Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Madeleines

Madeleine (pronunciation: mad-lenn) are a type of Genoise sponge cake baked in the shape of a shell. Genoise cakes are defined by the lack of a leavening agent; the recipes just rely on the air whipped into the batter itself. So if you see a recipe that calls for baking powder, it's a phony!

I love madeleines because they're delicate, have crispy edges, and can be made in a variety of flavors. I'd tried almond ones countless times before but over the summer, at Cafe Boulud in Palm Beach, I got to try a lemony variety, which were really good. So of course, when I saw a madeleine pan while shopping at HomeGoods a few weeks ago, I bought one and made a batch and it was one of the best decisions I made (at least that day).


Ingredients [yields 1 dozen]:
**Madeleine pan** (I bought mine for $8)
1/2 stick of butter (1/4 cup) + 1/2 tablespoon for greasing
2 eggs
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup + 1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 cup flour
zest of 1 whole lemon
powdered sugar for garnish
What's so special about a madeleine pan? You could try and make this recipe using a muffin/cupcake tin but I'll just save you from the shame right now by saying that though they will still taste great, the texture will be literally like eating a sponge - no variation in texture. The shell shape is ideal because deeper center makes the cake fluffy and poofy but the shallow sides yield lovely crispy edges. Those crispy edges are what I'm all about.

First things first, melt a bunch of butter. The 1/4 cup of butter should rest somewhere and come to room temperature. The other 1/2 tablespoon will be used for greasing the pan. Also, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Using a pastry brush or your finger or whatever tool you think will be suitable, brush butter into the molds.
Set the pan aside once it's greased. And yes, I realize it's a non-stick mold. The butter isn't necessarily sticking-insurance; it's about flavor. Ask Paula Deen and she will agree that butter makes everything better.
In a medium sized bowl (or a large one if you prefer), crack the eggs and add in vanilla and salt.
By the way, did you notice I used one brown egg and one white egg? There's no special reason for this except that we had both colors in the fridge and I decided that I wanted to use two different eggs.
Anyway, this next part is easier if you have an electric mixer. You can still achieve the same results by hand but it will take longer and your arm will be tired. Whip together the eggs, vanilla, and salt until they're frothy. Then dump in the sugar and mix on high for 15 minutes. You will see the mixture slowly transform from a rich yolky yellow to pale yellow to beige to off-white, all the while it'll be growing in volume. By mixing furiously, you are incorporating lots and lots of air bubbles in between the molecules of egg and sugar and whatever else. These air bubbles are what will give you an airy cake.
The batter should be thick and create a "ribbon." It should look almost like marshmallow fluff, except a teeny bit runnier.
At this point, it's time to abandon the electric mixer. From now on, the rubber spatula will be your sous chef.
Measure out the flour. Sift the flour into the fluffy egg mixture a little bit at a time (I like to do it in 4 installments) and fold after each addition. Gently! Gentleness is key because you don't want to waste all the effort and time you spent incorporating air into the batter. Add flour, fold, add flour, fold, etc. until all of the flour is incorporated.
Next, add in the lemon zest. Zesting lemons will make your house smell like sunshine and summer. Add in the butter; I like to pour it around the edge of the bowl. Then slowly fold it in. Adding the butter around the edge will let a lot of it drip down the sides and under the batter so that you don't have a deep greasy layer to stir through and it helps prevent over-mixing. Another technique is to dilute the butter with a bit of batter and lighten it before adding it to the bowl. I say, "to each her (or his) own!" Do what you think is easiest and/or best and will yield the fluffiest batter.
Scoop batter into the mold. I used my 1-1/2 tablespoon cookie scoop which was perfect.
Bake the madeleines in a 350 degree oven for 12 minutes, or until the edges are brown and the centers aren't jiggly anymore.
Another way to test their doneness is to press the center. If the cake seems springy, it's done. Don't worry about burning your finger. The cakes are so light and airy that even though they're hot, 2 seconds of contact won't set your finger on fire.
Remove from the mold to reveal the pretty scalloped shell shape.
To serve, wrap madeleines in a towel, dust with powdered sugar and serve immediately. They're best when warm.
If you're not ready to serve them right away, wrap them up in the paper towel to trap in some heat.
Otherwise, grab a few and EAT.
See how fluffy and delicious? The lemony flavor is fresh and fragrant. Bon apetit.

And I'm going to try and start this new thing: recipe pages. Hopefully, it'll make things easier if you want to make these recipes yourself.

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