Recipes: Proust's Madeleines

Like macarons, Madeleines are a little French biscuit people make a great deal of fuss about making. And like macarons, Madeleines are in fact very easy to make ... but, sshhh!, don't tell anyone!

The little scallop shaped sponge biscuits should have a hint of lemon amongst the suggestion of vanilla, be light but slightly buttery as they melt in to mouth. I've been fiddling with my recipe, and this is the one whose proportions seem to work best.

I hate silicone Madeleine molds - they brown the shells all wrong, and always come out greasy - so I use mini Madeleine non-stick metal trays. This recipe produces about 100 one inch biscuits.

First zest a lemon or three. I used three unwaxed lemons bought from the supermarket, which produced 26 g - about one ounce - of zest. A fine grater works better for me than a 'zester' producing a fine zest and leaving a neat naked lemon.

You can use fewer lemons if you have big ones, or more if you want more zing.

Then melt a tablespoon of butter in the microwave, and very lightly butter the baking trays with a brush. There's no need to by a special brush, as any old brush will do, but one does have to go very easy on the butter or the Madeleines come out greasy.

In a mixer throw in, and whisk on high speed:

200 g eggs - that's about 4 medium UK eggs or 3 large US eggs

130 g / 2/3 cup caster sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

After a few minutes, when some air has been beaten in, lift the whisks and sieve in:

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

200g / 1 1/3 cups plain flour

Add: 1 teaspoon vanilla extract and the lemon zest

Mix in on a low speed until the flour is incorporated into the mixture.

Meanwhile, in the microwave melt: 150 g / 2/3 cup of butter.

Pour the butter into the batter, and mix on a low setting until it is incorporated.

The batter should hold its shaped when you mix it, as in the photo. Cover the bowl and put it in the fridge for about an hour to chill - longer is fine, and it can be left overnight if necessary.

The Madeleine molds should be filled about 2/3 full - less than a teaspoon per one inch 'hole' - since the mixture rises.

This size takes about 10 minutes at 360 F / 180 C.

The bottoms should be golden, the upper sides beginning to brown at the edges and their centers rising in the little mounds that are characteristic of Madeleines.

When the Madeleines are baked, take them out of their trays or they will continue to cook. Larger ones need to be cooled on a wire, but this size can go straight onto a plate.

They can be decorated with a dusting of powdered icing sugar, or glazed (icing sugar dissolved in lemon juice or rum, then brushed on) ... but I like them plain and simple.

I keep jars of mini Madeleines in the kitchen handy for a quick snack.

"She sent out for one of those short, plump little cakes called petites madeleines, which look as though they had been moulded in the fluted scallop of a pilgrim's shell. And soon, mechanically, weary after a dull 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, and the crumbs with it, touched my palate than ..."
Marcel Proust (Swann's Way)

Copyright © 2009 Dorothy King

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