Sunday, June 16, 2013

orange scented madeleines

I confess that sometimes I bake late at night, when the light is not good for photographs.  Have you figured this out?  Maybe it's a function of a busy schedule, or maybe I'm just a night-baker.  I'm definitely a stress-baker.  It works.  But it doesn't photograph well.  

A few nights ago, inspired by Rachel Khoo and her recipe for class french madeleines, I put my fancy half-shell pan to work.  At 10pm, an instragram photo is all I could manage in between bites. 

The madeleine is essentially a tea cake, the perfect size for dunking, and it happens to be the object of philosophizing and old world traditions in France.  But there it is:  a yummy two-bite size cake, and there's nothing philosophical about that. 

The signature shape comes from a specialized pan with a dozen half-shell molds.  Still no politics here, though: the pan is actually affordable and easy to find.  (I got mine at Home Goods!)  But without it, you could bake the cakes in a mini-muffin pan, for example, and they'd still be delicious.  The half-shell shape is more than just looks though.  It's ideal for developing a slightly crispy crust on the edges of the shell, a feature of a well-executed madeleine.  It's much more delicate than the crust on a pound cake, but it has a similar buttery-toasty flavor that appeals for breakfast or dessert.  So to me the pan is appropriate.


Like any good toast, the key, of course, is using plenty of butter to achieve the delicate shell.  That means lots of melted butter in the recipe, and a very generous amount to grease the pan before adding the batter.  When it's all said and done, the amount of butter is barely excusable, except that the cakes are so good.  But I'm getting ahead of myself.  

Before we worry about the butter, let's remember that the light batter gets its flavor from citrus zest and honey.  In many traditional recipes, lemon or vanilla is used.  Some newer recipes call for honey, spices, lavender honey, even earl grey tea.  I've developed this recipe with vanilla and orange zest alongside a few teaspoons of honey in the batter, and I'm thrilled with the results.  The combination was truly perfect. 

Don't be shy when whisking the wet ingredients together.  Frothy is the name of the game.  Your arms should be tired.  And yes, I will back you up if you want to call this a workout for the day.  

The next time you come across a madeleine pan (and I realize it may be a while), I hope you think of me and buy it.  Or for heaven's sake just borrow mine.  This recipe is worth it.