Saturday, January 8, 2011

Orange Blossom Madeleines . . . Are They On Your List?

This seems to be the time of year for lists. Lists of what we'd like to change, what we want to try, lists of last year's best and worst--you name it, someone's got a list for it. I had a list of bread and pastry items I wanted to make, along with a list of unusual ingredients I wanted try, and I managed to cross quite a few things off over the last twelve months.

One of the items on my 2010 list of  baked goods, that I had intended to make at home but never got around to, were madeleines--those spongy little French cookies/cakes that novelist Marcel Proust immortalized almost 100 years ago. Why I never got around to doing it last year I can hardly fathom; they're not difficult or complicated. But as my 83  year-old dad enjoys pointing out, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. (He typically says this with a half-smile, as if he secretly believes it's one of the funniest aphorisms he's ever heard but isn't sure he should let on.)

Hard to argue with the philosophical truth of a statement like that, but I did at least manage to make madeleines in school a couple of times last year. Still, I never feel like I've made something on my own until I've done it at home, without a white-garbed professional chef hovering nearby. There's all manner of support and oversight in my baking and pastry classes but there's nothing whatsoever to fall back on at home. That's why it's often far scarier for me to embark on an intimidating recipe while I'm in my own kitchen than it is to do so in a culinary classroom.

Luckily, madeleines require nothing in the way of back-up and they shouldn't strike fear in even the most rudimentary baker's heart. In fact, they can be whipped up inside of an hour without the least stress or strain. No need for even an electric hand mixer. All you need is a bowl, a whisk, and maybe a pen so you can cross this one off of your list, too!

About this recipe . . . 

This recipe is from Nick Malgieri's book, Cookies Unlimited. (And you know how I love his books--they've never let me down, not once.) I changed it only by adding in a bit of orange blossom honey and I reworded the instructions, throwing in my own two cents, as usual.

If you don't have any orange flower water on hand, don't worry about it, but if you can get your hands on a bottle, I recommend you use it. Why? Because it's captivating. Its fragrance is perfume-like and slightly off-putting at first, especially when you consider that it's going to be added to food. But taste a couple drops before you decide against its use. The flavor, once it has a moment to rest on your tongue, reveals its origin in orange blossoms. It's like a beautiful potion. Even the bottle is pretty. I think you need to try it in 2011. So there.

Orange Blossom Madeleines
(For a printable version of this recipe, click here!)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Butter and flour the cavities in a madeleine pan. This recipe makes at least 12 large madeleines, with a little batter left over.  (If you have two pans, I'd suggest you prepare both of them.)

2 large eggs, room temperature (Warm your eggs by placing them in their shells in a bowl of very warm water for a few minutes; works wonders.)
1 pinch salt (I used regular salt.)
1/2 cup granulated sugar, minus 1 Tbsp.
1 Tbsp. orange blossom honey
Finely grated zest of 1 large orange
1 tsp. orange flower water (Okay to leave out if you don't have it. Could substitute a tiny bit of orange extract instead.)
1 cup all-purpose flour (Malgieri's recipe doesn't dictate that you sift, but I siftted.)
8 Tbsp. (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted (But not hot!)
Confectioners' sugar for finishing (You'll need just a couple tablespoons, really.)

In a medium sized bowl, using a hand whisk, beat the eggs and salt until they're bubbly; this should take only about 15 seconds.

In a thin stream, whisk in the sugar. Whisk in the zest, and orange flower water, then the honey.

Fold in the flour using a rubber spatula, then add in the melted butter, folding until well combined.

Use a large spoon (Malgieri recommends a soup spoon) to fill the cavities of the prepared pan about 2/3 of the way full.  

Bake the madeleines until they've risen, feel firm to the touch, and are lightly golden. Immediately remove the madelienes from the pan; they'll fall right out when you turn it over. 

Put them on a rack to cool. Dust them very lightly with confectioners sugar before serving.

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