One day I'm going to read Proust. I'll bake madeleines every day and make cup after cup of tilleul to fortify me as I read on a velvet-covered chaise-longue or or in bed (I might end up spending as much time there as Proust did). I may then have to read How Proust Can Change Your Life (to be sure that the effort had been worth it) and A Year of Reading Proust (although I'd probably have to alter the title in my mind to 'A Decade of Reading Proust' so as not to feel like a failure). Or perhaps I'll just bake the madeleines and forget about Proust and the clichés surrounding them, because they are the most delicious little cakes and deserve to be less encumbered by literary baggage.
They are also a million times nicer when they are made at home. I used to love shop-bought madeleines when I visited France as a teenager and student, but that's because I hadn't tasted fresh, warm, home-made versions, and because I didn't have a madeleine tin to create the classic shell shape. But now I have, and I also have the next most important thing: a good recipe.
Any recipe for such a famous cake is always going to be hotly contested, and I make absolutely no claim for Proustian levels of authenticity (and who knows what he tasted). But to me these taste like a proper madeleine, and not like a muffin or sponge cake which is how so many commercial ones look and taste.
They are very easy but do require time to rest in the fridge (twice) which gives you enough time to read, ooooh, at least a sentence or two of Proust.
Makes 20-24 (depending on size)
- 125g butter, plus extra for greasing
- 100g icing sugar (plus extra for dusting)
- 40g ground almonds
- 40g plain flour, plus extra for dusting
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 3 large egg whites
- 2 teaspoons clear, runny honey
- grated zest of 1/2 a lemon (optional)
You will also need 1 or 2 madeleine tins (if you just have one, make in batches)
Make a simple beurre noisette. Melt the butter in a saucepan over a medium heat until it begins to bubble. Sizzle gently for 2-3 minutes until it has darkened slightly and begins to smell nutty. Don't let it go too brown and burn. Strain through a fine sieve or be prepared to pour carefully later, leaving the residue behind. Set aside to cool.
Sift the icing suagr. ground almonds, flour and salt into a medium-size bowl. Add the egg whites and whisk in. Add the honey, lemon zest and cooled butter and whisk well until smooth. Cover with clingfilm and leave in the fridge to rest for an hour (or overnight).
When you are ready to bake, get the madeleine tin(s) ready. Brush lightly with melted butter and dust with flour, then tap and tip out any excess flour.
Spoon the mix into the moulds, filling them up to just below the level of the tin. Return to the fridge to rest for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, pre-heat the oven to 170C/gas mark 3.
Bake for 10-16 minutes (mould sizes vary, smaller madeleines will bake faster, larger ones take around 16 mins) or until risen and yellow-gold in the centre and light brown round the edges. Cool on a wire rack for 5-10 minutes before removing them gently. Turn 'shell' side up and when cool dust with icing sugar.
Best eaten while fresh (warm madeleines are wonderful), but they will keep for a day. They go extremely well with a glass of cold, sweet, white wine or a cup of tea, a trip down memory lane, and always with a good book.