I have been attending a creative writing class for several years. The group meets once a week and is led by a young woman who is an incredibly gifted poet. A new group enrolls every four to six weeks, and although there are always new members, there are several regulars who have become good friends. The class includes a professional actress whose writing is filled with beautiful language and images; a retired Orthodox priest who tells and writes wonderful stories about his adventures among Native American tribes throughout the West; a scientist who writes passionately about the environment and climate change; a retired journalist who makes us laugh with his stories about growing up; and a political activist who has a famously unfinished novel about feral pythons in the Everglades.
Our current series of workshops comes to a close this week. I thought some kind of snack would be a good way to say goodbye to all of the current participants. It seemed to me that nothing would be more appropriate for the group than some Proustean Madeleines. We won’t have any tea to dip them in and will have to make do with bottled water. I decided, though, that maybe rather than ordinary vanilla-flavored cookies the group might enjoy some made with Mandarin orange (actually “Halos” from my refrigerator) and poppy seed. Here’s the recipe. It is amazingly easy, and the only challenge is to find a French Madeleine pan. Never mind if you don’t have or can’t find one. Muffin tins will serve as fine substitutes. The batter is, after all, a French Genoise
Mandarin-Poppy Seed Madeleines
- 2 large eggs, room temperature
- ½ cup sugar
- zest from one clementine
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon orange blossom water
- 1 tablespoon orange liqueur
- 1 tablespoon poppy seeds
- 1 cup flour
- 8 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly + 2 tablespoons for preparing Madeleine molds
- juice from one clementine, strained
- ½ cup confectioner’s sugar
- In a large bowl, whisk the eggs until smooth. Add the sugar and orange zest. Using an electric mixer, beat the mixture on high speed until it is foamy and has expanded at least three times in volume, about 5 minutes.
- Stir in the salt, vanilla extract, orange blossom water, orange liqueur, and poppy seeds.
- Pour the flour into a large sieve, and sift about half of the flour into the batter. Fold in. Then add the 8 tablespoons of melted butter, and stir to incorporate. Sift in the remaining flour and fold in until well mixed. Let the batter rest at room temperature for 30 minutes.
- In the meantime, heat the oven to 400°F and prepare the Madeleine mold by brushing the remaining melted butter into the mold cups, making sure that the surfaces are well coated.
- By tablespoonfuls, transfer the batter into the prepared Madeleine molds. There should be enough for 24 individual Madeleines.
- Bake in the middle of the pre-heated oven for 10 minutes or until the edges of the Madeleines are golden brown. Remove from the oven, loosen the edges of the individual cakes with a fork, and transfer to a cooling rack.
- Prepare the glaze by mixing the clementine juice and confectioner’s sugar to form a smooth liquid about the consistency of heavy cream.
- With a pastry brush, paint one side of each cooled Madeleine with the glaze. Let rest until the glaze has firmed, about 30 minutes. Serve immediately or store in an air-tight container for up to 2 days.
Every week I meet with my writing group to read some interesting poems, write some poetry, and read our work to one another. Sometimes we read bits of really classic writing. Seems like a good platform for reading a little of Swann’s Way from Remembrances of Things Past and thinking about madeleines. Also a good excuse for baking some madeleines. Years ago, I tried making them from one of Julia Child’s recipes, and they were a total flop, so I have never been brave enough to try them again until now. My recipe is a tweek of the version in Marion Cunningham’s Fannie Farmer Baking Book. If you follow the directions carefully, it is an easy effort. You should also have all of the ingredients assembled and equipment at the ready before you start. (remember, mis en place.)
Also, I’ve never read Remembrance of Things Past, so I was anxious to find out what the fuss was all about. Here’s a quote from Proust:
Many years had elapsed during which nothing of Combray… had any existence for me when one day in winter, on my return home, my mother seeing that I was cold, offered me some tea…She sent for one of those squat, plump little cakes called “petites madeleines,” which look as though they had been moulded in the fluted valve of a scallop shell.. I raised to my lips a spoonful of the tea in which I had soaked a morsel of the cake. No sooner had the warm liquid mixed with the crumbs touched my palate than a shivver ran through me and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary thing that was happening to me. An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses, something isolated, detached, with not suggestion of its origin… I had ceased now to feel mediocre, contingent, mortal. Whence could it have come to me, this all powerful joy? I sensed that it was connected with the taste of the tea and the cake, but that it infinitely transcended those savours, could, no, indeed, be of the same nature.
No wonder everyone wants to be transformed by a madeleine with tea.
None of the group writes as well as Proust, but I thought we might get some inspiration with a fresh madeleine.
Heavily buttered molds
Mis en place
Eggs, sugar, and lemon zest
Egg mixture being heated in a simmering water bath
Out of the oven
A single madeleine
Tea and madeleine a la Proust
- 2 eggs at room temperature
- ½ cup sugar
- zest of one lemon
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1 cup all-purpose flour placed in a flour sifter
- 1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter. melted
- 4 tablespoons soft butter to coat lining of baking forms
- confectioner’s sugar (optional)
- In a large mixing bowl, combine the eggs, sugar, and lemon zest. Set the bowl in a pan of simmering water. Be sure the level of the water is above the level of the egg mixture. (See my post on seven-minute frosting.) Using an instant-read thermometer, beat on low speed with an electric mixer until the temperature is 130 – 140° F. If it is too cool, the batter will not come together. If it is too hot, the eggs may scramble and you will have to start again.
- Remove the bowl from the water bath. Beat with an electric mixer on high speed until the mixture is tripled in volume and is light and fluffy – about 3 minutes.
- Stir in the vanilla and salt.
- Sift half of the flour over the egg mixture and fold in with a spoon or spatula. Pour in the melted butter, and sift in the remaining flour, folding in gently until the batter is smooth.
- Spoon the batter by generous tablespoons into madeleine molds that have been greased generously with the remaining butter. There should be enough batter for 24 regular-sized molds.
- Bake for 12 minutes in the middle of an oven that has been pre-heated to 400°F. The edges of the cookies should be golden and lift easily from the molds. Transfer the cookies to a rack to cool. The cookies should be served within a few hours or wrapped and frozen. Sprinkle with confectioner’s sugar if desired.