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French food notes - February 2019

In our series providing a sideways look at French food, we look at how insects gave Reims biscuits a rosy hue

The next time you dip your perfectly pale pink, crisply delicate Biscuit de Reims into a glass of Champagne or vin rouge – its recommended accompaniments – spare a thought for the humble insect to which we owe this sweet treat its famous colouring.

The Biscuit Rose dates back to the 1690s in the Champagne region.

Bakers, keen to use the residual heat from their oven after unloading bread (other recipes originating in this manner include pommes de terre boulangères), had the idea of creating a special dough which, after having been baked for the first time, was left in the bread oven where it finished drying.

This process gave rise to the word bis-cuit, which means twice-cooked.

To give the crunchy snack some more flavour, vanilla pods were initially added but they gave the biscuit an unattractive brownish stain.

So one ingenious baker turned to the natural scarlet dye carmine – which comes from the cactus-residing insect cochineal – to conceal the unsightly discolouration.

The dye was used in North America and Mexico in the 15th century for colouring fabrics and became an important export good during the colonial era.

It was eventually used as a natural food colouring, and also latterly in make-up and to colour medicines and pills.

Maison Fossier started in 1756 under the reign of Louis XV, and received a royal certificate in 1825 from Charles X.

Today it remains the leading producer of the seemingly simple egg, sugar and flour blend that retains an air de luxe despite its parasitic ancestry!


Gadget inspector

Love is... a meal served up in a heart-shaped cocotte


Valentines across France will either embrace or avoid overpriced restaurant menus this month as February 14 brings out or repeals the romantic in all of us.

However, if you prefer to impress a loved one with home-cooked food and a ‘ta-dah!’ moment when you serve up, this cast-iron Staub cocotte is Cupid’s choice.

Made in Alsace, its enamelling gives excellent heat retention for slow-cooked perfection.

Looks cute, too!

Price €199 from


Now available

Luxury liver delicacy gets a Michelin-starred addition


Figeac (Lot) foie gras producer Jean Larnaudie has been in business since 1951 but still moves with the times to keep up with evolving customer tastes.

For its latest recipes is has teamed up with Michelin-starred chef Eric Guérin to create two new ‘mi-cuit’ specialities.

Le Plaisir brings hints of Calvados, fennel seed, Guérande salt and Tellicherry pepper, while Réserve 1951 is luxurious tribute to the company’s origins.

Price €16.90 to €44.90 (120 to 340g) from

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