Friday, January 22, 2010
Let me start this post by saying I’m a madeleine snob. A bona fide, unrepentant madeleine snob. Don’t talk to me about those nasty little packets of “madeleine” by the cash register at your Starbucks. They’re awful, with texture seemingly composed, somehow, of paraffin. Those buckets of shell-shaped stuff masquerading as madeleines at Costco are not much better. They taste as though they’re made of Twinkies – oddly spongy, overtly sweet and redolent of fake vanilla. I don’t know what those pretenders are exactly, but I assure you they are *not* madeleines.
The perfect madeleine is elusive. It’s hard to find even in Paris. The problem is not that it’s hard to make. As you will see after this post (and a little time in your own kitchen playing with the recipe) it is not the case. Madeleines, even the perfect ones, are really quite simple to do. The problem, rather, is that its perfection is fleeting. It’s one of those things that are perfect minutes out of the oven, and then the quality erodes as the minutes tick by. The nearest specimen to a perfect madeleine I’ve had was a plain madeleine, the classic, baked to order and served warm and crisp at the edges with coffee to finish a hearty meal at Alain Ducasse’s Aux Lyonais in Paris. It’s been years, but it could’ve easily been yesterday.
The perfect madeleine, the Platonic Ideal of the form, is somewhere between a tender, moist cake, and a crisp, sweet cookie. The crumb should be tender, but not so it disintegrates when dunk into a cup of perfectly innocent tea. We all (claim to) read Proust – some of us even know it’s proost like boost and not proust like sprout – so we all know he dunk his. The dunkable structure is hence important, even at the expense of it being ever-so-slightly dry. The perfect madeleines also must have the signature bump, I prefer just a gentle, small bump, not an excessive hump that looks more like a malignant growth than anything else. My objection to the malignant hump is not for aesthetic but flavor. In order to get that kind of hump you’ll need to use a *lot* of baking powder, which means you’re going to taste it in your madeleines too.
Also important in a perfect madeleine is the scalloped edges and evenly brown color of the crust. This is why I don’t like using silicone molds to make them. No matter how easy they claim to be, they bake up madeleines that are not evenly brown on the bottom, but more in ugly patches or streaks unbefitting a perfect madeleine. I use an old tin
madeleine mold, the regular shiny sort, not a dark non-stick kind (which turns the madeleines too dark.) When it is buttered and floured properly, my tin bakes up madeleines with gorgeously, evenly brown crust that pop out of the molds easily with a gentle tap on the counter. (The tin mold I use is from Dehillerin in Paris, but Amazon has this one which is also good.)
This particular recipe is the one I developed for my friend Daniel Patterson’s article on the fragrant bergamot citrus for San Francisco magazine. Even if you don’t know what a bergamot is, you know of it. It’s what gives Earl Grey tea its ambrosia. In this recipe, I don’t just use the zest, but also the juice to add even more depth to the madeleine’s perfume. If you don’t have bergamot, you can use just about any fragrant citrus you can find – seville, meyer, even lime might be fun (though I’ve never tried it.)
- 4 eggs
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/3 cup bergamot syrup* (make this first)
- zest from 1 bergamot
- 2 cups minus 2 tablespoons flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1.5 stick(12 tablespoons or 180g) melted butter, cooled to room temperature (I use salted butter, or you can add a generous pinch of salt if all you have is unsalted.)
- You’ll also need about 2 Tabelspoons of soften butter and a little flour for the tin.
*For bergamot syrup
- 1/2 cup or 100ml of bergamot juice (from 1 or 2 bergamots)
- 1 cup sugar
In a small pan, cook bergamot juice and sugar over very low heat until syrupy and reduced by about 1/3, but don’t allow it to caramelize too much. Allow to cool completely before use. (Zest the bergamot before juicing and set aside for use in the recipe.)
In a stand mixer, beat egg and sugar until pale and fluffy. Add the bergamot syrup and the zest and beat well to combine.
Sift the flour and baking powder together. With the mixer speed on the lowest setting, fold in the dry ingredient gently. Remove the mixing bowl from the stand mixer and finish folding the rest of the flour into the batter by hand (with a rubber spatula).
Pour the butter into the batter. With the spatula, fold it in into the batter gently. Cut a piece of plastic wrap and press it directly on top of the batter to cover it completely to prevent a skin from forming. Cover the entire batter bowl and refrigerate for a few hours (or overnight) before use. Or instead of wraping the bowl, you can transfer the batter into a pastry bag and refrigerate the whole bag. This is what I do, and then you can pipe the batter right into the mold directly from the bag. Quite handy, really.
The rest period is important to ensure the classic madeleine bump – the batter must rest at least a couple of hours until it is cold, cold before use, the longer the better, up to a day ahead of baking.
If you’re making this for a party, you can make the batter up to a day ahead of time and let it rest in the fridge. Butter and flour the madeleine tin beforehand and keep it somewhere cold – the fridge is good if you have room. Make sure your oven is heated up to the right temperature, and just before it’s time for dessert, pipe the madeleine batter into the mold and bake them to order – it only takes 10 minutes. You’ll have crisp, fragrant madeleines that will both surprise and delight your guests.
Preheat the oven to 450F. Butter and flour tin madeleine mold. Use soften butter and not melted butter for this. Use a pastry brush (or crumple up a slightly damp towel) to brush the butter in each cavity, make sure you get into all the nooks and edges. Sift the flour over the buttered tin, shake it to distribute evenly, then flip the tin over and tap out the excess flour.
or spoon the batter into the pan (about 1.5″ round). Don’t over fill the molds as your madeleines won’t bump up nicely – so err on the side of underfill. This amount of
batter is easily enough for 36 madeleines. Bake for 6 minutes, then lower the heat to 400, crack open the oven door – stick a wooden spoon
in it if it doesn’t stay open on its own, and continue to bake for 2-4
minutes. Keep your eye on this, some ovens don’t lower the heat that
quickly, and your madeleines may be done in just two minutes. Remove
them from the oven as soon as the edges are brown and the top springs
back slightly when touched.
Let the tin rest on the countertop for a minute, then give a gentle tap on the counter, your madeleines should pop right out of the mold. They are at their best right then and there, so serve (or eat) them immediately if you can. Otherwise, let the madeleines cool down completely on a rack before transfering into an airtight container.
Wipe the tin clean with a damp towel, cool it for a couple minutes
in the freezer, then butter and flour the tin again to bake another batch.
Repeat until you finish all the batter. Or you can just wrap up the batter and keep it in the fridge to bake later. The batter, properly wrapped, will keep for a couple days in the fridge.