Navette Albigeoise

Years ago I posted a recipe for Navettes from Marseille on this blog and, although they're an interesting and unusual local delicacy, I have to admit that they're a bit of an acquired taste for many people.  I thought about that original recipe recently and I felt that it was only right that I should finally get around to admitting that the Marseille navette is not the only navette in the south of France. Here's an alternative that might be a little less alarming.
Navette Albigeoise

This recipe is based on a navette from the region around the town of Albi in the Tarn. There's no raising agent in the recipe so don't expect a delicate sponge cake but it's lighter and less challenging than the drier Marseille version. Think of it as a little treat to sit alongside or even dip into a coffee or tea. Better still, imagine it with a local Gaillac Doux wine as you sit bathed in the light of the setting sun outside a café in Cordes-sur-Ciel. (Sorry, I got a bit carried away there). Sweet Gaillac can be hard to find unless you're in the area but other sweet wines will do the job. I'm a bit of a fan of Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh from a little to the west of Gaillac and that might be a bit easier to find.

Strictly speaking this cake should really be made in a diamond-shaped tin with sloping sides. This is said to echo the shape of the shuttle (navette) used in traditional weaving, which is a symbol associated locally with the Cathars. I'm not going to pretend that I know that this recipe dates back to the Albigensian Crusade but you never know. Since I don't have the real thing, I used a simple 20 cm square tin but, whatever tin you use, make sure that you butter it thoroughly. 

Recipes for the Navette Albigeoise vary a lot and don't expect this to be an entirely authentic version. If you come across the real thing, you'll possibly find whole almonds on the top of the cake (I prefer smaller pieces), dried or confit orange inside it and maybe less butter in the mix. You might also find a flavouring of orange flower water or rum but I've used some Cointreau instead. 

120 g caster sugar (preferably golden)
1 additional tbsp caster sugar for the tin and (optionally) ½ tbsp for the top of the cake
2 eggs
180 g plain flour
Zest of 1 lemon and 1 orange
2 tbsp cointreau (or triple sec, or rum, or orange juice)
110 g butter, thoroughly softened, plus a little extra for the tin
30 - 40 g almonds - I used blanched, whole almonds but use unblanched if you prefer

Preheat the oven to 180⁰C. Butter the baking tin generously and sprinkle with 1 tbsp caster sugar. I used a 20 cm square tin but use a genuine navette tin if you can find one.

Whisk together the eggs and the sugar for a couple of minutes until the mixture has increased in volume and looks very pale. Stir in the softened butter, the flour, lemon and orange zests and your chosen alcohol or juice. Mix together thoroughly, but don't overwork the dough.

Add to the prepared tin and even out the top - the dough should be roughly between 3 and 4 cm deep. Place the almonds on the top of the dough. I break them up and add them randomly but arrange whole almonds in a regular pattern if you prefer. Optionally sprinkle the additional ½ tbsp caster sugar over the top of the dough. Adding the sugar gives the cake an all-round light sweet crust but makes the top a little more flaky and liable to leave residue in your drink if you're intending to dip.

Bake for 20 - 25 minutes until the top is golden and a knife point comes out clean. Allow the cake to cool in the tin for at least 10 minutes before removing and cooling completely on a rack. Cut into small squares or diamonds (I cut mine into 12 pieces) and serve with your chosen beverage.


  1. Phil, that sounds like a delightful cake to go along with a cup of tea. It's another one I've never heard of, but your changes sound good to me - what's not to love about Cointreau and more butter! And I won't be getting a special tin for it. Where would I put one more specialty tin, and what would Mr Delightful say about it?!

    1. You're right in avoiding more tins. I'm well beyond the point when I had a place for them all. I dread the idea of opening some of my cupboards in case there's a tin avalanche.

  2. This sounds good Phil. I bought some small boat shaped moulds in France which were supposed to be for navettes, but they're too fiddly, and the recipe I used was too dry. I have too many tins too, and only used my favourite few.

    1. I've got some of the small, boat shaped tins too and they're useful but, as you say, really fiddly. The tin for this navette is much bigger but I can't imagine using it for anything else. I think it would be hard to justify buying yet another tin. Although I often seem unable to find a tin of exactly the right size specified in a recipe.

  3. These look very appealing. A piece with a cup of coffee would be a real treat although I'm not sure I would actually risk the dipping!
    I have seen navette tins occasionally for sale at village brocantes and been tempted but as you say, every extra tin takes up yet more space. Slicing diagonally would be a nice nod to the traditional shape. With the added cook's advantage of odd shaped corners which one wouldn't necessarily want to serve but shouldn't be thrown away!

    1. To be honest, if I'd seen a navette tin in a brocante I would probably have taken it home and regretted it later when I couldn't find space for it. Odd shaped corners are always a very good thing, though.


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