Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Mad about Madeleines

What is it about the Madeleine? Many have fallen victim to their love affair with this elusive tea cake hailing from the Lorraine region of France. Yes, elusive. For no one seems to be able to truly agree upon what a Madeleine is, other than a small scallop shaped tea cake/cookie/biscuit.

I have noticed people turn to Proust's description in Remembrance of Things for a possible clue.

Many years had elapsed during which nothing of Combray, save what was comprised in the theater 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 molded 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 savors, could, no, indeed, be of the same nature. Whence did it come? What did it mean? How could I seize and apprehend it?

I drink a second mouthful, in which I find nothing more than in the first, then a third, which gives me rather less than the second. It is time to stop....

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.

And as soon as I had recognized the taste of the piece of madeleine soaked in her decoction of lime-blossom which my aunt used to give me (although I did not yet know and must long postpone the discovery of why this memory made me so happy) immediately the old gray house upon the street, where her room was, rose up like a stage set to attach itself to the little pavilion opening on to the garden which had been built out behind it for my parents (the isolated segment which until that moment had been all that I could see); and with the house the town, from morning to night and in all weathers, the Square where I used to be sent before lunch, the streets along which I used to run errands, the country roads we took when it was fine. And 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 color and distinctive shape, become flowers or houses or people, solid and recognizable, so in that moment all the flowers in our garden and in M. Swann's park, and the water-lilies on the Vivonne and the good folk of the village and their little dwellings and the parish church and the whole of Combray and its surroundings, taking shape and solidity, sprang into being, town and gardens alike, from my cup of tea.

Concerns over "the crumb", whether it should be hard or soft, dry or moist, the structural integrity upon dunking in one's tea, or should it even be dunked in ones tea. Should it be dissolved to crumbs instead? The arguments abound as everyone cerebralizes the whole thing to the point that this little bit of Genoise based tea cake has been turned into a quest for Shangra La. OYE!

Poppy Cock, I say. Stop over thinking it and just enjoy them... with Lime-Blossom Tisane, of course. ;)

The key to a well made Madeleine is European butter and getting as much air incorporated into the eggs as possible. Oh, and your gonna need a Madeleine pan. For the only things that anyone ever agrees on is that they are shell shaped and flavored with Lemon Zest. LOL

Personally though, I prefer the intoxicating perfume of Meyer Lemon over Eureka Lemon.

Meyer Lemon Petites Madeleines

10 1/2 TB (150 g) European Butter, Unsalted
3 large Eggs, minus 2 tsp (150 g), Room Temp (or 2 Large eggs and 1 Medium egg)
2/3 cup (150g) Caster Sugar (if using Regular Granulated, it's 3/4 cup)
1/2 tsp Kosher Salt
3/4 tsp Meyer Lemon Zest
1 cup plus 3 TB (150 g) AP Flour

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Melt the butter.

Brush the Madeleine tin with some of the melted butter, (set the remaining butter aside to cool)

then dust the pan with flour and place in the refrigerator.

Use a fork or whisk to lightly beat the eggs then, if you are a little anal retentive like me, remove about 2 tsp of the beaten egg; this makes about 150g (3 large eggs is about 167g)

Place the beaten eggs in your mixing bowl along with the Sugar, Salt and Meyer Lemon Zest.

Whisk the egg mixture until light, foamy and thickened. It's gonna take awhile......

Probably about 8-10 minutes, before you reach maximum volume. (this is known as ribbon stage, and it's the only leavening for the cakes)

Sift a little flour onto the egg mixture and begin folding.

Sift in a little more flour and fold again. (this should take about 10 additions to keep from deflating the batter)

Once the flour has been added, begin slowly folding in the melted butter, 2 TBs at a time.

Again, be patient and careful to not deflate the batter

Spoon a 1 TB of batter into each depression in the madeleine mold; don't smooth it out, the batter will spread when baking. (Personally, I think letting the batter spread itself assists in creating the characteristic "hump" on the back)

Bake for 10 -12 minutes, just until the edges begin to turn golden brown.

Remove tray from oven and knock against the cooling rack, they should all fall out.

Turn them, bump side down and allow to cool completely before dusting with confectioners' sugar.

Arrange on a plate and serve with Lime-Blossom Tisane.

I suppose it would be more appropriate to serve the tisane in a Haviland-Limouge tea cup, but I don't have one of those, so Belleek "Thistle" it is; and a few experiments with lighting...



Dajana said...

Wonderfully looking madeleines. I've only made them ones, they had "vulcano-like" hump, but were rather good, and everyone agreed, even the non-dessert lovers that my family is full of :))) I'm really in the mood for some, you wouldn't pass me a couple of those Mayer lemons, would you, pleeeeeeeeeese?
ps. I've read that the secret for creating a hump is the temperature difference, i.e. the batter should be refrigerated for at least 3 hours (or overnight) and the oven very hot. Honestly, mine were exaggarated. These are just perfect and so cute.

The Dutch Baker's Daughter said...

Wouldn't you know, I have a Williams-Sonoma gift card burning a hole in my pocket and I was eyeing, of all things, a madeleine pan! I love the Mayer lemon twist you did....making these for sure.

Danielle said...

I've never had the pleasure of enjoying a medeleine, regardless of its texture. I would really like some now!! they look so cute and so a grown-up sort of way (I'm not saying I'm a grown-up...but once in a while, it's nice to pretend that I am )

Aline said...

Those look amazing. Little detail, though: the bump is supposed to be on top, not on the bottom ;) At least that's how we eat them in France.