My silence the last 2-3 weeks has been thunderous to say the least. I apologise for this and can offer as an excuse only that I have been working my little heart out. Developing recipes, making food pretty and taking piccies. A girl’s gotta live after all. And then I had the cheek to go and look for some well-deserved (I told myself) down time in Kwa-Zulu Natal – where it proceeded to rain for four days and four nights. Any longer and I would have started to design an ark. Instead of alarming Ballito beach folk with the sight of me in my cheeky red bikini, I went to Pep to buy warmer clothes and socks. And then I settled in to cook and bake. Because one can only play Scrabble for so many hours before one goes nuts. And because rainy days seem to call for warm, comforting, forbidden sweet things.
Far too many pancakes were devoured, they’re my ultimate sodden-day treat after all. But Madeleines came a close second. Now I guess you could describe Madeleines as tiny scalloped-shaped French sponge cakes. But that would rather be like calling Usain Bolt fast-ish. Non mes amis, to truly appreciate the magic of the humble Madeleine, I refer you instead to that French literary giant, Marcel Proust. It’s been well over a hundred years since publication of the first volume of his famous work À la recherche du temps perdu (In search of lost time). In it the moment when tea-soaked Madeleine meets lips is immortalised… “No sooner had the warm liquid mixed with the crumbs touched my palate than a shudder ran through me and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary thing that was happening to me.” I like people who shudder over food.
I’ve experimented with numerous Madeleine recipes over the years, some more successfully than others. One of my all-time favourites is Daniel Boulud’s. That’s only to be expected I suppose being that he is one of the USA’s top celebrity chefs and, more importantly, being that he is French. I did change his recipe a bit though. Two changes out of necessity – because I had neither unsalted butter nor brown sugar on the day – and one because I like my Madeleines extra lemony. So I increased the amount of lemon zest he uses by a third.
All you need is…
2 extra large eggs
⅓ cup white sugar
2 tbs runny honey (or 1 tbs honey and 1 tbs light brown sugar as per Daniel)
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
¾ cup cake flour, plus more for dusting
3 tsp finely grated lemon zest (that’s the zest of 2 super large lemons)
6 tbs unsalted butter, melted and still warm (I used salted and it was fine)
non-stick baking spray
Put the eggs, sugar and honey in a large bowl and whisk with a handheld electric mixer until it is light and foamy. Sieve in the baking powder, salt and flour. Add the lemon zest and stir until it is just incorporated. Then stir in the melted butter until it is thoroughly mixed through and smooth. Cover the batter surface with cling film and place it in the fridge for an hour. (NB: You can leave this batter in the fridge for up to 24 hours before you bake these puppies. Just whip the batter up beforehand and once your guests come, pop them in the oven. Domestic goddess stuff!)
Spray a scallop-shaped Madeleine pan with cooking spray. (Most baking or kitchen specialist shops stock Madeleine pans and they are not too expensive.) Next dust each mould generously with cake flour, then tip it over and gently shake out the excess flour. Madeleines stick like bad family to lottery winners, so this is super important!
Preheat your oven to 200 degrees Celsius (on normal, not fan.) Fill each mould two-thirds with the batter. Knock the Madeleine pan briefly on a level surface (ergo your kitchen table) to help get rid of any bubbles in the batter then pop them in the oven for 10-12 minutes until they are golden and cooked through. If you gently press them and they spring back, they’re done.
Serve the Madeleines warm straight out the oven lightly dusted with icing sugar. Or allow them to cool completely and dip them in lemon icing. It’s just fresh lemon juice mixed with enough icing sugar to make it nice and thick but still runny enough for easy dipping. Allow the icing to harden a bit before you serve them. These Madeleines disappear in about three seconds at chez Melkkos & Merlot, so I tend to double up on the recipe and make 30 at a time.