can't visit as often as I'd like, but every year, my mom still makes a point to buy me a fouace and to freeze it so that I can get it when I visit her.
I hope you still enjoy our beautiful city!

Etienne (from nantes) said...

Sorry but neither the look nor the recepie is fouace, it should be star shaped and very compact. Come back and give it another try ;)

Jamie said...

@Etienne: Actually, I did make an error in putting only 5 rather than 6 balls of dough around the center, I agree. But, I have to disagree with you about the texture. I am not a bad bread baker and this recipe was based on an amalgam of several traditional recipes I found. Maybe it is my method that made it fluffier, but isn't that the magic of individual interpretations of a recipe?

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