In Marcel Proust's Remembrance of Things Past (A la recherche du temps perdu) he uses the taste of a madeleine dipped in a cup of tea as a catalyst to involuntary memory in his main character. As a man, Swann takes a bite of a madeleine dipped into his cup of tea, and immediately he is thrown back to his grandmother's kitchen where he recalls the same flavors and scents as a young boy. If you've seen the movie "Ratatouille", they do the same thing when the food critic takes a bite of food at Remy's restaurant and is immediately transported to his childhood kitchen and mother's cooking. We've all had that experience, where we taste, smell or hear something that makes us recall something from our past.
I think Proust had a great idea in choosing the madeleine for this purpose. After living in Europe and having madeleines rather frequently, I find that every time I have another one, I am immediately swept back to the streets of Paris, madeleine in hand. Or at the breakfast table in Tours, having madeleines and coffee. Madeleines were a big part of my European life, shall we say. I have been dying to make madeleines at home for years, yes years. I used to buy them at Trader Joe's, so I didn't have to make them, but TJ's discontinued them (foolish error!)...so I have been left to my own devices. I scoured Dorie Greenspan's Baking cookbook (a MUST HAVE by the way) and found a plethora of madeleine recipes. I chose the basic one, but I will try the others in the future, because this is one easy recipe.
I made the madeleines for a New Year's Day brunch, and they were devoured in no time. Unfortunately I didn't get the characteristic hump on the back of the madeleines like I would have liked. I understand the trick to that is having cold batter. Mine was in the refrigerator overnight, so I'm not sure where I went wrong, but practice makes perfect! In any case, these are a keeper, and they will wow your friends!!
Source: Dorie Greenspan, Baking: From My Home to Yours
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
¾ teaspoon baking powder
Pinch of salt
½ cup sugar
Grated zest of 1 lemon
2 large eggs, at room temperature
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
¾ stick (6 tablespoons) 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 F. 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 (or pans), 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 10 minutes, or until they are golden and the tops spring back when touched. 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.
Makes 12 large or 36 mini cookies
Serving: Serve the cookies when they are only slightly warm or when they reach room temperature, with tea or espresso.
Storing: Although the batter can be kept in the refrigerator for up to 2 days, the madeleines should be eaten soon after they are made. You can keep them overnight in a sealed container, but they really are better on day 1. If you must store them, wrap them airtight and freeze them; they’ll keep for up to 2 months.