Friday, 28 September 2012
The leaves are starting to turn red in the garden, my hands keep getting cold as I cycle into town and the heating has been turned on. Autumn has arrived in Oxford, heralding the new academic year.
The combination of maple syrup and nutmeg is one I've been trying to find a home for since last year, when I baked some Maple Nutmeg Biscuits. They didn't bake up particularly well but I loved the flavouring in the dough. It's warm and nutty (especially with the brown butter in this recipe), sweet but complex and balances well with some sea salt - a perfect autumn pairing.
The recipe these madeleines are based on is from Heston Blumenthal - he says they were his way of treating his wife when she'd had a long day. They're not typical madeleines as the mixture is more of a financier batter (like these almond ones).
The first time I made his recipe was the day I handed in my extended essay in my third year. The essay - my only non-medieval paper - was on taste and memory in Joyce, Woolf, Proust and modern food memoirs, so it seemed appropriate.
(Did you notice the sneaky Proust reference? I don't think it's possible to write a blog post about madeleines without at least one. I'm guessing you don't need it to be quoted to know what I mean.)
The traditional recipe is based on a génoise batter. I've made David Lebovitz's recipe for Lemon-Glazed Madeleines in my normal sized tin a few times and I highly recommend it.
I've come to the conclusion that I like the more traditional recipes in the normal madeleine tin. I prefer this denser recipe for mini madeleines, as you get crispy edges and a damp, flavourful middle. The traditional recipes are lighter and the cake seems almost non-existent in such small quantities.
I bought my tin in France from a little kitchen shop in Dinan when we were visiting Brittany last year. It's a Gobel mini madeleine tin with the non-stick coating. The cheapest UK source I've found is here, and I also found it at Williams Sonoma (which ships to many countries beside the US). Obviously it's an expensive luxury to buy a tin with one purpose, but I thought I'd link it in for fellow baking tin enthusiasts. I also have a plan to butter the tin, coat it with lots of cocoa powder and pour in a ganache to set. I'll let you know if I end up with pretty shell chocolates.
I baked half the batter on one day and then baked the rest the next. It worked well but I wouldn't leave it for more than 24 hours. I made a half batch of my original adapted recipe, which I've put below. A little goes a long way. You can double it if you need more or you'd rather not have half an egg white lying around - I used mine in some scrambled eggs with the yolks.
It is a faff but do make the effort to chill the mixture. I tasted it before and after chilling and the difference in the strength of the flavours is huge. It also helps the cakes rise and produce the signature hump - it's a bit smaller in little tins, but it should still be noticeable.
I took a batch of these, still hot from the oven, across the road to my friend's house. We balanced the plate on the arm of the sofa and curled up with cups of tea next to it. Sharing small things is somehow more satisfying that just having a slice of cake each.
They would also be great to serve with coffee at the end of a dinner party or celebration meal. You could have the mixture chilling in the tin and then just pop it in to bake when you're ready - they only take ten minutes.
Maple Nutmeg Mini Madeleines
(adapted from this recipe by Heston Blumenthal in The Sunday Times)
65g unsalted butter
50g icing sugar
20g ground almonds
20g plain flour
45g egg white (1.5 eggs worth)
1 1/2 tsp maple syrup (Grade B if possible)
1/8 tsp freshly ground nutmeg
1/8 tsp fine sea salt
Cut the butter into slices and place into a small pan. Melt then heat until the butter smells nutty and is full of light brown specks. (If you haven't browned butter before, try my Foundations post for instructions/photos/video). Pour into a bowl to cool. Sieve the icing sugar, almonds and flour into a mixing bowl. Add the egg white then whisk to combine. Finally whisk in the maple syrup, nutmeg, sea salt and warm (not hot) brown butter. Cover the bowl with cling film and chill in the fridge for at least an hour.
Carefully butter the tray, making sure you get into all the ridges. Sift/scatter over some flour and tap until the butter is evenly coated with a fine dusting. Spoon in a little of the chilled mixture - about a teaspoon - so the mould is 2/3 to 3/4 full (as in the picture above). Put back into the fridge to chill for another 15 minutes (or longer). Preheat the oven to 170C. Bake the madeleines for 8-10 minutes - they should rise up with little humps in the middle and be a golden brown with slightly darker edges. Leave in the tray to cool for a minute, then ease them out of the tray (sometimes they need loosening around the edges but mostly they pop out easily). Leave to cool for five minutes then eat warm. They're best within an hour of so of baking and definitely on that day. The mixture keeps in the fridge for up to 24 hours.
(Makes 35-40 bite-size madeleines)