The Best Madeleines
I recently started this Masterclass course on French pastry fundamentals, presented by Chef Dominique Ansel. It’s beautifully shot, explained in a very simple, visual way and it teaches you a few basic recipes from the classic repertoire of French pastry. But what I find fascinating and frustrating at the same time, is how calm and clean everything looks, when he bakes. The atmosphere is all zen, the ingredients are mixed together like yin and yang and everything turns out perfect like in a movie with happy ending. In my reality, no matter how thoroughly I think about the mise-en-place, how hard I try to have all my ingredients nicely ordered on the counter and put back once they're used, something inevitably happens between minute 35 and 55, and it completely messes up the perfect sequence of my culinary universe. It can be someone calling, a message, the kid needing something urgently, juggling other household chores, or simply stopping to read that super interesting article I saved two days ago. And then the big bang explodes, the kitchen starts spinning and nothing will be ever brought back in control. But going back to the super calm Chef Ansel and his madeleines…
When I lived and studied in France, there were not too many things I could afford. But fresh baguettes, croissants, chouquettes and warm madeleines were my favourite things, and they were cheap. I tried many times to make madeleines at home but they never turned out right. So I couldn’t wait to try this recipe from Dominique Ansel, which he says, makes 100 mini madeleines. Not sure how small those minis are, but the mould I have, makes 25 in total. And they don't look big at all... You will have to test it a couple of times and write down not only the quantity you get from the recipe, but also the ideal baking time. For the mini madeleines in the original recipe, the Chef recommends 4 minutes baking time. But for the maxi ones I made, it took 11 minutes to get the right texture. They should still be light coloured, fluffy and soft, you definitely don’t want to overbake them. They are best eaten warm from the oven, and they are magical next to a delicate lime flowers tea, like in a Proustian memory:
And once I had recognized the taste of the crumb of madeleine soaked in her decoction of lime-flowers 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 grey house upon the street, where her room was, rose up like the scenery of a theatre to attach itself to the little pavilion, opening on to the garden, which had been built out behind it for my parents (the isolated panel 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 was sent before luncheon, the streets along which I used to run errands, the country roads we took when it was fine. (Marcel Proust, Swann's Way).
(Make the batter one day before baking)
115 g unsalted butter
15 g brown sugar
15 g honey
100 g white sugar
1 g salt
120 g sifted flour
4 g baking powder
3 large eggs (room temperature)
Lemon zest from ½ lemon
Orange zest from ½ orange
Melt the butter, together with brown sugar and honey and stir over low heat, until it dissolves.
In a large bowl, combine all the dry ingredients: the white sugar, flour, salt and baking powder. Then start adding the eggs, one by one, until it’s all combined and smooth.
Slowly incorporate the butter mixture into the flour mix, until you get a nice smooth batter. Add the orange and lemon zest. Cover with plastic wrap pressed directly on the batter so it doesn’t form a skin. Refrigerate until the next day.
Preheat oven at 190° and spray the madeleine mould with a non-stick spray. You can either use a piping back or just fill the forms with a little spoon. Depending on the size of the mould, you should bake them between 5 and 12 minutes. You know they are ready, when they have risen to form a small round pearl on top, and they are firm when you touch the centre. They should not be dark coloured, then they are overbaked.
Take them out of the mould immediately and eat them warm. They keep fresh for a couple of days, and they are amazing next to coffee, tea or milk.