Saturday, June 8, 2013

Lemon Madeleines

I bought myself a mini madeleine pan in order to offset the depression and frustration I felt upon having to also buy a GRE prep book.

Ugh. I think I've utilized the madeleine pan more successfully than the book.

I hate having to do things during the summer. Anyways. </whinge>

You know, I always thought that madeleines were cookies, but it turns out that they are cakes! Butter cakes, to be specific. They were supposedly named for an 18th or 19th century pastry cook named Madeleine Paulmier, and are notably mentioned in Marcel Proust's À la recherche du temps perdu, which I have been meaning to read (in translation, seeing as I haven't yet learned French) for several years now.
Many years had elapsed during which nothing of Combray, save what was comprised in the theatre and the drama of my going to bed there, had any existence for me, when one day in winter, on my return home, my mother, seeing that I was cold, offered me some tea, a thing I did not ordinarily take. I declined at first, and then, for no particular reason, changed my mind. She sent for one of those squat, plump little cakes called "petites madeleines," which look as though they had been moulded in the fluted valve of a scallop shell. And soon, mechanically, dispirited after a dreary day with the prospect of a depressing morrow, I raised to my lips a spoonful of the tea in which I had soaked a morsel of the cake. No sooner had the warm liquid mixed with the crumbs touched my palate than a shudder ran through me and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary thing that was happening to me. An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses, something isolated, detached, with no suggestion of its origin. And at once the vicissitudes of life had become indifferent to me, its disasters innocuous, its brevity illusory - this new sensation having had on me the effect which love has of filling me with a precious essence; or rather this essence was not in me it was me. I had ceased now to feel mediocre, contingent, mortal. Whence could it have come to me, this all-powerful joy? I sensed that it was connected with the taste of the tea and the cake, but that it infinitely transcended those savours, could, no, indeed, be of the same nature. Whence did it come? What did it mean? How could I seize and apprehend it? (from the French Pleiade edition translated by C.K. Scott Moncrieff and Terence Kilmartin) (x)
Ah, the cake that launched a thousand memories.

Mainly, "oh mon dieu, how cute!" (Yeah no, that's just my take on madeleines. There's a reason Proust is famous and I'm not.)

This is probably not a beginner's baking expedition, but it wasn't impossible either. With a little help from my friends mom, I would say that my first madeleine attempt was a success!

Recipe is adapted from this French Butter Cakes (Madeleines) recipe.


- 2 eggs
- 3/4 tsp vanilla extract
- 1/8 tsp salt
- 1/4 cup white sugar
- 1/2 cup AP flour
- 1 Tbsp lemon zest
- 1/4 cup (4 Tbsp) butter
- (optional) powdered sugar for decoration

Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. (You may choose to turn on the oven a couple of steps later, after having beat the eggs/sugar mixture, but it won't hurt to preheat early so that you don't forget.)

Get your madeleine molds ready. This recipe makes a dozen (12) normal-sized madeleines, so should  make 24 mini madeleines. First, you need to butter your madeleine molds.

(I hate the smell of butter, especially raw. Anyways.) I melted my 1/4 cup butter in a covered bowl in the microwave for 30 seconds, checked, and then for another 30 seconds. Your microwave may work differently, so check at 30 second increments and add/subtract time accordingly.

Then, I used a small (basting) brush, just dipping the very tip into the melted butter, and brushed the madeleine molds lightly.

Then flour your molds. (Try not to make a mess like I did; a little flour per each mold should suffice.)

Set aside your madeleine mold pans and also the bowl of melted butter, which you should let cool to room temperature.

In a medium to large sized bowl, beat eggs, vanilla extract, and salt at high speed until light. Use a handmixer - it will be easier, and you will definitely need either a hand mixer or stand mixer for the following step. (I tried to just use a pair of chopsticks and my arm was about ready to secede from the rest of my body.)

Beating constantly, gradually add your sugar, and continue beating on high speed until mixture is thick and pale; ribbons should form in the bowl when you lift the beaters. (For me, I'd say this would probably take 5-7 minutes with a hand mixer.)

(There's no way you can do this without some sort of electric beater, unless your superpower is insane super fast mixing skills.)

Sift flour into egg mixture 1/3 at a time, gently folding after each addition.

Add lemon zest.

Pour melted butter around the edges of the batter, and quickly but gently fold the melted butter into the batter. You want to do this gently so that it stays fluffy.

Spoon your batter into the madeleine molds; the batter should mound slightly above the tops. You may want to lightly press the batter into the bottom of each mold, so that the cakes take on the molds' shape better. (I forgot to photograph this part, so instead you can see an action shot, about 3 minutes into already baking.)

Bake for 14-17 minutes, or until the madeleines are golden and the tops spring back when gently prodded by your fingertip (or you can use the ol' toothpick trick, wherein the toothpick should go in and come out of the center of the madeleine cleanly. Of course, this does create a little hole in the cake...)

Let cool. With a silicone pan like mine, the madeleines popped right out of their molds quite easily, but if you're using a nonstick madeleine pan, you may need to carefully use the tip of a knife to loosen the madeleines. These madeleines were nice and shapely-

but this is what I get for trying to stretch out the batter to 28 madeleines. (The crispiness was actually quite nice though.)

The original recipe says that madeleines are best eaten on the day that they are baked, which is true, but that doesn't stop me from savoring them days after having made them! They are especially good when dunked in coffee or tea (especially milk tea).

Either way, they look awfully nice! This is the type of thing I'd feel proud to serve at a dinner party. Not that I enjoy dinner parties, but I imagine the madeleines would make a get-together a little more bearable for the socially-inept types like me.

The madeleine shape is there, but the ribbed shell imprints are not so visible because I didn't press the batter into the molds. I will have to experiment with that next time! Additionally, the original recipe has an option for chocolate madeleines, which I will also have to try at some point.

Now I will leave you in the capable hands (words) of Proust:
And suddenly the memory revealed itself. The taste was that of the little piece of madeleine which on Sunday mornings at Combray (because on those mornings I did not go out before mass), when I went to say good morning to her in her bedroom , my aunt Léonie used to give me, dipping it first in her own cup of tea or tisane. The sight of the little madeleine had recalled nothing to my mind before I tasted it; perhaps because I had so often seen such things in the meantime, without tasting them, on the trays in pastry-cooks' windows, that their image had dissociated itself from those Combray days to take its place among others more recent; perhaps because of those memories, so long abandoned and put out of mind, nothing now survived, everything was scattered; the shapes of things, including that of the little scallop-shell of pastry, so richly sensual under its severe, religious folds, were either obliterated or had been so long dormant as to have lost the power of expansion which would have allowed them to resume their place in my consciousness. But when from a long-distant past nothing subsists, after the people are dead, after the things are broken and scattered, taste and smell alone, more fragile but more enduring, more unsubstantial, more persistent, more faithful, remain poised a long time, like souls, remembering, waiting, hoping, amid the ruins of all the rest; and bear unflinchingly, in the tiny and almost impalpable drop of their essence, the vast structure of recollection.

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