In Catalonia, known in France as the Pays Catalan, the residents typically enjoy desserts rich in dairy products, honey, nuts, and fruits. The Catalonian region in southern France has a beautiful climate perfect for cultivating and sun ripening gorgeous, juicy fruit.
Ceret, a commune near the France/Spain border, boasts a plentiful and famous cherry production industry. Each May, the village holds a cherry festival, Fete des Cerises, celebrating their bounty of the delicious stone-fruit. Classic desserts like clafoutis and tarts can be found alongside out of the ordinary treats such as cherry beer and fresh cherry tartines. In the Pays Catalan, a dessert can be as simple and succulent as a bowl full of ripe, black cherries and homemade yogurt.
Roussillon is home to an abundance of apricots and peaches. One special variety, in particular, is called the rouge de Roussillon. It is a beautiful, blush-toned apricot that is so delicate, it must be eaten quickly to avoid bruising, preferably within hours of harvesting. For an effortless, healthy dessert, the Catalans often serve a single apricot or peach, whole or sliced and drizzled with local honey.
The simple preparation of fruit is a focal point in the cuisine throughout the Pyrenees, for good reason. The elevation and soil are ideal for growing blueberries, black raspberries, and alpine strawberries. In sheltered valleys, apple and pear orchards abound. In areas even milder still, there is success growing kiwis, figs, and a variety of citrus trees. Fresh fruit and handcrafted, local cheese is commonly found at the table during all three meals of the day.
The lush agriculture makes Catalonia a wonderful place for beekeepers. Natural pollination of such a large variety of fruits and flowers makes for delicious, robustly fragrant honey. The mild wildflower honey features soft, flowery notes best for using in simple baked goods, while the intensely concentrated flavors of single varietal honey makes it a great, showstopping accent for desserts. Both kinds of local honey features prominently in Catalan cuisine.
Fresh dairy is a main ingredient in numerous desserts throughout the Pays Catalan. Manufactured locally, the milk, cream, and cheese is of premium quality and the rich flavor is unparalleled. Heavy cream is whipped into toppings and fillings, milk is baked into custards, and cheese is accented with fruit compotes, nuts, or honey; all adding a special local flavor to traditional regional desserts.
In comparison to the elaborate sweets sold in Paris and other metropolitan patisseries, Catalan desserts are simple and rustic. A vanilla cake filled with orange water custard and brushed with sugar syrup or liqueur is the perfect example of the elegant Catalan simplicity. Look for other specialties like fritters, creams, and tarts flavored with citrus, aniseed, fennel, and almonds.
Baking traditionally savory ingredients into confections is a common practice throughout France, and Catalonia is no exception. Local specialties include thinly sliced eggplant baked into caramelized apple tarts, fennel-infused creams, and cheese-laden desserts of all kinds.
Cheese features prominently into Catalan desserts in two ways. First, salty, more pungent cheeses are typically served on a cheese board with local fruit, jams, and bread. Second, and considered more of a classic dessert choice, are mild soft cheeses served with honey or sweet, fruit compotes. Mel i mato is a traditional dessert consisting of goat milk cream cheese drizzled with honey and sprinkled with nuts. The signature Catalan cheese and honey can be as simple as soft cheese and honey served on a chilled dish, or a rustic, baked cheese tart.
The most famous of all Catalan desserts, crème Catalane, is a large, caramelized custard flavored with citrus and a touch of cinnamon. First prepared in Spain for Saint Joseph's Day, it is also called Saint Joseph's Day cream or crema de Sant Josep. Made with egg yolks, milk, and cream, this celebrated dessert is rich, delicious, and made for sharing.