A Taste of Paris in Charlottesville

With Cou Cou Rachou, Rachel De Jong brings authentic French baking to the Blue Ridge.

(Photo of Rachel De Jong by Fred+Elliot)

Long before we met in person, I met Rachel De Jong’s lovely sourdough bread at Charlottesville’s Broadcloth restaurant. The loaf left a lasting impression. So when I heard that she was opening her own bakery in town, I had to know more.

A warm and comforting space, Cou Cou Rachou feels like it’s been there forever. Antique display cases showcase traditional French baguettes and boules alongside sweet and savory croissants, quiches, scones, cookies, macaroons, and much more. Even the name is inviting: it’s a mashup of Rachel and the French term for “hello” among friends.

De Jong, who grew up in Charlottesville, recalls the power of food to “delight and draw people together” and describes her family as a happy tribe, accomplished in film, painting, music, and photography. Her mother happens to be an excellent cook, too, “but she hates baking,” says De Jong, “so I filled in the blanks for holidays and birthdays.”

She also counts the Food Network and Julia Child, whom she watched on Public Television, as early influences. Like those in Julia’s kitchen, hanging pots adorn the back wall of her bakery. After business studies at JMU proved “too corporate,” the budding food entrepreneur credits her father with floating the idea of a cooking career: “You do know,” he told her, “that food is a job, too.”

She found her first culinary mentor in Sheila Cervelloni at The Baker’s Palette in Charlottesville, soaking up lessons before heading to the famed Cordon Bleu École de Cuisine in Paris, where she earned a Diplôme de Pâtisserie in 2011.

FRED + ELLIOTT

(Cou Cou Rachou interior: Photography by Fred+Elliott)

Back in Virginia, she landed at The Inn at Little Washington in the kitchen of Michelin three-star chef Patrick O’Connell and his pastry chef Mia Ponce. The experience was eye opening. “Things were very black and white,” she explains, “the product is good enough or it’s not. They used the highest quality ingredients, and Mia taught me how to break down flavors.” Ponce walked her through bitter, sweet, tart, sour, and earthy to refine her palate. “Obviously much of this is preferential and highly personal,” she says, “but the groundwork and knowledge of how to manipulate flavor is crucial to a cook’s education.”

Ponce had come up in the kitchen of famed Chez Panisse in Berkeley and the art of simple eating espoused by Alice Waters. “A lot of people equate simple with easy,” says De Jong, “and that’s not the case. A dessert with three ingredients is less forgiving than one with a dozen components.” It’s tough to make food taste great if the building blocks are mediocre. “Each one has to be ‘perfect,” she notes. After three years in tiny Washington, Virginia, this young baker moved on to Nashville and, later, L.A., where she worked with world-renowned French chef Ludo Lefebvre. Her time at Lefebvre’s Petit Trois further cemented her love of French food and pastries and, eventually, she headed home with the dream of opening her own bakery.

But first, she landed at Charlottesville’s Broadcloth where she created bread and pastries for the restaurant while also supplying the boutique wine and coffee shop in the Wool Factory Complex. There, the owners, wowed by her talents, helped her launch her own space in November. She remains the Wool Factory’s consulting pastry chef, assuring that diners can continue to look for her deliciously nuanced baked goods at Broadcloth and The Workshop, as well.

In her decade-plus career, De Jong has learned powerful lessons—the magic of using the right French butter along with the art of coaxing flavors in a gentle, clean way. For a tahini pastry cream, she steeps toasted sesame seeds in milk, and she makes her scones strictly by hand, without a mixer. “Cutting butter into the dry ingredients with a rolling pin on a wooden table ensures a flaky tender moist mixture,” she says adding, “flavor is our top priority. I love using citrus zest in just about everything.” Salt is another favorite: “It brings out nuances in pastry.”

With her bright neon sign the window—and armed with local fruits from Agriberry, eggs from River Oak Farm, organic flours from Central Milling and Deep Roots, and Beurre d’Isigny, a French pastry butter—De Jong is changing the the baking game in Central Virginia. “Cou Cou Rachou is our way of sharing a warm hello and welcoming you into our world of butter-laden goods,” says De Jong. Stop by for a croissant, or a scone, or a cake, or a macaroon—they’re all swoon-worthy. CouCouRachou.com, RachelDeJong.com


Recipes

(Photography by Fred+Elliott)

Toasted Coconut and Almond Financiers
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 1/4 cups coconut, shredded, unsweetened
  • 2 cups almond flour
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 3/4 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour (or gluten-free substitute)
  • 8 egg whites
  • 2 cups marmalade, jam, citrus curd, or fruit butter for topping (our favorite is meyer lemon marmalade)

These can be made ahead. Batter is best when rested overnight in the refrigerator before baking. Fills about 24 muffin tins. Heat butter in a small saucepan over medium-low heat, whisking occasionally as it separates and begins to simmer.

