lemon madeleines


As we already know, I am a sucker for all things that can be categorized as pastry, or just simply dessert, even more so if said treat makes us all feel a little more cultured, like we should be having it with espresso at a sidewalk café with our pinkies in the air, talking about things like the Louvre.

While we are miles (about a million) from a Parisian side street, there is one simple and delicate cookie-sized cake that will momentarily transport you there in about two, possibly three, bites: the madeline. The traditional madeleine, a miniature French sponge cake, usually only requires a very basic recipe, some variations including finely ground almonds or lemon zest, and of course, the specialized baking pan to produce that lovely seashell shape. OR, as it appears to me, a teeny-tiny kitten paw. Aw: adorable AND delicious.

While I currently have my own madeleine pan, one of the extra-small variety from William Sonoma, my dear cute Colin also owns two of his own pans, one metal, one silicone. (Sheesh, he's perfect.) Both work equally well, we have found, though the silicone pans, because deeper, make for a larger cookie.

Because we embarked on this baking adventure in celebration of my grandmother's 80th birthday, and the rule of not showing up to a party empty-handed, we went with one of her favorite flavors, and one that works so beautifully in this light dessert: lemon.

The recipe we adapted originally came from Martha Stewart. Though my grandmother is often one to insist that Martha's recipes always include a minimum commitment of two days or an ingredient unheard of and unfound, we were pleased to find her madeline variety to be simplistic to the point of perfection. So, ingredients:

3/4 cup of unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks), melted, plus more for the pans
1 1/2 cups cake flour, sifted
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon coarse salt
3 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 tablespoons finely grated lemon zest
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (about 2-3 lemons)
Confectioner's sugar, for dusting

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. (Note: You could prrrobably do this when you have to let the batter rest for thirty minutes. Just saying.) Butter two (or, as we did, three) madeline pans and set aside. I found the easiest method is to put a little butter on a piece of wax paper and go to town. Go to town minding the crevices, that is.

Next, sift the flour, baking soda, and salt into a medium-sized bowl. Cake flour is already very soft and fine, but this step just ensures an even mixture of ingredients, as well as channeling out any hidden lumps.

Now the eggs, egg yolks, sugar, vanilla, lemon zest and lemon juice all hop into the bowl of an electric mixture. Using the paddle attachment, mix on a medium-high speed until a palish yellow and thick texture form, which will take about five minutes. After this, mix in the butter. Then, using a spatula, fold in the flour mixture.

Now comes the rest-for-thirty-minutes phase, which seems to me, as I mentioned, would be the more ideal time to preheat the oven. Not that this process takes an awfully long time, but why waste? The resting makes sense, also, when you are finished mixing the batter. After that half-hour it will look both fluffier and firmer. Ta-da.

Using your small scooping utensil of choice (we opted for an appropriately sized melon-baller), now it is time to fill the pans. These cakes will puff up to about double their size, so no need to fill the trays to the brim. One or two little scoops will do, leaving the edges free, and the results are nothing short of magical.

Now for a quick bake time (my favorite!) of only seven to eight minutes, rotating halfway through to ensure evenness. Look for golden centers and (only slightly) browned edges.

Once removed from the oven, place on wire racks to cool. These little cakes are so airy that they cool brilliantly fast, which is another plus according to my impatient-feed-me standards. Because of all the pan-buttering, they should quite easily come out of the pans with some small encouragement from a fork, or simply flipping the pans gently and hoping for the best. (Unless the pans you use are exceptionally large, you should still have enough batter left for another batch. Or two.)

Once fully cooled, and when you are ready to serve, dust with confectioners sugar for an especially pretty treat. We were quite happy with the results of our first flavored madelines and, if I may say and despite the zillions of other available desserts, they were quite a hit during Gram's birthday celebration.