A couple of years ago, Steve and I visited Cyprus for a few days. We rented a car and drove around, visiting some of the villages that have been experiencing a renaissance, after many years of neglect. Agrotourism has opened up investment opportunities and as a result old houses have been restored, traditional foods have resurfaced, and a few are even moving back to the villages, abandoning the cities.
We were there around the end of April, which is a perfect time to go. The brutal heat of the summer hadn’t started yet and everything was in bloom. The mountainsides were solid green, broken by large patches of poppies and daisies. It was also the time when citrus trees were in late bloom. Orange and lemon orchards were everywhere. One day we were driving through a village with our windows down and as soon as we approached, we were immersed in the scent of orange blossoms.
If you’ve never experienced walking through a blooming orange orchard, put it on your list of things to do. The scent is intoxicating. It resembles that of jasmin or honeysuckle but it’s less cloying, more like…well, what you would expect orange blossoms to smell like. But if you don’t have access to an orange orchard, you can have the experience by buying a bottle of orange blossom water.
You’ll find orange blossom water in most middle eastern or italian food stores, or some large supermarkets like Whole Foods. It has a strong orange blossom flavor and aroma but it’s unsweetened. A little goes a long way. It also lasts for a really long time in the fridge.
There are many things you can do with it (like add a little in a fruit salad) but I have a couple of favorite recipes I can share with you. One is an ice cream that I will post later. The other one is a cookie from the south of France called navette. It means little boat (because of its shape, though they also look like lips to me) and its very simple to make, right in the food processor. The cookies will last for at least a couple of weeks in an airtight container, if you haven’t finished them off by then. The perfect pairing for them? Jasmine tea. Try it. It’s sublime.
Navettes: Orange Blossom Cookies – Adapted from Chocolate and Zucchini: Daily Adventures in a Parisian Kitchen
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter at room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1 large egg, lightly beaten
3 tablespoons orange blossom water
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 egg yolk, lightly beaten with 1 tablespoon water
Combine the butter and sugar in a food processor and process a few seconds until they are fluffy. Add the egg and orange blossom water. Pulse a few times until everything is blended. Add all the flour and salt and process a few seconds until mixed. The mixture may be crumbly but if you take a little and press it between your fingers, it should come together.
Empty the dough on a lightly floured surface and knead it gently until it forms a ball. Add a little more flour if the dough is too moist, or a little ice-cold water, one teaspoon at a time, if it’s too dry. Divide the dough into two disks, wrap each half in plastic, and refrigerate for at least an hour, or up to a day.
Preheat the oven to 350F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Take one disk of dough out of the refrigerator and divide it into 8 equal pieces. Roll each piece with the palm of your hand on the work surface until it forms a log, about 3 inches in length. If the log comes apart, just squeeze the pieces together. The logs don’t have to be perfect.
Cut the log in two with a knife so you have two 1 1/2 inch logs. Repeat with the other pieces until you have sixteen small logs. Pinch the ends of each small log and flatten the top slightly, to form a boat shape. With the tip of a butter knife, carve a deep slit lengthwise down the centre, not quite reaching the other side or the ends. Arrange the cookies on the baking sheet and repeat with the second half of the dough. The cookies don’t rise or expand so you can put them fairly close to each other, though not touching.
Brush the cookies with the egg yolk mixture. Bake for 15 minutes, until golden and slightly browned at the tips. Transfer to a rack to cool completely. The dough can be frozen for up to a month. Defrost overnight in the refrigerator before forming and baking the navettes.