I warn you: this is going to be a snobby post from beginning to end. Something about Francophilia, even if pastry related, gives you that haughty edge. But even though we’re no Freedom-Fry eaters, Phoebe and I really rarely do cook from the French tradition–give us Italian, Greek, Moroccan, or Thai over French any day–and so I figured we get a pass for this near faux pas.
This bout of French affection is, of course, pastry related, but it’s not about any of those weirdly unsatisfying Napoleon-type towers, or about big shiny Baba au Rhum. It’s about the butter little cakes called Madeleines.
See, I have had a great affection for Madeleines ever since my sister asked for, and received, a molded pan for her birthday one year. Like so much that is French, the proper Madeleine recipe is a funny mix of simple ingredients and a technique that is slightly more complicated than your run-of-the-mill cookie. Which, if you’re a baker, actually makes it more satisfying to make than your run-of-the mill cookie, since it takes focus and concentration.
Most Madeleines, as well as most Madeleine recipes, wind up being some manner of pound cake baked in the shell-shaped molds. But Madeleines are intended to be made with a genoise-like batter, an egg beaten with lots of sugar, then flour, with more butter than is strictly necessary dripped in at the end. This produces slightly dense little cakes that are most, without the post-pound cake dry mouth. I think part of the reason people end up going the pound cake route is because real madeleines don’t keep all that well. But if you have an occasion on which to serve madeleines hot from the oven, or nearly so, give this recipe a try. It doesn’t really matter if you have the right baking sheet or not—truthfully a mini-muffin pan will turn out delicious little cakes.
From my kitchen, where every so often I pay homage to the French, to yours,
Cara, THE QUARTER-LIFE COOK
3/4 cup butter (1 1/2 sticks)
1 cup sugar
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon vanilla
Preheat oven to 450°F. Butter the madeleine mold very, very thoroughly.
Melt the butter and set aside to come to room temperature.
Meanwhile, in a double boiler, heat the eggs and the sugar until lukewarm, stirring constantly. You’ll know they’re ready when a drop of them on your wrist feels like nothing.
Remove from heat and beat until thick but light and creamy, incorporating as much air as possible. This takes a while, up to 10 minutes. When cool, gradually add the flour, stirring to combine. The batter will seem like a paste.
Gently, add the cool melted butter and the vanilla or lemon zest. Stir to combine.
Distribute half the batter in the 12 Madeleine molds. Bake for about 10-12 minutes, until the Madeleines are puffed in the center and brown around the edges. Let cool about 3 minutes, then carefully pry them from the molds. Wash out all the crumbs, butter well again, and repeat with the second half of the batter. Serve as soon as possible, preferably within the day.