Friday, January 30, 2015

Madeleines

  Madeleines, I think I have an obsession with these tiny bites of buttery, lemony goodness. Unfortunately here in the States most people know these little cakes as prepackaged treats that are most commonly found at the register in Starbucks.


  These packaged goodies, while tasty, are about as close to real madelienes as corn syrup is to maple syrup. A nurse I used to work with would always walk into report with her cup of joe in hand and a package of these "cookies" as she used to call them. She would always offer one to me which I would politely turn down. One day she asked me what was wrong with her "cookies". Oh where to begin!

  So first things first, madeleines are not cookies, but small cakes. Secondly they should be made fresh, eaten still warm and dunked in steaming cups of coffee not shaken from a plastic wrapper! Third real freshly baked madeleines just have this certain je ne sais quoi,they have a slight crust on them from baking and a less crumbly more spongy texture. Oh and the butter, the rich buttery flavor you get when they are actually made with real butter.


  Being unable to find an acceptable approximation of the real thing I of course made it a mission to learn how to make these little bites of french goodness for myself. As I quickly learned the recipe is deceptively simple and, as with any French recipe, there is an art to making these little devils that only comes with time and experience but the end result is so worth it!

  So let me tell you what I have learned from trial and error when making these little beauties.

   First be patient and attentive, madeleines are not cookies, you cannot rush them together, plop them out and expect them to turn out. The batter should be rested for at least 3 hours, longer if you can wait. I have tried making them with unrested batter but found the texture just wasn't right. 

  Secondly treat your ingredients with care. Eggs absolutely must be a room temperature, this is because you don't (shouldn't) use any leavening agents when making madeleines. All your air is going to come from the eggs you beat and room temperature eggs beat up much better than cold ones. If you forget to leave your eggs out don't fret, simply plop them into a bowl of warm water and let take a bath. Also be choosy about your butter, as these cakes are going to get much of their flavor from it, you want one that you can actually taste. That being said I usually buy European style or Irish butter, trust me you can get it at any grocery store. 


  Third, while you don't need fancy equipment for these you will need a couple of madeleine pans. Don't fret about buying the most expensive gourmet ones you can get, I bought a couple of cheap non stick ones for about $10 and they work great. Do however pay attention to the size, most pans sold in the US are considered mini madeleine pans and it will affect how long you bake them. While a stand up mixer is not essential I highly recommend some electric beater. The eggs need to be whipped until they are foamy, thick and pale, it takes about 8 minutes in my stand up mixer on high to achieve this. While Julia Child asserted that this could be done with a whisk, by hand I honestly don't have the time or want for that kind of upper body workout , I'm not that domesticated or masochistic. A hand held electric mixer works fine, promise. 
  

  As I said before the recipe for madeleines is deceptively simple consisting of flour, sugar, eggs and some flavoring (good vanilla and lemon zest). They key is getting enough air into the eggs, I learned over time that you really have to beat the heck out of the eggs. If you are a visual person like me a good, quick tutorial can be found here it will give you a good idea of what your eggs should look like.

  My go to recipe is adapted from David Lebovitz's amazing recipe for Lemon-Glazed Madeleines. I suggest reading his post as it has some great tips. In the end it may be a labor of love, but home baked madeleines are worth it, when you master the art of making them you will never again find yourself at the Starbucks register with a package in hand.



Lemon Madeleines

  • 3 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 2/3 cup  granulated sugar
  • rounded 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/4 cup  flour
  • zest of one small lemon
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 9 tablespoons  unsalted butter, melted and cooled to room temperature, plus additional melted butter for preparing the molds
1. Brush the indentations of a madeleine mold with melted butter and place in the fridge or freezer.
2. In the bowl of a standing electric mixer, whip the eggs, granulated sugar, and salt for 5 minutes until frothy and thickened. The eggs should be a pale lemon color and form ribbons when the beaters are lifted. (If you are unsure about how this should look see the tutorial linked above)
3. Spoon the flour into a sifter or mesh strainer and use a spatula to fold in the flour as you sift it over the batter. Be gentle, you don't want to push out all the air you worked so hard to get into the eggs.
4. Add the lemon zest to the cooled butter, then dribble the butter into the batter, a few spoonfuls at a time, while simultaneously folding to incorporate the butter. Fold just until all the butter is incorporated.
5. Cover the bowl and refrigerate for at least 3 hours. (Batter can be chilled for up to 12 hours.)
6. To bake the madeleines, preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
8. Plop enough batter in the center of each indentation with enough batter which you think will fill it by 3/4’s this is not an exact science. Do not spread it.
10. Bake for 8-9 minutes (less if you use "mini molds") or until the cakes just feel set. They are done when you press on the tops and they spring back. Do not over bake them, there is nothing worse than a dry madeleine.
11.  Remove from the oven and tilt out onto a cooling rack, brew a pot of coffee and grab a couple to dunk while they are still warm!

This recipe makes 24 regular sized madeleines or 48 "mini" sized. Madeleines don't keep well so they should be eaten the day of but can be kept for a couple of days in an air tight container, if they last that long!