Monday, February 1, 2010

Made(leines) in the U.S.A.

Everyone who knows me at first thinks I picked up my love of madeleines in France. After all I spent a bit of time there and went to a bakery or two every day.
But it wasn't love at first sight. It wasn't even first sight. I didn't notice the little cakes shaped like elongated scallop shells when I was in Aix or Paris or Marseilles or Nice. No, it was the flashier tartes and chocolate endowed cakes such as opera cake and the laminated layers of the croissants that called to me from behind the glass at the patisseries.

It wasn't until I came across a package of mass-produced madeleines at Fairway on the Upper West Side of Manhattan that I discovered these little cuties. They didn't blow me away, but I was charmed by the size and shape.

Around that time there must have been a fad for madeleines because I suddenly came across madeleine recipes from Bon Appetit and The New York Times. I can't resist a do-it-yourself project (ask me sometime about my homemade tofu) and decided to give it a go. Fresh from the oven, my own madeleines were in a completely different category from the ones wrapped in cellophane at the supermarket. The home-baked ones were buttery, a little nutty, with a slight crispness at the edges that dared to be dipped into a cup of coffee or tea.

Out of a batch of two dozen, there were about five left after an hour. After five hours, only the lingering fragrance of toasted butter hinted at their existence.

If I had shared, they might not have lasted so long.

Since then, madeleines are something I just throw together, the way the mother of one of my first grader's friends might throw together a batch of Tollhouse cookies.

Sometimes I mix in ground almonds or hazelnuts. Other times I fold in lemon zest or chopped candied orange peel that I've made. The most popular variation that I've given away (I KNOW! Sometimes I actually have some left) is the one with the hidden lump of Valrhona chocolate that I tuck into the batter. To me they're all good.

The only caveat is that the little cakes (technically a variation on a genoise) tend to get dry after a day. That's what madeleines do. Normally I'd shrug -- as if they'd ever sit uneaten that long. But I sometimes do mail them a thousand miles to my mother-in-law or my sister, so occasionally I need them to stay a bit moister for a just a few days.

One of my favorite additions to baked goods is sour cream, and this is no exception. In my version of madeleines, sour cream prevents them from totally drying out before reaching their destination. (Besides, the surprise of dark chocolate in the center distracts people from noticing any flaws.) Then, when they are ready to be eaten, all they need is about a minute in an oven to restore a bit of crispness to the edges.


Chocolate Surprise Madeleines

yield: 24

pinch salt
3 large eggs
1 egg yolk
2/3 c. sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 c. plus 1 Tbsp cake flour
1 stick butter, melted and cooled
2 Tbsp. sour cream
24 Valrhona chocolate feves* (I like one of the  61% chocolates), optional
(other options: 1 Tbsp. grated lemon zest or chopped candied orange peel, or 2 tsp orange flower water)

Note: Butter and flour madeleine molds (I do it even if they are nonstick)
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F

1. Beat eggs and yolk with salt until doubled or tripled in volume.

2. Still beating, add sugar and vanilla until incorporated.

3. Gently fold in cake flour.

4. In bowl, combine butter and 1/4 c. to 1/2 c. of the batter. Incorporate sour cream into butter-batter mixture.

5. Fold butter-batter mixture into remaining batter.

6. Fill madeleine molds 3/4 full.

7. Lightly press a piece of chocolate into each madeleine. You can bake with the chocolate showing, but I like to use the back of a spoon or small spatula to pull some batter over the chocolate to hide it. I think it looks better with the chocolate hidden.

8. Bake at 425 degrees F for 4 minutes, then reduce oven temperature to 375 degrees F. and continue baking until edges turn golden brown, anywhere from 4 to 8 minutes more depending on the oven.

9. Allow madeleines to cool in mold about a minute, then remove to cooling rack.

*Jacques Torres baking disks would be a good substitute for Valrhona feves. If you don't like dark chocolate but love milk chocolate, then bien sur, use milk chocolate.
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