When Anthony left to go to Germany for a year, we decided it would be nice to read the same book together, long distance. I had a number of suggestions, most of them long, dramatic Victorian novels, great to cry yourself to sleep with. He wanted Proust’s Swann’s Way. Since I had always meant to read Proust, but had never gotten around to it, I let him have his way. I began the book shortly after his departure. To me, it was as engaging as any of those tortured and doomed romantic novels, and I read it diligently.
No reading of Proust’s Swann’s Way can overlook the love letter he wrote to Madeleines and lime flower tea. I was swept away and my quest for the perfect Madeleine recipe began. I searched high and low, stuck with old favourites and ventured into the contemporary, and made some headway in categorizing the delicious cookie cakes. As I see things, there are basically three types of Madeleines: sponge-like, pound-like, and nouveau. Which you prefer is a matter of taste. They all have a time and place.
I ate many Madeleines that winter, and finished the book. Anthony never did get through it, but then he didn't have my madeleines at hand...
The recipe below is for the sponge-like variety; perfect with tea, as it is a little drier and lighter than the others. Don’t mistake these characteristics for flaws, though. Its flavour is still elegant and unmistakable.
The fact that you need a Madeleine pan in order to make these only adds to their charm, if you ask me.
150 g sugar
1 tsp. lemon zest
1 tsp. lemon juice
220 g cake flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
100 g melted butter
50 ml milk
Preheat oven to 500ºF.
Warm the eggs by placing them in a bowl of hot tap water.
Sift flour and baking powder together.
Place sugar in a bowl and whisk the eggs in gradually until you reach the ribbon stage *.
Add flavouring and the flour, baking powder, and 3/4 of the milk. Stir in the butter and remaining milk. Let batter rest 15 min. in the fridge.
Butter and flour the molds. Fill them 3/4 full with batter, using a spoon or a piping bag.
Place on the bottom rack of the oven and reduce heat to 375ºF. **
Bake 10-15 min., until sides are golden. Cool on a rack and sprinkle with icing sugar to serve.
* Ribbon stage is when the eggs reach a thick enough volume that when you pour the batter, it keeps its shape rather than spreading out flat. The mixture will be thick and the color will be pale yellow.
** This is how Madeleines get their distinctive hump.