Allow to cook until the separated milk solids become fragrant and begin to lightly color brown (approximately 6-8 minutes).

Remove pan from heat and continue whisking until milk solids are a deeper brown and very nutty in aroma. Pour into a heat-proof container and allow to cool.

Toast coconut in a 325 degree oven for 8-12 minutes until lightly golden brown. Allow to cool, then place coconut, almond flour, sugar, salt, and flour into a large mixing bowl. Whisk well, then set aside.

Fold egg whites into bowl with dry ingredients. Mix gently until moist then add browned butter and continue folding until the batter is fully homogeneous.

Scoop batter into your desired muffin pan, approximately 3/4 full in each tin.

Using the back of a spoon, fully flatten each portioned financier, then create a well in the center of each, approximately the size of a nickel and 1/2-inch deep. Fill each well with one tablespoon of your favorite marmalade, jam, or fruit butter.

Bake in a 375-degree oven for 15-20 minutes until financiers are deep golden brown on the edges and uniformly golden on top. Remove from the muffin tins and allow to cool fully before enjoying.


Hazelnut Sables
  • 1 cup butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 vanilla bean, scraped
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup hazelnuts, toasted and roughly chopped
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar for coating

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter with powdered sugar and scraped vanilla bean.

Mix on medium speed until fluffy and light in color and texture. Stop mixer and scrape bowl and paddle with a spatula.

Add flour, salt, and toasted hazelnuts. Mix fully on low speed, just until blended. Do not overmix.

Remove dough from bowl and turn out onto your workspace. Knead very gently one to two times just to ensure no dry spots of flour remain.

Separate dough into three equal parts. Work these portions gently into an even cylinder shape, about one inch in diameter. Roll tightly in parchment or wax paper.

Place dough logs in the refrigerator to chill for 10-15 minutes (at this point, dough can be stored in an airtight container for up to 3-4 days before baking). Remove from the refrigerator, allow dough to soften for 5 minutes, then unwrap each log and roll in granulated sugar.

Slice logs into cookies about ¼-inch thick. Place on a baking sheet leaving a 1-inch space between each cookie.

Bake in a 350-degree oven for 8-10 minutes, rotating the pan 180 degrees halfway through.

Sables should be golden brown around the edges, and lightly golden in the centers. Allow to cool fully.

Makes about 4 dozen shortbread cookies


(Photography by Fred+Elliott)

Mandarin Frangipane Galette

1 recipe of your favorite pie dough, enough for a dough circle 12 inches in diameter and ¼-inch thick.

  • 1 cup butter, room temperature
  • 11/4 cups granulated sugar
  • Zest of 1 orange
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • 3 whole eggs, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups almond flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 4-6 mandarin oranges or tangerines
  • 1 whole egg, whisked well, for egg wash
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar for sprinkling on top
  • vanilla ice cream or whipped cream to serve

Using your favorite pie or galette dough, roll and cut out to ¼-inch thickness and 12 inches in diameter. Place on a baking sheet fitted with parchment paper. Keep covered in refrigerator until ready to use.

For the frangipane: in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter, sugar, orange and lemon zests together until fluffy, about 3-5 minutes on medium speed.

Scrape down the sides and bottom of bowl with a spatula. Add eggs and mix again just until combined.

Add flour, almond flour, and salt. Mix on low speed to combine. Scrape down the sides and bottom of bowl, and mix again on low until fully homogeneous. Set aside.

To assemble the galette: peel mandarins and slice horizontally ¼-inch thick using a sharp serrated knife.

Spread frangipane on pie dough in a smooth, even circle leaving 1 ½ -2 inches uncovered around the edges.

Place mandarin slices atop the frangipane in a concentric pattern, overlapping slightly to fill the frame.

Fold remaining edge of pie dough up and over the edge of mandarins, working in 2-inch sections to create a rippled edge without valleys that would allow juice to escape while baking.

Brush egg wash all over the pie dough folded edge, then sprinkle the entire galette liberally with granulated sugar.

Bake at 375 degrees for 20 minutes, then rotate your baking sheet 180 degrees and continue baking for 15-20 minutes until the edge is fully golden brown and the edges of the mandarin slices are colored.

Remove from oven and slide onto a cooling rack, off the baking sheet. Allow to cool 10 minutes before serving.

Serve warm or at room temperature with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream with creme fraiche (½ cup heavy cream whipped with 2 tablespoons powdered sugar and 1 tablespoon creme fraiche).


This article originally appeared in the April 2022 issue.

June 11, 2022

Star Gazing and Laser Nights

Virginia Living Museum
July 9, 2022

Star Gazing and Laser Nights

Virginia Living Museum
August 13, 2022

Star Gazing and Laser Nights

Virginia Living Museum