The pan has been tucked away in a corner cabinet for over four months, silently beckoning me to delve into a recipe so highly esteemed that my far-from-French fingers recoiled at the thought.
Madeleine: noun /ˈma-də-lən, ˌma-də-ˈlān/
"a small, rich, shell-shaped cake"
Though the Webster's definition rings of simplicity, I knew the approbation that surrounds these precious, buttery cakes, and tackling them was not something I could take lightly.
With the pan already in my possession, my first pursuit was the butter. Clearly, it needed to be good butter, it only made sense that great madeleines would come from great butter.
This is my favorite butter I have ever brought into my home. I really, really love it. I have unashamedly run my fingers across it's creamy, yellow surface and enjoyed it plain more than once.
I know, I would have said that was disgusting too...until I tried it.
While I do not waste it on toast or in chocolate-packed cookies, if I have a recipe where fat is the star, I turn to this. It is so rich and flavorful, and it smells heavenly. It is what butter is meant to be.
Though I could have tortured many a tradition-loving frenchman by adulterating these tiny cakes with a myriad of flavors, I knew that simplicity was my friend here, so I opted for a simple combination of lemon zest and poppy seeds.
Before tackling these recipe, I did my research, and finally looked to none other than the wizard of French cuisine, David Lebovitz , for guidance.
I was after a buttery cake with a crisp exterior, a soft, sponge-like interior, and a prominent humped back. How hard could it be? Not as hard as I had anticipated, actually.
Egg yolks are whipped with sugar and a pinch of salt until they become thick and airy, and then flour is sifted over the mixture in several additions.
While David recommended adding baking powder, I decided to let my eggs do all the work of rising these tiny cakes, and they still puffed up beautifully.
I did however, take his suggestion and freeze my pan after I had prepared it with a heavy coating of melted butter and a dusting of flour. This helped significantly with achieving the classic humped shape.
Since I only have one pan, and this recipe makes two dozen madeleines, I had to bake them in two batches. After baking the first batch, I did not return the pan to the freezer, but rather baked the second round in a warm pan and the hump was significantly smaller.
To be perfectly honest, I preferred the appearance of the second batch, though I suppose that will negate all my exaggerated claims at a French heritage.
I was actually a bit annoyed with my humped cakes until, upon further investigation, I realized that the "puffy" shape is highly prized. It was one of those happy "oops, but not really" moments.
There is never shame in a good glaze. Especially if it's a lemon glaze - oh yes.
Lemon juice, confectioner's sugar, and a bit of whisking is all that this simple coating requires.
Crisp, warm, and ready to be dunked. Are not they lovely?
The hardest part is choosing whether to enjoy them with coffee or tea. For me, the choice was simple. Earl Grey and lemon pair so perfectly.
Another daunting endeavor conquered, another block of butter gone...it was a good day.
Lemon Poppy Seed Madeleines
makes 24 / recipe adapted from David Lebovitz
for the cakes
- 3 large eggs
- 2/3 cup granulated sugar
- pinch of salt
- 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons poppy seeds
- zest of one lemon
- 9 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled to room temperature (plus extra for greasing the pan)
Brush your madeleine pan with melted butter. Dust lightly with flour, and then tap off any excess. Place the pan in the freezer while you prepare the batter.
In a large bowl, combine eggs, granulated sugar, and salt. Beat on high speed for five minutes, until the mixture is thick, frothy, and light yellow in color.
Sift 1/3 of the flour over the egg mixture and gently fold it in using a spatula. Repeat twice more, adding 1/3 of the flour each time.
Combine poppy seeds, lemon zest, and cooled, melted butter.
Slowly drizzle the butter mixture into the batter, a little at a time, while folding to mix in the butter. Fold just until the butter is fully incorporated.
Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for one hour.
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
Use a large tablespoon to portion out the batter, filling each indentation about 3/4 of the way full. Do not spread the batter.
Bake for 7-9 minutes or until the cakes are golden and spring back when touched lightly.
While the cakes are baking, prepare the glaze.
for the glaze
- 3/4 cup confectioner’s sugar, sifted
- 3 tablespoons lemon juice
Whisk together confectioner’s sugar and lemon juice until smooth.
As soon as the cakes are cool enough to touch, dip them into the glaze and then place on a cooling rack to set. Store in airtight containers for up to three days.
If you do not have two pans, you’ll have to bake your madeleines in two batches. As soon as you have removed the first batch of madeleines from the pan, wash and then grease and flour again. Place the pan in the freezer for 15-20 minutes, until chilled.
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