I think it was watching The Great British Baking Show on PBS (The Great British Bake-Off in the UK) that got me interested in madeleines, these little buttery tea cakes made in seashell pans. It seemed like a reasonably simple thing I could try making and then giving to other people. (When I’m trying not to make delicious things and then … you know, eat them, it often helps to make small, discrete things that I can decide to have one of, rather than things I have to cut off a piece of. It’s so easy to have another sliver of … anything.) (They’re also more lovely than they are decadent, which means other people feel better about trying one, too. The ones I made have about 100 calories to a little cake, which is a very workable amount for a nice midmorning treat.)
So I got some madeleine pans, and I found a simple recipe, and I tried them.
Basically, according to this particular recipe, you make madeleines by mixing flour with a little baking powder in one bowl, melting butter in another bowl, and then beating eggs and sugar in another bowl for several minutes until it’s very light. Then you add the flour mixture, fold it in, and drizzle in the melted butter, then combine it all gently and spoon it into the little pans.
Up to this point, my recent experiments have been pretty much completely successful. The bread was just like I wanted it, as was the sweet potato hash, as was the pasta sauce, as was the pizza I didn’t even write about making but made from scratch. (Seriously, if it’s been a while since you tried making pizza crust and sauce from scratch, I have to tell you: it’s very easy, and the crust is absolutely delicious instead of being sort of a pointless cheese tray.) But I’m upping the level of difficulty – I just got a fresh pasta machine, so look for lots of photos of dough sheets with holes in them in coming weeks.
So I was really looking forward to the little madeleines popping out with their perfect little seashell patterns. Which isn’t exactly what happened.
I think the issue is that the recipe I have calls for spraying the pan with nonstick spray, but I had nonstick pans, so it didn’t really need that. And because I wasn’t cognizant enough of how small the molds were, I sprayed them too much and they wound up with a little too much oil. The result was that instead of a delicate cake with that distinctive shell pattern, they came out with a sort of bubbled fried crust on the seashell side, like they’d been pan-fried in oil. (They also may have been a skitch overbaked – or at least some of them were. This was also a good lesson in how my oven heats itself unevenly.)
The thing, though, is that they were still delicious. They weren’t quite as light as I wanted, though, although they tend toward the pound-cake texture as I understand it, traditionally, so they may have been closer than I thought to how they’re supposed to be. I thought they were very very yum, at least the one that I ate.
I was going to give you a picture [UPDATE: they took one at NPR Books!], but fortunately, the lovely people in my office gobbled them up. Making 24 madeleines, eating one, and giving 23 away is such a great example of treating yourself well across several dimensions, I can’t even tell you.