After college, unable to find a decent job during the recession with my highly practical Art History and French degrees, I moved to Paris. As one does. In actual fact, I had gotten a decent job teaching English in French primary schools through TAPIF (a program I still recommend to French-speaking graduates looking for work or thinking about travelling). My year there was fantastic: I worked hard, met wonderful people, ate amazing food, perfected my French, and travelled. I’d go back in a heartbeat.
One of the enduring things I learned in France though, was a deeper interest in cooking and baking. I like the idea that there is a ‘perfect’ recipe for something; the standard to which all other iterations of that dish are compared. There is a ‘perfect’ duck confit, a ‘perfect’ baguette, a ‘perfect’ macaron. Bistros and bakeries aspire to serve a dish that is ‘correct’ as this precision marks the pinnacle of traditional French cuisine.
Unfortunately, my own cooking is far from perfect. I am no Julia Child, no Pierre Hermé, no Alain Ducasse. But, thanks to cook books and cooking blogs, we can all improve our technique. Even me!
To this end, I picked up a copy of ‘Le Larousse des Desserts’ in Paris, which the Larousse website proudly proclaims is ‘la BIBLE des desserts’ (The Dessert Bible). It is a compendium of recipes for all the classic French desserts, divided by type (ie, patisserie, fruit desserts, puddings and creams, chocolate and candy, etc) and edited by none other than Pierre Hermé, of macaron fame. His is a name that inspires confidence in a recipe.
So imagine my surprise when, after following the madeleine recipe from my Larousse des Desserts to the letter, my madeleines came out of the oven completely flat and a bit burnt. Adding insult to injury, they also stuck to the tin. How could ‘the Picasso of pastry’ let me down?? Thankfully, my boyfriend stepped in with some suggestions from researching other madeleine recipes and we were able to pinpoint the problem. The batter was perfect: light and fluffy, sweet with a hint of lemon, but the method was wrong. Every other madeleine recipe we found called for the batter, the tin, or both to be chilled before baking, while the Larousse recipe had no such instruction. The new batch came out perfectly. Every cake had the characteristic hump in the middle, they were the right color, and they came out of the tin (mostly). In other words, we made the perfect madeleine.
(By the way, if you are in Paris, the madeleines at Blé Sucré, 7 Rue Antoine Vallon, 12e are the loveliest around. And our madeleine tin is from E. Dehillerin, the most amazing cookery shop in Paris and well worth a visit.)
Adapted from Le Larousse des Desserts
These little snacking cakes and light and sweet, and very addictive! I have included instructions for chilling in this recipe, which should ensure that yours have the ‘hump’ in the middle. If you don’t have a madeleine tin, you can make these as little cakes in a muffin tin. I don’t have American measurements yet, but will convert it as soon as I have the chance. In the meantime, they’re a good excuse to bust out the old kitchen scale!
100 g butter (unsalted), plus extra for the tin
100 g flour
3g baking powder
Zest from 1/4 of an unwaxed lemon
120g granulated sugar
Butter and flour you madeleine tin (brushing the moulds with melted butter is ideal) and place it in the fridge. Melt 100 g of butter and set aside to cool. Sift together the butter and flour into a bowl.
Crack the eggs into a large bowl (or the bowl of a stand mixer) and add the sugar. Beat them together for five minutes, until the mixture is very fluffy and foamy. Add the flour mixture, then the butter, then the lemon zest (without stopping mixing if you can help it!). Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place in the fridge for an hour.
Preheat the oven to 220 C (425 F) or 200 C (390 F) if you have a fan oven. Take the batter and tin out of the fridge and fill each mould 1/2 to 2/3 full with batter. Then place them back in the fridge until the oven is up to temperature. Place the madeleines in the oven for 5 minutes, then reduce the heat to 200 C (390 F)/ fan 180 C (350 F). Bake for another 10 minutes, keeping a close eye on them as they brown very quickly! They should just be golden and puffed up when they are ready to be taken out. Let the madeleines cool for a few minutes before removing gently from their moulds.