Sunday, May 26, 2013

Madeleines de Commercy / Madeleines with the hump on top

When it comes to baking supplies, I am a bit of a contradiction. On the one hand, I keep my kitchen supplied with enough equipment to ensure that I always have the right tool (or a close approximation of the right tool) for every job. On the other hand, I try to follow a philosophy similar to that of Henry David Thoreau:
"Mistrust any enterprise that requires new clothes."

For many years, I had a rule of thumb guiding me to avoid all recipes that required specialized equipment. No bundt molds, no pastry bags, and most definitively, no madeleine pans. Of course, there's only one downside to the rule; no madeleine pans means no madeleines

I've never been a particular fan of the cake/cookie/whatever, so I figured it was no big loss. And then one day, I was possessed by the desire to try my hand at them and see what all the fuss was about. So I gave in to the pans, and I have been lost ever since. Even though they are everything I usually try to avoid (labor-intensive, requiring special equipment, low yield), they are also amazing the day they are baked, and pret-ty darn good when thawed from the freezer. Crisp edges with a soft, fluffy interior, and the tiniest bit of lemon flavor that brightens the flavor of the mellow browned butter. To me, totally worth the purchase. But if you're not convinced, do not fret. Just like that joke about how fast do you have to be to outrun a bear? (Faster than your slowest friend), you needn't buy such ridiculous baking equipment yourself. All you need is a sucker friend who will let you borrow!

Madeleines de Commercy

Adapted from Julia Child, Hungry Sofia, and 101cookbooks

Yield: ~12-16 madeleines

2 large eggs, beaten
2/3 cup sugar
1/8 tsp salt
1 cup unbleached, all-purpose flour
4 oz unsalted butter + 1 1/2 TBS unsalted butter (1 stick + 1 1/2 TBS = 9 1/2 TBS total)
1 [additional, separate] TBS flour
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
zest of 1 lemon

Equipment: 2 large Madeleine pans, pastry brush, strainer

Note: Before beginning these steps, bring all ingredients to room temperature (except the butter, as that will be melted.)

1. Heat oven to 375 degrees F.

2. Melt the butter (all 9 1/2 TBS) in a small saucepan over medium heat until it turns brown and gives off a nutty aroma, ~5-10 minutes (depending on the power of your stove burners). Strain the butter into another medium-sized bowl using a strainer lined with a paper towel. Discard the paper towel containing the milk solids and set browned, clarified butter aside to cool to room temperature. (If you're in a hurry, cool the browned butter by immersing the bottom of the bowl in an ice bath and stirring the butter until cooled, but still liquid.)

3. While the butter is cooling, separate out 1 1/2 TBS of the melted, browned butter and combine it with the additional 1 TBS flour in a small bowl. Use a pastry brush to combine these and make a paste. Then, paint each of the madeleine cups in the molds with the mixture. Use a paper towel to dab out any puddles of excess flour/butter paste. Set aside.

4. Combine flour (1 cup) and sugar in a mixing bowl and add 3/4 of the beaten eggs. Beat vigorously with a wooden spoon to blend into a heavy cream -- if very stiff, add a little bit of the remaining egg, one droplet at a time. Set aside for 10 minutes.

5. Beat the remaining bit of egg into the batter, and stir in the cool butter. Stir in the salt, vanilla, and lemon zest. Cover the batter and refrigerate for at least one hour.

6. Using a spoon and a rubber spatula (or 2 spoons), drop a rounded tablespoonful of batter into each Madeleine cup. Do not spread the batter to fill the molds. Repeat with remaining batter and madeleine pan.

7. Set pans on the middle racks of the oven and bake for ~10-13 minutes, until each Madeleine is golden brown around the edges. The batter will spread on its own to fill the cups and a hump will gradually form in the middle. Once you've removed the pans from the oven, give each one a sharp rap on the table to release the cakes from the molds. Unmold onto a rack, humped side up.

8. Serve as is, or sprinkle tops with a dusting of confectioner's sugar. If you'd like to save them for later, skip the confectioner's sugar. Let cool, wrap in an airtight freezer bag, and freeze the cakes. Let them come to room temperature before serving.