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DESSERT RECIPES: SWEETS, PASTRIES

Madeleines: A French Cookie, or Cake, or Cookie ...

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Madeleine cookies

Photo: Above Chef Jud's madeleines. Below, Chef's fiancee Katrina Mitchell helps in the kitchen and can't wait to indulge.

French Dessert Recipe

This month, I’d like to return to one of my favorite dessert recipes, another classic French pastry: madeleines.  These delicate treats inhabit the space between cakes and cookies; they’re light and moist yet bite-sized, with just a tiny bit of give in the tooth. 

They’re often included on petit four platters, but I like to have them on their own with coffee or tea.  (Who am I kidding? I’d eat them at any time in any way!)

While the origins of madeleines are somewhat conflicting and place their appearance between the 18th and 19th centuries, their popularity was cemented by the French writer Marcel Proust, in his classic novel “Swann’s Way.”  In that book, the narrator has an almost religious experience while eating madeleines with tea.  Once you’ve had a fresh batch of good madeleines—not the packaged ones from Starbucks or Trader Joe’s—you’ll understand the obsession.

Madeleine cakes and Katrina

What’s tricky about their home preparation is their unique shape: you have to use a special mold to make their scallop-shell form.  The molds aren’t expensive but might be hard to find.  I found my first one at Sur La Table for a few bucks and it’s held up pretty well, considering its usage.  As with any type of mold, you want to keep them from getting dinged in the cabinet or rusty from improper cleaning; treat it well and it will last for years.

This recipe is one I’ve been using for several years now, tweaked to accommodate my quirky old oven.  Keep and eye on them as they bake because they will go from pale to brown-tinged—and hard—in no time.  A good madeleine straddles the line between spongy and firm, and should have a solid structure with a slight bulge on the top. 

Mixing the batter takes only a few minutes and as with any cake batter should not be over-mixed.  Make sure your oven is well heated to allow the batter that crucial “oven spring” since there is no added leavener.  And most importantly, don’t eat the whole batch before they’ve cooled. 

You think I’m kidding?  You’ll see.

Madeleines Recipe

10 tbl (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter
2 large eggs
2/3 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
½ teaspoon grated lemon zest (or orange zest w/ 3-5 drops orange extract)
Pinch of salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
Powdered sugar for dusting

Preheat oven to 375°F.  Melt butter and allow to slightly cool.  Generously butter and flour madeleine pan.  Using an electric mixer, beat the eggs and sugar in a medium bowl just to blend.  Beat in vanilla, lemon zest (or other flavoring), and salt.  Add flour; beat just until blended. Gradually add cooled melted butter in steady stream, beating just until blended.

Spoon 1 tablespoon batter into each mold in pan. Bake until puffed and just slightly brown, about 12-15 minutes.  Cool 5 minutes; gently remove from pan. Repeat process, buttering and flouring pan before each batch to finish all batter.  Dust madeleines with powdered sugar, if desired.

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