Saturday, 11 August 2012

LITERARY CAKES

....those squat, plump little cakes called "petites madeleines," which look as though they had been moulded in the fluted valve of a scallop shell.... (Marcel Proust)


Madeleines. Forever to be associated with the French writer Marcel Proust and the famous "Proustian rush", an involuntary memory triggered when cues encountered in everyday life evoke recollections of the past. The delicate orange-flower fragrance and flavour of these little cakes bring forth a rush of memories for the narrator, Swann, of Proust's first volume of À la recherche du temps perdu (In Search of Lost Time). Read the whole quote here.

Madeleines are small sponge cakes, with a distinctive shell-like shape. They traditionally come from Commercy in the Lorraine region of France. They are very easy to make, consisting of equal quantities of flour, sugar, butter and eggs, with a dash of orange flower water for their perfumed flavour: the only specialist equipment required is a Madeleine pan, which will give them their characteristic shape. They are delicious served with tea or coffee as an afternoon treat, or with strawberries or other fruit. Use slightly stale Madeleines as an alternative to trifle sponges or boudoir biscuits in trifles or tiramisu. The basic recipe can be varied to include ground nuts, such as almonds, and lemon zest. I have also seen recipes for pistachio Madeleines, pistachio and rose Madeleines, and chocolate Madeleines.

Makes 24 medium Madeleines

Oven 200°C

125g/4 oz plain flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
125g caster sugar
125 butter, melted
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 tbsp orange flower water

Beat the eggs with the caster sugar until thick and light. Add the orange flower water. Sift the flour with the baking powder and add to the egg mixture in three batches. When the last of the flour has been added, sprinkle the melted butter over the surface of the batter and fold in carefully. The mixture needs to stay light and full of volume.

Allow the batter to stand for 20 minutes or until it is slightly stiffer. Pour into the Madeleine pan and bake for about 10 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from the pan and cook on a wire rack. Store in an airtight tin.

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