Navettes de Marseille à fleur d’oranger

When people think of the southern port city of Marseille, in terms of flavours, the famous fish soup Bouillabaisse springs to mind. But there is a wonderful little biscuit, with an enormous following and an equally huge flavour, that is loved in this bustling city: la navette à fleur d’oranger. Les Marseillaise are very proud of their adorable, ‘barque’ (boat) shaped biscuit, that is as parfumed as it is hard. A mere sniff of ‘fleur d’oranger’ and my daughter is dreaming of what she likes to label her ‘Marseille soap biscuits’. A very curious moniker she has given them yes, but she has reason; the fragrance and flavour of orange flower water is a signature so easily ascribed to this southern city. From navette biscuits to the sweet and mysterious oriental patisseries that dot the various quartiers, to soaps, this intoxicating perfume is redolent of pleasant indulgences, of luxury and this colourful and unique city.

One day I shall take you on a visit to the oldest bakery in Marseille, where these biscuits have been made for centuries. There are a few theories that abound as to what is the origin of the shape and the most popular appears to be that the form is symbolic of the boat used to transport the three Saint Mary’s to Camargue after their exile by the Romans according to Christian tradition and legend.

Now whilst making navettes de Marseille yesterday, as I was forming their little boat bodied shapes, I couldn’t help but think about the traditional boats of the city. We have long held an association to the very old, traditional latin sailing boats of Marseille, having spent 8 years caring for one and my husband being a passionate sailor and part of this association since his university days. So I decided that at dusk last night, I would take you the reader and one of my biscuit ‘boats’ to visit the old barques to the north of the city.

Navettes de Marseille à fleur d’oranger

300g flour

4 tablespoons of olive oil, or a more neutral flavoured oil if you prefer

110g sugar

1 egg

4 tablespoons of orange flower water

1/2 teaspoon of salt

1/4 teaspoon of baking powder

Milk for glazing

Preheat oven to 180°C

Sift together flour, baking powder and salt.

Whisk together the egg and sugar to a pale mousse. Stir in the orange flower water.

Blend the egg mixture into the flour mixture and combine to make a stiff dough. Depending on your flour’s liquid absorbtion, if your dough is still sticky, add a little more flour until you just manage to have a dough that rolls smoothly without cracking.

Weigh you dough and divide into 12 pieces, rolling out to make equal length, neat sausages of between 10 to 12 cm. Pince the two ends and place on a paper lined tray. Using a small sharp knife, make a slit half way down the middle of each little log.

Brush with milk and slide your tray into the preheated oven. Keep a very good eye on your biscuits, checking their state of readiness often. They should take around 20 minutes to cook to a golden brown.