Sunday, April 27, 2008

Sunday snacks, courtesy of M. Proust.

In what is probably the most famous food-related passage in the history of prose, Marcel Proust waxes nostalgic about the madeleine. "The little scallop-shell of pastry," he writes, is "so richly sensual under its severe religious folds."

For Proust, the taste of the buttery, eggy madeleine (dipped in tea) recalls image upon image from his childhood,
"as in the game wherein the Japanese amuse themselves by filling a porcelain bowl with water and steeping in it little pieces of paper which until then are without character or form, but, the moment they become wet, stretch and twist and take on colour and distinctive shape, become flowers or houses or people."

And so it's clear that the madeleine is no ordinary cookie, but one saddled with an extraordinary history. It has become so symbolic of French identity that it was chosen to represent the country at the Cafe Europe expo in 2006.

You would think, given all this hoopla, that the madeleine is hard to make. You'd be wrong. Nothing, really, could be easier. Yes, it's true - you do need the special, shell-shaped pan - but other than that, it's one of the simplest things you can bake. Add to that the opportunities for endless variety (add orange juice and zest, do the same with lemon, maybe infuse the butter with a bit of lavender), and you begin to understand the madeleine's enduring popularity, and also why it's my go-to afternoon treat.

The recipe I'm including here is the simplest version - play around with it, find variations you like. It's a small-batch recipe, since madeleines are best fresh out of the oven. However, it multiplies really easily, so if you're feeding a crowd, double and triple at will. This afternoon, I whipped up a honey-flavored batch.

Basic Madeleines

2 eggs
1/3 cup sugar
Pinch of kosher salt
1/2 cup of flour, sifted*
4 tbs. unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly, plus extra butter for greasing the pans
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Pre-heat the oven to 375°F and grease the madeleine pan(s), making sure to get butter in each little ridge.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the eggs, sugar and salt until thick - this will take about 5-8 minutes, depending on your eggs.

Fold in the flour until well-combined, then quickly stir in melted butter and vanilla. Spoon the batter into the greased pan(s) and bake till slightly golden brown around the edges, and until the sponge bounces back when touched.

Cool in the pan for a few minutes, then turn the cookies out onto a plate or some parchment paper.

Makes a dozen large or 24 miniature madeleines.

*I'm normally not much of a stickler for sifting, but it's actually really important here if you want a fluffy, spongy cookie.


Ginelle said...

Thanks! I have been searching for the perfect madeleine recipe! My little niece madeleine arrives next month for an extended NH stay and I've been wanting to make them for her for well - three years! Do you have a pan preference? non-stick, reg or silicone? or a size preference sm or lg madeleines?

Meg Blocker said...

Aw! Madeleines for Madeleine! So cute.

I've used both plain steel (Which I bought at Dehillerin in Paris, yay!) and non-stick, and I prefer the steel. Another thing to consider is the depth of the scalloping. You want a deep ridge for the drama and for the texture contrast. Sur La Table carries a nice one in the store, but I don't see it on their site.

Let the pan cool slightly between batches, and be sure to re-grease it between batches, so that you don't get a sticking situation.

Also, a bit of advice - if you dribble batter onto the pan, wipe it up with a damp paper towel before baking. You'll prevent a lot of burned-on yuckiness.

I love the regular-sized madeleines for snacking, but for a really elegant cookie-with-coffee, the little ones can't be beat. Just be sure to use a tiny spoon to put the batter into the pan - I use my half-teaspoon measure, typically.

Louisa Edwards said...

FYI - Julia's recipe involved brown butter, instead of regular melted butter, and it gives the cookies a subtle nutty flavor that I adore.

Meg Blocker said...

I almost (accidentally) made Sunday's batch with brown butter! Of course Julia takes the extra time and care, while I almost let the butter go too long.

Though I suppose that's how happy accidents happen, right?

Anonymous said...

Mmmmmmmmmmm that was one of the things I really loved about working together, when you'd bring these treats (and various others!) into the office. ;-( no such chef on my staff yet at the new place. Still loving your blog. Hope all is well. Kate McG

Federation President Barry Fife said...

Can you please advise re: your honey flavored batch? I am intrigued by honey flavored cookies and how the batter consistency changes with honey. How much less sugar do you use?

If US customs allowed me, I'd send you some local honey. People here are really into it and you get various kinds of "single flower" honey. Alas, bringing in honey is almost the worst crime you can commit in the eyes of customs, right after unpasteurized cheese and dead bodies.

Meg Blocker said...

I basically added in two tablespoons of honey and reduced the sugar by one tablespoon. I find the madeleines are pretty good for experimentation - they're not sensitive to a little extra liquid here and there so long as you get the eggs fluffy enough.

I just used some clover honey that I had around - I actually have some really nice honey a cousin gave me, but it's at the office (I shipped it back from Christmas in Minnesota, and it's been flavoring my office tea ever since).

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