March is my favourite time of year when spring has arrived and the garden is beginning to show signs of new life. Of course with the weather and climate so changeable these days we may not be so lucky but I am forever an optimist.
It is a good month for a trip to France as it will refresh you and recharge your batteries so to speak. It is much quieter at this time of year and if you would still like a skiing holiday, it is not too late as March is the last month for this season so you can still take that longed for break.
The air fares remain lower which again is a bonus and of course you can find many holidays to suit you at French Connections whether you want a skiing holiday or just a quiet getaway to relax and enjoy the good food and fantastic scenery France has to offer.
You may still be able to enjoy the carnival in Nice, on the Côte D’ Azur or Le Carnival Parade as this runs until the 6th March. The Nice Carnival is a wonderful sight and to be there and enjoy the festivities at this time of year is another reason to visit the South of France. This year the theme is ‘King of the Five Continents’ and the streets are alive with musicians and artists all participating to make the event a very extravagant affair.
A little further along the coast is Menton, where there is the Lemon Festival which runs until the 9th March and is such lovely tradition where the streets are decorated with lemons and oranges to make this a truly colourful event. This is a beautiful town and well worth a visit if you are on holiday in the South of France.
If you are a book worm (my husband being one of them) you may like to visit the annual Salon du Livre or the Paris Book Fare. It is to be found at the Porte de Versailles Exhibition Centre in Paris and admission to it costs around 10€ for adults with students and under 17’s free.
It will be Easter toward the end of March; Good Friday being on the 29th and Easter Sunday on the 31st March. This is the most important period in the Christian calendar and is one of the moveable public holidays in France. As a result you may find that some smaller towns and villages are closed at this time while they celebrate this religious event.
In France, especially for Roman Catholics, Easter is celebrated with much joy as it commemorates the resurrection of Christ. Easter or Pâques as it is known, is considered the holiest day in the Christian calendar and is celebrated on the Sunday after the first full moon on the day or after the day of the vernal equinox. This is the time when day and night are about the same duration.
If you are in France for Easter, whether in the cities, towns or villages, you will surely hear the sound of church bells ringing on Easter Sunday morning, celebrating the Resurrection of Christ. Children wake up in anticipation of finding ‘les oeufs de Paques or Easter eggs which may be hidden inside their homes or in the garden.
Children are told the story which connects the bell ringing on Easter morning to the appearance of the Easter eggs. The story goes something like this – “On Maundy Thursday the bells are silent as they have flown across to Rome to visit the Pope. On Easter morning, their return signifies happiness at seeing the Pope and they bring with them beautifully coloured eggs as gifts for the children”.
There are many different chocolate eggs these days for children and adults alike from traditional egg shaped ones to bunny rabbit novelties and even little fishes too.
Traditional games are also played at Easter such as rolling eggs down a slope and whoever has an egg that does not break is the winner. This game is meant to symbolise the rolling away of the stone at the tomb of Jesus.
So if you area able to have a French holiday in March there is much to see and do whichever region you choose to stay. The countryside is coming to life with spring flowers, blossom on the trees, and the coastline has miles of beautiful quiet beaches at this time of year. Whether you want a walking holiday, a skiing holiday, a shopping trip or simply just a relaxing, doing nothing kind of holiday, France is the place to do it!
When it comes to traditional French food for Easter, there is no one food particularly for this time but eggs are certainly on the menu and omelettes are often made at picnics as well as in the home. Lamb is very popular too either a roast or a slow casserole of lamb which can be left cooking for several hours.
Giant omelettes are sometimes made for picnics to feed the whole family and of course they need many fresh eggs. So with these foods in mind there is something for most people to enjoy.
You will find the recipes for Navarin of Lamb or a slow lamb stew and a good roast lamb recipe called Gigot de Pre-Sale Roti at French-recipes-to-love.com but for something different I thought you may like a recipe for some very special little French cakes which you can buy if you are on holiday in France, or choose to make for Easter if you are at home.
They are not specifically for Easter but I think they will go down a treat with your Easter tea or even an after dinner dessert. If you are in Paris you will see them in such shops as Laduree's where they are decorated so artistically. I am afraid my decorating needs a great deal more practice but I can assure you they taste just as good.
Gorgeous little cakes made with choux pastry or pate chou. In a sense they are simply cream puffs, one larger one and a smaller one on top. The name Religieuse may have come about as they look like little nuns, and the colour violet is from the Cardinal’s robes although you will find these cakes in many colours and flavours nowadays such as pink, chocolate and coffee.
First you will need to make the Choux Pastry:
- 110g (3 3/4 oz, 3/4 cup) plain, all purpose flour
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 175 mls (6 fl oz, 3/4) water
- 85 g (3oz, 6 tablespoons) unsalted butter cut into pieces
- 3 eggs
- Pinch of nutmeg
- Pre-heat the oven to 200C (400F, Gas 6)
- Sift the flour together with the salt and nutmeg.
- Put the water into a heavy bottomed medium pan, add the butter and bring to the boil.
- Remove it immediately from the heat and quickly add the flour mixture.
- Beat well with a wooden spoon and continue to beat until the mixture begins to pull away from the sides of the pan
- At this stage, place the pan back on a low heat and continue beating for about 2 minutes. Remove from the heat.
- Make a well in the middle and place one egg in the well and beat into the mixture until well absorbed.
- Continue with the other eggs in the same way, it should be easier with the last egg.
When the mixture should is shiny and smooth spoon it out onto a buttered baking tray :
Drop tablespoons of the mixture on to a baking sheet, (tablespoons for the big ones and teaspoons for the smaller ones) leaving a space between each one to allow for it to puff. You can use a piping bag with a round tube opening if you prefer.
Place into a pre-heated oven and bake for about 20 minutes until crisp and golden brown. Take out of the oven and pierce each puff to allow the steam to escape. Turn the oven off and place the puffs back in the oven with the door ajar for about 10 minutes.
Remove and allow to cool on a wire tray before filling.
Sometimes your choux pastry will be a little soggy in the middle when taken out of the oven. Do not worry, just take a fork and scoop any uncooked pastry from the centre.
You will find the recipe for the custard filling at www.french-recipes-to-love.com/creme-patissiere.html
When the crème patisserie has gone cold, flavour it with a few drops of rose water and a drop of pink colouring and simply fill your puffs with the cream. If using chocolate flavour you can add cocoa powder or melted dark chocolate.
For the coffee, make some coffee with hot water and coffee and allow to go cold. Add this to your cream filling.
For the icing simply add your flavour and colour to some icing sugar (confectioners’ sugar) with a few drops of water. Mix until you have the right consistency which should be nice and thick but not too dry as you need to either spread it on your buns, or dip your buns in it.
When it has set, pipe some icing between the two buns.
When the icing has dried your lovely Religious cakes are ready to serve!