The next day I find myself in Dinant, Belgium, the birthplace of the inventor of the saxophone, Adolphe Sax. Saxophones decorate the streets of Dinant, painted with modern art designs on the bridge over the River Meuse, on the lampposts, and in the special museum devoted to Mr. Sax.
But I pass up the museum to go to the little family-run shop on rue Grande which makes cocques. Pronounced “kooks”, these are an interesting and unusual confection made only in this shop. The windows draw you in with their beautiful displays of what look like gingerbread cookies formed into an assortment of lovely designs depicting flowers, animals, people, and landscapes.
Cocques date from the 15th century when Charles the Bold besieged the town and left no food except for honey and flour. The industrious residents found a way to create a tasty concoction from these two ingredients. Today a little sugar is added to the recipe and the dough is pressed into molds made by local metalcrafters and baked. On cooling, they become rock hard and can be preserved indefinitely as long as they are kept dry. Tourists buy cocques all year long, but Belgians typically indulge in them around St. Nicolas day in the winter.
One of the Jacobs family explains how to eat them and warns against biting off a piece of the cocque because it will break your teeth. She says that the local dentist is a very rich man from repairing teeth of cocque eaters.
She recommends using a hammer on a very hard surface—like cement—to break them into bite-sized fragments. Then you suck on the pieces and leave them to melt in your mouth until they are soft and chewy. You might also leave them to soak in coffee, but since they are so hard, it will take quite some time for them to soften, even in the hot liquid.
Stock up on this unique and tasty treat since you will not find it anywhere else in the world.
Extracted from Traveling with Elizabeth – EXTRAORDINARY ADVENTURES AROUND THE WORLD. Now available from Amazon.