I've been obsessed with madeleines ever since a visit to a particular Parisian restaurant around 10 years ago. It was a special occasion which demanded a pretty swanky restaurant, and Alain Passard's L'Arpege fitted the bill perfectly. I remember each course being more delicious than the last and, having finally reached coffee and petit four, feeling very content with our prix-fixe lunch. More coffee was poured and a small warm white linen bundle appeared on the table. Unfolding the package revealed a dozen, fresh from the oven, perfect petites madeleines. In a 3 star restaurant this humble little sponge cake from the Lorraine region was the last thing I was expecting but these were no ordinary madeleines. As I remember it they were flavoured only by their basic ingredients but were delicious, buttery morsels. I can't claim to have experienced a Proustian moment, but it was a revelatory one.
Writing this posting made me curious to find out what Alain Passard is up to now. L'Arpege still has its 3 stars. These days Passard is more inspired by vegetables than meat and cooks with produce from his own bio-dynamic kitchen garden in the grounds of a Chateau near Le Mans. I remember the meal being expensive but boy am I glad I went when I did. Prices are now stratospheric but, if you can afford it, he still has those 3 stars and the reviews are good.
Never having been served better madelaines in the 10 years since, I've concluded my recipe, adapted from one in "The Roux Brothers on Patisserie", is the best so far - no doubt helped by the fact I can eat them fresh from the oven. Madeleines certainly benefit from being eaten straight away, or certainly within a couple of hours of baking, whilst there is still an outer crispness. The fact the mixture needs to rest before going into the scalloped tins, and that they take only 5 minutes for small or 10 for large cakes, make them ideal for last minute baking anyway.
|Honey Madeleines for tea|
(You need a scalloped madeleine tray - makes 12 large or 36 small bite sized)
2 medium eggs
2oz (50g) caster sugar
1½ oz (40g) light muscovado sugar
Pinch of salt
3oz (75g) plain flour
1 level tsp baking powder
3oz (75g) melted butter, cooled
1 generous tbsp clear honey (preferably Acacia)
Butter the tin(s) and dust with flour, tapping off any excess.
Whisk eggs, both sugars and salt until pale in colour. Sift flour and baking powder and fold gently into the mixture (don't overmix). Spoon in the honey and pour in the cooled melted butter and mix lightly. You should have a fairly stiff batter. Cover the bowl and leave to rest for about 30 minutes. Pre-heat oven to 220oC/425oF/gas 8.
Spoon the mixture into the trays, filling almost to the top. Bake for 5 minutes for bite-sized and 9 minutes for full sized madeleines - do not overcook them! Turn them out immediately and serve.