I have finally made a worthy madeleine, and it is a thing of beauty. They are cakey and tender in the middle, crisp at the edges, shell-shaped with well-defined ridges, and lemony in an understated, floral kind of way.
I got some inspiration recently at my most favorite afternoon tea place in the world, the Taj Boston. They have harpists and violinists, for cryin' out loud, and I love the beautiful china. I hate it when tea is served in stainless steel pots. But look at these amazing desserts. There are (working from the top down) chocolate-covered strawberries, lavender sables, cornmeal scones, currant scones, lemon curd and Devonshire cream, macarons, citrus tarts, pistachio financiers, opera tortes, and, of course, little madeleines. Sugar rush, anybody??
What obstacle lay in my madeleine path? For years I had this beautiful mini-madeleine pan, because I love all things bite-sized. But though they were tasty and developed that hump the madeleine is known for, they never took on those beautiful ridges. So, in my opinion, it wasn't a proper madeleine. I wondered if it was some error of mine or a bad recipe. Finally, I got a full-sized madeleine pan, one that produced beautiful ridges on the cookies. Only they came out burnt brown, even though I opted for the lower end of the baking time in the recipe. But determination won out, and I think these madeleines are perfect. Maybe some lavender or Earl Grey varieties are up next?
After the madeleine batter rested overnight, it became thick and developed air bubbles, like a yeasted dough. The batter is then scooped into the pan. The first batch came out burnt, even though I followed the recipe! I shaved off a couple of minutes the next time, and they came out to golden perfection.
Traditional Madeleines From Baking: From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan
⅔ cup all-purpose flour ¾ tsp baking powder Pinch of salt ½ cup sugar Grated zest of 1 lemon 2 large eggs, at room temperature 2 tsp pure vanilla extract ¾ stick (6 tbs) unsalted butter, melted and cooled Confectioners' sugar, for dusting.
Whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt.
Working in a mixer bowl, or in a large bowl, rub the sugar and lemon zest together with your fingertips until the sugar is moist and fragrant. Add the eggs to the bowl. Working with the whisk attachment, or with a hand mixer, beat the eggs and sugar together on medium-high speed until pale, thick, and light, 2 to 3 minutes. Beat in the vanilla. With a rubber spatula, very gently fold in the dry ingredients, followed by the melted butter. Press a piece of plastic wrap against the surface of the batter and refrigerate it for at least 3 hours, or for up to 2 days. This long chill period will help the batter form the hump that is characteristic of madeleines. (For convenience, you can spoon the batter into the madeleine molds, cover, and refrigerate, then bake the cookies directly from the fridge; see below for instructions on prepping the pans.)
Getting ready to bake: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Butter 12 full-size madeleine molds, or up to 36 mini madeleine molds, dust the insides with flour, and tap out the excess. Or, if you have a nonstick pan, give it a light coating of vegetable cooking spray. If you have a silicone pan, no prep is needed. Place the pan(s) on a baking sheet.
Spoon the batter into the molds, filling each one almost to the top. Don't worry about spreading the batter evenly, the oven's heat will take care of that. Bake large madeleines for 11 to 13 minutes, and minis for 8 to 11 minutes, or until they are golden and the tops spring back when touched. (My note: if you have a full-sized dark nonstick pan like mine, check the madeleines after 8 minutes.) Remove the pan(s) from the oven and release the madeleines from the molds by rapping the edge of the pan against the counter. Gently pry any recalcitrant madeleines from the pan using your fingers or a butter knife. Transfer the cookies to a rack to cool to just warm or to room temperature.
If you are making minis and have more batter, bake the next batch(es), making certain that you cool, then properly prepare the pan(s) before baking.
Just before serving, dust the madeleines with confectioners' sugar.