Rouen was the stronghold of French cyclist Jacques Anquetil, who won his first stage in his home city, and then went on to be the first cyclist to win the Tour five times. It was also the place where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake.
Rouen was the "second city" and has a rich pastry background, including the choux pastry favourites éclairs au café et au chocolat, the religieuse, a sort of cottage loaf shaped éclair, and the Paris-Brest, a circle of choux pastry, sprinkled with flaked almonds and baked, with a sweetened whipped cream or crème patisserie filling.
Another speciality of the region is the macaroon, not those big chewy, cherry-topped discs with a base of rice paper as found in English bakeries, but elegant little sweetmeats, sandwiched together with a creamy ganache. The French macaroon company Laduree has made these pretty little biscuits very popular, and they now come in all manner of flavours and colours, including rose (pink), pistachio (delicate green), and liquorice (black). They are not hard to make and are perfect served with good strong coffee, or afternoon tea. I use Yotam Ottolenghi's foolproof recipe for perfect results.
110g icing sugar
50 ground almonds
12g cocoa powder
2 free-range egg whites (60g)
40g caster sugar
65g dark chocolate
15g unsalted butter
50ml double cream
2 tsp dark rum
Line a baking sheet with non-stick baking parchment. Oven 170ºC.
Start with the ganache. Chop up the chocolate into tiny pieces and the butter into small dice. Heat the cream in a small saucepan until it just boils and then pour over the chocolate and butter pieces. Stir with a rubber spatula until you have a smooth mixture. Stir in the rum. Cover with cling film and leave somewhere cool for a few hours. Don't let it go too hard as you need to be able to spoon it between the macaroons.
Sift the icing sugar, ground almonds and cocoa together in a bowl. Put the egg whites and sugar in the bowl of a freestanding mixer, and whisk on full speed until the whites have formed a thick, aerated meringue, but not too dry. Gently fold a third of the egg whites into the icing sugar/almond mix, then add another third and the final third until you have a smooth, glossy mixture.
'Glue' the baking parchment to the baking sheet with a blob of the macaroon mixture, and then spoon or pipe small amounts (about the size of a two-pound coin) of mix onto the sheet. Hold the tray firmly and tap its underside vigorously. Leave the macaroons uncovered to set for 15 mins before baking for about 12 minutes.