Perfect Madeleines

Madeleines have long eluded me.

I have spent a good portion of my baking life collecting various recipes and giving the promising ones a try every now and then, but my efforts were only ever rewarded with ho-hum results, pale and dense little pucks that stuck to the mold like nobody’s business and flatly refused to form a bump.

Granted, if my temperament as a baker was to latch on to such challenges and tweak and tweak tirelessly until I unlocked the secrets of this or that pastry, I would probably have solved this one some time ago. But the way I deal with baking hurdles is more along the lines of “try, fail, forget about it and move on; try again, fail again, move on again, etc.”

As they baked and I stared in through the oven door, hardly believing my eyes that the centers slowly rose to form the oh-so-elusive bumps, I heard a deep voice echoing through the kitchen, saying, “Your Quest Stops Here.”

This time, the nudge to try again came from my two-year-old, who developed his own brand of madeleine obsession, one that is more centered on the eating of said madeleines. We were going through packs from the organic store at a rapid clip, and at 3.50€ ($4.80) for ten, I thought I might as well bake them myself.

I decided to put my fate in the hands of Fabrice Le Bourdat, owner and pastry chef of Paris pâtisserie Blé Sucré, using the recipe for his signature madeleines — plump, golden, fist-sized, and lemon-glazed — as shared on video for the Fooding website*.

It’s a beautifully straightforward recipe that is easily (and best) made by hand — I first made the mistake of using my stand mixer, and let’s just say pouring in hot melted butter while the motor is running is not pretty — and it yields absurdly perfect madeleines: buttercup yellow, softly sticky bumps, lightly crisp edges, and fluffy, moist hearts.

As they baked and I stared in through the oven door, hardly believing my eyes that the centers rose slowly to form the oh-so-elusive bumps, I heard a deep voice echoing through the kitchen, saying, “Your Quest Stops Here.”

Looking at the recipe, I think the key elements that make it so astonishingly successful are these:

  • Refrigerating the batter overnight and preheating the oven to high is what creates the temperature shock that causes the bump to form.
  • Using a piping bag to fill the madeleine molds may sound fussy, but it is in fact immeasurably easier than using a spoon — the batter is pretty sticky — and it ensures the madeleines are neatly formed and evenly sized, which in turn makes them bake evenly.
  • Carefully buttering and refrigerating the madeleine tray, then assertively banging the tray sideways on the counter right out of the oven prevents the madeleines from sticking — they pop right out! — and the moisture from building up on the madeleines’s underbelly as they cool.

A few parting comments and words of advice:

  • Overfilling the molds will get you duck-billed madeleines (see picture below) that your toddler may recognize as such and specifically request (“Madeleine canard !”) but may not meet your own standards of aesthetics.
  • I altered Le Bourdat’s recipe slightly, reducing the amount of sugar (from 300 to 250 grams), adding salt, using a mix of baking soda and baking powder, and adding lemon zest as a classic flavoring. Feel free to omit it, or substitute the zest of another citrus, or vanilla, or orange flower water.
  • You can certainly dream up all kinds of wilder flavorings, but I encourage you to try these simple flavorings first, to experience the beauty of the plain madeleine. You can always eat them with alternating bites of dark chocolate.
  • The madeleines sold at Blé Sucré are topped with a lemon glaze, which is quite lovely, but messier for little hands to deal with. Up to you.
  • Watch your madeleines closely as they bake — especially your first batch — to determine the exact baking time that works for your own oven’s idiosyncrasies. Since madeleines are small, it can be a minute between perfect and overbaked.

Join the conversation!

Have you had success baking madeleines in the past? Or is this the nudge you needed to give it a go? Are you an advocate of plain madeleines, or are you just dying to add in chocolate chips and blueberries and bacon bits?

* Here’s my own grainy video baking my chocolate and zucchini cake for that same website.

Duck-billed madeleine: this is what happens when you overfill the molds.

Duck-billed madeleine: this is what happens when you overfill the molds.

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The French Market Cookbook: 1st Anniversary Giveaway!

The French Market Cookbook came out just a year ago today, and I wanted to take this opportunity to thank those of you who bought the book — sometimes multiple copies of it! — and cooked from it with such enthusiasm. It has been a joy and an absolute treat to hear your season-by-season reports, read your sweet tweets, and see your Instagram pictures, so please keep them coming!

To celebrate this one-year anniversary, my publisher and I have five fresh copies of the book for you to win, so you can finally get your hot little hands on it, or gift it away to your favorite vegetable lover.

For a chance to win a copy of The French Market Cookbook, please leave a comment below no later than Wednesday July 9, 2014, midnight Paris time, telling me which of the book’s recipes you most want to try*, or which one you like best if you’ve already cooked from it.

I will draw five comments randomly and announce the winners here next week. My publisher has agreed to send the book out to any mailing address in the world, so you’re welcome to play regardless of your location.

We Got Winners!

