01 June 2009

such petite little things

I think there has been written more about madeleines than those delicate little things can bear. From Marcel Proust to almost every blogger out here everyone has an opinion on them.

So far I managed to abstain from adding my pinch of salt to this sea of words. But, as it seems to be the thing with resolutions, this week I see no way around it.

I mean, this blog is supposed to be about what I do in my kitchen, about learning new things and reclaiming old favorites. I couldn't just omit a crucial staple of our household just because it is a common thing, could I now?

Basically, it is all the fault of my father-in-law. Since I have known him, he's been very fond of madeleines. Bagged, industrial fare with more additives than can possibly fit into such petite little things, but still he loves them none the less.

Naturally, his favourite brand was 'discontinued' one of these days. When we were on holiday in France last spring, he tried various brands of madeleines from the french shops, and was reasonably happy with the stock we brought home. But naturally, those didn't last forever, and soon enough it was my job to learn how to make them myself.

I had never been much a fan of madeleines, I have to admit, until the moment I pulled my first batch out of the oven. They are not more than rather plain, cookie-sized cakes really, but they are lovely, suffused with the aromes of brown butter and caramel when fresh, and still moist and soft and comforting after two weeks in a jar.

I am pretty much in love with them right now, and there is hardly a month where I am not making at least one batch of them to refill the big bow of them in our larder, as it was the case this weekend. It just isn't a proper home without them.

This particular recipe was adapted from Suas' Advanced Bread and Pastry, a book I can only recommend to anyone interested in the matter.

It is the plain, unfancy version, delicious and by far my favourite, but there are like a million ways to add some more colour to this recipe. Have a look at Dorie Greenspan's marvelous blog, for example, she'll give you enough ideas to last a lifetime.

Some of them are a little dark, technically. But I have to admit that I like them best this way...

(makes about 60 small cookies)

300g butter

300g flour
9g (about three flattened teaspoons) baking powder

280g unrefined cane sugar
a generous pinch of salt
50g honey
5 eggs

In a small pot or measuring jar, melt the butter and set aside to cool.
Some recipes suggest to use brown butter, but I have tried and couldn't find any difference, so I skip that part.

Sift the flour with the baking powder and set aside.
Usually, I am not one for sifting flour as it seems a pretty pointless effort to me nowadays. But in this case, where you try to agitate the dough as little as possible, getting the flour as fluffy as possible actually makes a difference.

In a mixing bowl, blend the eggs with the sugar, the salt and the honey with a wooden spoon or a rubber spatula, until the sugar has mostly dissolved.
There is no need to work in air at this moment, and also you don't have to go on mixing all the time. I usually just stir the eggs into the sugar and then clean up the kitchen, once I am done the sugar has almost gone already.

Gently fold in the flour, mixing only until the flour is almost incorporated.

Add the cool but still liquid butter and fold in until just incorporated.

Cool for at least two hours, best overnight.

Neat, isn't it?

Preheat your oven to 240°C, and prepare your madeleine molds.
My madeleine molds are well-used, so I don't have to grease them any longer. I merely wipe them with a paper towel before each use, and never put them in the dishwasher. If yours are new, you'll probably have to grease them lightly.

Pipe the cooled dough into the molds, filling each shell to about three quarters.
If you don't bake them immediately, put the molds in the fridge. It seems the colder the dough, the nicer the madeleines.

Put the molds into the oven and immediately reduce the temperature to 170°C. Bake until well bronzed and matte on top.
Madeleines are a little sensitive to variations in heat, so baking time and position in your oven might vary significantly from mine.

Once done, take the madeleines out and leave to cool for a few minutes. Unmold the madeleines as soon as you can and leave them on a cookie rack to cool completely.

They are best fresh, as long as they are still a little crisp and taste of brown butter caramel. From the second day on, they are still very nice, and keep amazingly well in the fridge.
My father-in-law keeps a constant reserve of these little treats in the office fridge to go with his daily coffee, and he swears they would last perfectly for several weeks if ever he would let any of them get old enough.

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