'Honey, I'm home,' I called out to Peter as I walked through the back entrance. 'Close your eyes, I have a surprise for you,' he responded, taking me by the arm and leading me down the steps, through the hall and into the kitchen. The rich, warm aromas told me immediately that he had been cooking. Woot!? My man had not only spent his one day off mowing the lawns and trimming the shrubbery, he had also become a Domestic God (as in Not Quite Nigel, apologies Lorraine), and turned his hand at baking.
Peeping through my fingers, I saw him proudly pointing to a plate of petit Madeleines. He was clearly chuffed with himself, and rightly so, for Madeleines are no easy feat for a first time baker. In the course of an afternoon, my Peter had taught himself to clarify butter, mix batter and even deviated from the recipe (after two sticky attempts), to create a batch of little French cakes pretty enough to photograph!
Now, I was genuinely delighted, but the grumpy old cow part of me inside wanted to feel annoyed that he had let loose in my territory and christened my brand new madeleine tin. And let's not go into the large amounts of icing sugar, flour, butter and crumbs sprinkled from one end of the kitchen to t'other. But I quickly came to my senses as I reached into the bowl of 'failures' and popped a piece of Madeleine into my mouth. 'Mmm, these are good, Petey, these are seriously good!' The smile on his face was priceless.
French writer, Marcel Proust, immortalised Madeleines when he described taking tea with his mother in the opening lines of his autobiographical novel Remembrance of Things Past with his mother serving 'those short, plump little cakes called petit madeleines, which look as though they had been molded in the fluted valve of a scallop shell ... [the cake] so richly sensual under its severe, religious folds'.
There are variations to the recipe for madeleines in Larousse. Classic Madeleines, in which the 100g butter quantity is melted before the other ingredients are added (three eggs plus one yolk, lemon juice, 125g caster sugar and 125g flour); and Commercy Madeleines, in which the 150g butter quantity is creamed with a wooden spoon before the remaining ingredients (six eggs, 200g flour, one teaspoon baking powder and orange flower water) are added.
The receipt for Madeleines that Peter used is one by Margaret Fulton from Margaret Fulton's New Cookbook (A&R, 1993). It is a seemingly good recipe, however the instructions in the method suggest that 'if you are using a teflon tin, it is not necessary to butter and dust it with flour'. Wrong! The first two batches did stick, hence Peter ended up greasing and flouring the tin with successful results.
Here is the recipe with Peter's comments in brackets, [like so]. I might just add that he has memorised the recipe, and something tells me he is going to bake them again! Lucky moi!
PETIT MADELEINES A LA PETER
185g unsalted butter, clarified*
3/4 cup caster sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract or orange or lemon rind, grated
1 cup plain flour [sifted]
1 tablespoon rum [or orange flower water]
icing sugar for dusting
Preheat the oven to hot (200 degreesC/400 degrees F). Butter the madeleine tin and dust it with flour. Melt the butter, clarify* and let it cool. Beat the eggs and sugar until thick and light, using a hand whisk and a bowl set over a pan of gently simmering water, or use an electric mixer. [Here is where Peter deviated from the recipe, as he didn't set the bowl over the pan of simmering water]. Remove from the heat, if using that method, and continue to beat until cooled. Add the vanilla and fold in the flour, the cooled butter and rum, if using, mixing only until everything is blended. Three-quarters fill each [shell in the] tin with the batter and bake for eight minutes, until pale golden. Turn out onto wire racks to cool. Dust liberally with icing sugar. Makes about 32 cakes.
*Clarifying butter removes the water and milk solids from the butter. David Lebovitz provides excellent instructions on how to make clarified butter here.
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