Vanilla Scented Madeleines & A Movie
Those of you who had to take a college literature class may well have read a little book by Monsieur Marcel Proust called Remembrance of Things Past. If you had to read it from front to back – all three volumes of it – I do feel a twing of pity for you. However, Proust did the culinary world a great service by bringing to our collective attentions “those squat plump little cakes called ‘petites madeleines,’ which look as though they had been molded in the fluted valve of a scallop shell”. Some have argued Proust was no wiz at cookie i.d., confusing madeleines perhaps for something more akin to a biscotti or even dry toast. But it doesn’t really matter what Proust actually ate, does it? What matters is that his literary work informed many a tea drinker (and let’s face it, lots of bookworms drink tea) of the existence these superb cookies for dunking in piping hot teacups.
Now that I’ve given my intellectual spiel on the topic, let me tell you how I came to learn of dear crumbly, airy, moist madeleines. I have a penchant for films with strong leading men who drive very fast shiny cars and choose their words wisely. The James Bond franchise is perhaps the best-known example. John Wayne would have been a contender if he’d swapped his horse for a sports car. But it’s a lesser known 2002 French film that really exemplifies the genre for me.
The Transporter, featuring the oh-so-sexy Jason Statham, is about this stoic guy who delivers “packages” for crime lords in his immaculate black BMW. One “package” turns out to be a Chinese girl being delivered, most likely, to her executioner. You can guess how the plot unfolds (or better yet, rent the film) so I’ll skip to the part I’ve always loved best. The two of them end up in a little stone chateau in the French countryside, and she wakes up early to make madeleines for his breakfast. In that moment, when he smells and tastes those freshly baked madeleines, you immediately see an endearing crack in his stoic armor. The day after I watched the film, I went out to buy madeleine forms and found a recipe in my trusty cookie cookbook.
I’ve been in love with these cakey treats ever since. Of course today, you can find them on every Starbucks countertop, but a madeleine is at its best straight out of the oven. I make mine mostly with lemons, although oranges are also common. The citric acid reacts with the baking powder to create lots of little air bubbles in what would otherwise be a very dense moist crumb. It really is the perfect tea cookie texture.
When a friend invited me over to watch a movie about fast cars and thugs (Wanted) while we sipped Rooibos tea, I just had to make madeleines. Normally this recipe wouldn’t make it on to SFTF since lemons aren’t your every day local fare here in Pennsylvania. But my generous friends with the lemon tree in their kitchen gave me more fruit so I can justify sharing my love of madeleines (and anything-but-girly films too) with you. Making them this time was an extra special treat since D had just gifted me with a form for mini madeleines. Two sizes are even more fun than one!
Oh, and in case you are wondering, these would make fantastic holiday cookies too! The girl in The Transporter had it right: tea at breakfast with a warm madeleine will make even your most difficult guests (new in-laws, anyone?) smile with appreciation. What are some of your favorite cookie recipes, particularly at this time of the year? Feel free to include links to recipes so we can have a virtual holiday cookie exchange!
Vanilla Scented Madeleines
Adapted from The Cook’s Encyclopedia of Cookies
1 ¼ C. all-purpose flour
1 t. baking powder
¾ C. confectioners’ sugar
1 lemon, zested and juiced
1 vanilla bean, scraped
6 T. unsalted butter
Melt the butter completely and allow to cool slightly while you mix the other ingredients. Grease a madeleine form pan (if you don’t have one, a muffin pan can substitute).
Sift together flour and baking powder and set aside. Using an electric mixer, beat the eggs and confectioners’ sugar for 5-7 minutes until thick and creamy. The mixture should form a ribbon with then beaters are lifted. Gently fold in the lemon rind and juice and vanilla scrapings.
Beginning with the flour mixtures, alternately fold in the flour and melted butter in four batches. Allow the mixture to stand for 10 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 375 F.
Carefully spoon into the madeleine pan, using small amounts as dough expands significantly during baking. Tap gently to release any large air bubbles.
Bake for 12-15 minutes until cookies are firm to the touch and edges are turning golden brown. Turn out onto a kitchen towel or cooling rack. Dust with confectioners’ sugar before serving.
(makes 12 large or 36 small madeleines)