Monday, 27 June 2011

Mad about Madeleines

These tiny shell-shaped cakes have been around in France since the early 18th century. They originate from the Lorraine region of northern France. Their shape comes from the shell-shaped mould in which the batter is cooked, but why they are called madeleines is a mystery. They may have been named by Louis XV in 1755 after Madeleine Paulmier, pastry chef to his father-in-law, Stanislaw Leszczynski, King of Poland and Duke of Lorraine (being Polish myself, I quite like this idea ;-) ).

The special texture of a madeleine comes from the fine Genoise sponge from which it is made. The light intensity of Genoise comes from the way in which the eggs and sugar are whisked together over a gentle heat until they have tripled in volume. Only then is the flour - which is sifted three times to incorporate as much air as possible - folded in and finally, the butter, melted and cooled, is gently trickled down the side of the bowl and carefully stirred in. Madeleines should be cooked as soon as the mixture is ready.


For the basic madeleine mixture:

125g unsalted butter
125g plain flour
1 level tbsp cornflour
4 eggs
125g caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract or orange flower water

For the variations:

strong black coffee
cocoa powder
desiccated coconut
lemon, orange or mix candied peel, finely chopped
finely chopped hazelnuts
orange or lemon zest
icing sugar, sifted, for dusting


Madeleine baking  tray (metal or silicone)

1. Preheat the oven to 190°C/375°F/Gas 5. Boil some water in a kettle. Melt the butter in a small pan over a low heat. Set aside to cool. Sift the flour and cornflour twice in a separate bowl.

2. Put the eggs, sugar and vanilla or orange water in a large heatproof bowl. Set a pan on a very low heat with some boiled water and let it simmer gently. Put the bowl on the top of it and using an electric whisk, whisk for a few minutes, until it is thick, pale and tripled in volume. It should leave a thick trail as it drops off the whisk.

The Cooking Monster's Tip: Do not rush this stage. Getting the egg mixture into a right consistency is vital for this recipe. The lightness and softness of the madeleines depends on this.

3. Remove the bowl from the heat and continue to whisk for a minute or two until the mixture is cool. Sift the flour (again) in an even layer into the egg mix , and gently fold it into the batter. When it is nearly blended, pour the cooled melted butter down one side of the bowl and blend that in too.

4. Fill each madeleine hole with the mix. Spoon a 1 TB of batter into each depression in the madeleine mold; don't smooth it out, the batter will spread when baking. (Personally, I think letting the batter spread itself assists in creating the characteristic "hump" on the back) and bake 10-12 minutes until springy and golden. Allow them to cool a bit before turning them out. Clean the tray for the next batch.

Unless you are lucky enough to own a madeleines tray of more than 9 holes (or more than one tray!), you would need to wait until then to bake the next batch. Therefore, make sure the bowl with remaining batter is covered with clingfilm and left in a cool shady place. Mix it gently with a wooden spoon well before using again, and now it's the time to come up with some variations! Devide the remaining batter between separate bowls (as many, as planned variations), and so...

  • For the coffee ones: Make some strong coffee and add a little to a batter. If you give the mixture only one spoon turn, it will create nice marble effect. Otherwise mix it up a little and gently with the spoon.
  • For the chocolate : Add a sifted tablespoon of cocoa powder and gently fold into the batter
  • For the coconut : Use some coconut shavings, as many as you like. I used couple of tablespoons at a small portion of batter (made 5)
  • For the Tutti-Frutti :  Add chopped candied peel, cherries, nuts or zest as you wish to the mixture
Bake as before. Cool the madeleines on a rack before arranging them a serving plate. You can sprinkle the vanilla and chocolate ones with some icing sugar. It will enhance their pretty shell shape.

And these are MINE!

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