I cannot claim to have had a Proustian moment with a Madeleine and cup of tea in my youth since the sad truth is I grew up in a Madeleine-less world. Somehow I managed to make it to adulthood on a diet which included snickerdoodles, sticky buns, and sour cream coffee cake but nary a nibble of the sweet cakes Proust remembered. Which goes a long way to explaining why I have become obsessed with rectifying this deficiency. Madeleines are divine and no childhood should be without a few dozen or more (over the years, not all at once). My friend Alexis, who lives in Paris, sent Shawn and I madeleine pans from France as a wedding present. Over the years I have acquired madeleine pans of all shapes and sizes am continually on the lookout for more (though I eschew the non-stick pans which the butter renders unnecessary). Next to the Best Chocolate Cake Cupcakes I find madeleines a quick, satisfying treat on the non-chocolate side of baking.
One of the advantages of learning to make madeleines in adulthood is that I got to teach my sister Heather how to make them. It seems my teaching skills are somewhat limited since I received the following phone call shortly after giving her the recipe:
“Cindy you aren’t going to believe what happened to my madeleines. I used the recipe you sent me but they came out the size of baseballs and they’re hairy!”
It was very lucky I wasn’t eating a madeleine at that moment because I might have choked to death laughing. Yes I know I’m a rotten person to laugh at someone else’s cooking mistakes but hairy, baseball sized madeleines? You would have laughed too–admit it. The thought of these ginormous cakes in need of a haircut was amusing to say the least. Turns out she’d used an inexpensive pastry brush to butter the pans with and bristles had come out and stuck to the pan. Add to that the fact that Heather owns only one 12-madeleine pan which she used for all the batter rather than splitting it into two batches (the recipe makes 24). My advice was pragmatic – I suggested she get out her tweezers to remove the offending bristles and eat the oversized madeleines as long as they were cooked all the way through. No reason to waste a perfectly good madeleine just because it is deformed. I am happy to report that Heather now makes divine madeleines with nary a bristle in the batch.
Years of madeleine taste testing has led me to a tweaked version of Julia Child’s recipe from her book Way to Cook. With recipes whose primary taste is butter my first bit of advice is buy the best butter you can afford. I always use unsalted butters though with the rise in the price of butter the brand varies depending what was on sale and how flush my pocket-book is that week. Land O’Lakes, Kerrygold, Vermont Creamery, and Plugrá are all excellent choices. I also love the taste of lemon so my version has much more lemon peel and juice in it than in Julia’s version.
2/3 cup sugar
1 stick unsalted butter (4 ounces), plus 1 Tablespoon more for greasing the pans
zest of 2 medium lemons, finely grated
juice of 1-2 lemons
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup flour, plus 1 Tablespoon more for greasing the pans
powdered sugar for dusting
Preheat oven to 375º F. Melt stick butter and let cool slightly. Mix eggs and sugar together until well blended. Add the lemon zest, juice, and vanilla. Mix in the cup of flour and salt then start beating in the melted butter. It will take a few minutes for that much butter to incorporate into the batter. Do not despair just keep folding. The batter will become smooth and glossy once you’ve fully incorporated it. Let the batter rest while you pop the remaining Tablespoon of butter into the butter melting pan along with the extra Tablespoon of flour and whisk them around the pan with a pastry brush (not the cheap kind that drops its bristles) until the butter is melted. Then paint two 12 madeleine pans with the butter-flour slurry and spoon the batter evenly into the 24 spaces. Bake 15 minutes or until the edges are browned and the centers of each madeleine have domed in the middle.
When they come out of the oven give each pan a good whack on the counter or cutting board which should loosen the little cakes from their pans. Turn out onto wire racks and cool. When cool dust lightly with powdered sugar (if desired) and serve with tea or a cold glass of milk or a glass of champagne.
Proust may have been wrong about the memory of how they crumbled in a cup of tea, but he wasn’t wrong to remember how fantastic these scalloped shaped little cakes are. In my opinion they don’t deserve to be dropped in a cup of tea, but rather nibbled out of hand while sipping your beverage of choice.