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I'm a guy who likes to cook, eat, and drink, but not necessarily in that order. This blog is nothing fancy; just my random thoughts about anything that can be baked, roasted, or fried. Enjoy!

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Madeleines (After Trial & Error)

Marcel Proust referred to madeleines as a “seashell cake so strictly pleated outside and so sensual inside.” I couldn’t agree more—the madeleine is one of my favorite treats. In fact, almost every Friday morning, I grab a package at Starbucks on the way to work. 

Apparently, I'm not the only one who likes madeleines. The British pop duo The Pet Shop Boys reference the madeleine in one of their songs, Memory of the Future:

Over and over again
I keep tasting that sweet madeleine
looking back at my life now and then
asking: if not later then when?

Like many things culinary, the origin of the madeleine is obscure and subject to debate.  According to Larousse Gastronomique, there are two possible creation myths. The first is that Avice, the chef to the famous French statesman Talleyrand, began baking a pound-cake mixture in aspic moulds.

The discover of the madeleine?
Others, however, believe that the recipe is much older and originated in the French town of Commercy, which was then a duchy under the rule of Stanislaw Leszczynsky.  Apparently, during a visit to the castle in 1755, the Duke was very taken with a cake made by a peasant named Madeleine. Thus began the fashion for madeleines (so named by the Duke). The madeleine really hit the big time when the Duke’s daughter, Marie, who was married to Louis XV, introduced it to the royal court at Versailles.  

As much as I like madeleines, I had never made any. That changed this past weekend, when I decided to give it a try. I was surprised to find that madeleines are pretty simple to make, at least when you remember to add a key ingredient! (More on that later.)

©2013 Chris Terrell
The first step was to get a madeleine pan. While I normally eschew any kind of baking that requires special pans or equipment, I made an exception this time. So I stopped by the nearest Sur La Table and grabbed one. (I really did get just this one thing, which is amazing. SLT is like the Walmart of cooking stores—it is nearly impossible to go in and buy one thing (e.g., a spatula), and not walk out of the store having spent a couple hundred bucks or more (e.g., sous vide machine)!

Next, find a recipe. After looking at several, I landed on one from one of my latest cookbook acquisitions: I Know How to Cook by Ginette Matzot. It is the French version of our Joy of Cooking or the Italian Silver Spoon. And while the title sounds a little silly to an American ear—in French, Je sais cuisiner, sounds sexier—it is a great French cookbook.  Here’s the recipe (doubled), found on page 807:


½ Cup (2 sticks) butter, softened, plus extra for greasing
4 large eggs
1½  cup superfine or castor sugar (if you don’t have this, take regular sugar and grind it in a food processor)
2½ cups flour (critical ingredient!)
1½ teaspoons vanilla extract
zest of one large lemon

Preheat oven to 400℉. Grease madeleine pan with butter. Whisk the eggs and sugar with an electric until the mixture turns white and triples in volume. Slowly fold in the flour and butter, then the vanilla and lemon zest. Pour into the prepared pans and bake for 8-10 minutes.

Makes 24
Preparation Time: 20 minutes
Cooking Time: 8-10 minutes

As you can see this is a fairly simple recipe. That being said, however, I had a tough time with this one. Maybe I was tired; maybe I was distracted (twin 11-year-old boys clamoring for the finished product); but the first batch was an unholy mess. When preparing the batter, I noticed it looked a bit odd. Perhaps a bit too thin and almost curdled. Oh well, I thought, it is probably suppose to be this way. What did I know, I had never made madeleines before! After 10 minutes, I looked into the stove. They...looked...done….even if they had an odd yellowish color. 

©2013 Chris Terrell
Proust is rolling over in his grave!
Once I took them out, however, they collapsed into a gooey mess in the pan. I was flummoxed.  What happened?, I thought. I glanced over at page 807 of the cookbook and there in plain Helvetica was the word FLOUR! Oh crap! I forgot the flour! In baking, that’s like forgetting to lower the landing gear on an Airbus A380 on approach to Narita International Airport. Perhaps the Insouciant Chef had finally lived up to his name!

©2013 Chris Terrell
Anyway, I rebounded and started over. I added the flour and put another batch in the oven and, a mere ten minutes later, out came perfect madeleines. My kids gobbled them up. I was redeemed!

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