The giveaway is now closed, and the following five readers will each receive a copy of The French Market Cookbook:

  • Petra Durnin, who wrote, “I’ve made the Ratatouille Tian and loved it! Would like to try the green pancakes next :)”
  • Mary Duggan, who wrote, “Green pancakes! I love chard and I’m always looking for new ways of cooking it!”
  • Martic, who wrote, “I want to make the Stuffed Vegetables with Beans and Barley — that sounds delicious!!”
  • Brigita Orel, who wrote, “I would love to try the peach, almond and cardamom clafoutis.”
  • Alyson, who wrote, “I really want to try the avocado and radish mini tartines… anything with avocado is a must for me!”

Congratulations to them, and thank you all for participating with such enthusiasm!

* To help you make a choice, here’s a sample of the book’s recipes, excerpted with the publisher’s permission:
~ Avocado and Radish Mini Tartines
~ Very Green Salad
~ Shaved Fennel Salad with Preserved Lemon
~ Green Pancakes
~ Green Bean and Red Rice Salad
~ Radish Top Pasta
~ Zucchini and Apricot Socca Tart
~ Ratatouille Tian
~ Stuffed Vegetables with Beans and Barley
~ Strawberry Tartlets with Breton Shortbread Crust
~ Peach, Almond and Cardamom Clafoutis

July 2014 Desktop Calendar

At the beginning of every month in 2014, I am offering a new wallpaper to apply on the desktop of your computer, with a food-related picture and a calendar of the current month.

As a new feature this year, the desktop calendar is available in two versions: a US-friendly version that features Sunday as the first day of the week, and a French version (shown above) that complies with international standards, featuring Monday as the first day of the week.

Our calendar for July is a picture of this almond cake with blueberry coulis, and I am sharing it with the most ardent recommendation that you include it in your plans for summer treats.

Instructions to get your calendar are below.

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June Favorites

Photography by James Ransom, reproduced with permission from Food52.

Photography by James Ransom, reproduced with permission from Food52.

Some of my favorite finds and reads for this month:

~ Have you been throwing out your strawberry tops when you could have been sipping strawberry top water all along?

~ My friend Emma has produced a series of documentaries on Marfa, TX for the French-German television channel Arte, and on July 10 the episode on Adam Bork will be available online: learn all about the inventor of the Marfa-lafel and his Food Shark food truck!

~ Does it make sense to bike without a helmet?

~ Unleash your inner Jacques Génin and make your own passionfruit mango caramels.

~ If you shop for tomatoes in France, don’t fall for the beefheart tomato fraud.

~ The high human cost of cheap Thai shrimp.

~ Client feedback on the creation of the Earth.

~ Impress your friends by creating a whistle out of a chestnut tree branch.

~ Calligraphy you can eat.

~ The Max Havelaar fairtrade label on the brink of implosion.

What about you, any memorable link to share this month?

Yellow Zucchini Tarte Fine on a Yogurt-Based Crust

This tarte fine (i.e. a thin tart with little or no rim) is a free-form room-temperature tart I assembled on a homemade crust with fresh cheese, mint, and thinly sliced raw zucchini, finished with a drizzle of olive oil and a little fresh thyme from my neighbor’s parents’ garden.

The overall format was inspired by Sonia Ezgulian‘s radish tart, as featured on Cécile Cau’s blog: hers involves a pâte brisée made with fennel seeds and filled with a mix of fromage blanc (a sort of yogurt) and ground almonds, topped with thinly sliced raw pink radishes.

I thought I would transpose the idea to use the sprightly young zucchini we’ve been getting lately, and the crust I used in mine was an experiment, as I wanted to try and make a short crust pastry using yogurt.

That yogurt crust was a complete success: quick to assemble and easy to roll out, it baked into a deep golden, crisp and flaky crust that supported the tangy fresh cheese filling and the sweet zucchini slices beautifully.

I had long ago bookmarked several online mentions of a puff pastry-like dough made with petits suisses, for which you combine these little unsalted fresh cheeses with flour and butter in a 2:2:1 weight ratio (unless you use the 1:2:1 ratio others recommend), and thought it was finally time to give it a try.

There were no petits suisses in my fridge, but yogurt I did have, so I planned to use that. And the ratio didn’t seem quite right to me — I worried the dough would be too moist, and the fact that two different ratios were said to work equally well did nothing to reassure me — so I improvised my own, combining flour, yogurt and butter in a 3:2:1 ratio instead (here, 180 grams flour, 120 grams yogurt, 60 grams butter, plus a little salt).

That crust was a complete success: it was quick to assemble, easy to roll out, and it baked into a deep golden, crisp and flaky crust that supported the tangy fresh cheese filling and the sweet zucchini slices beautifully.

We liked this refreshing summer tart so much I made another, identical one later that week, and used that same dough recipe for the Swiss chard quiche my mother, sister and I baked at my parents’ mountain house over the weekend.

I now intend to try and make a sweet version of that crust, probably very soon, and probably for a rhubarb tart using the gorgeous garden rhubarb I brought back with me.

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