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Madeleines are small French cakes, traditionally baked in shell shaped molds and eaten like cookies. They have become intrinsically associated with French cuisine, thanks to the writings of Marcel Proust. The little cakes are very popular in selections of petit fours, and they are also excellent on their own. Many French-style tea shops and bakeries carry madeleines, and they can also be made at home with the assistance of a madeleine pan.
The food is named for Madeleine Palmier, a French pastry cook who allegedly developed it. Along with other petit fours, madeleines are in the sponge cake family. When well made, they have a golden, slightly crispy exterior, and a soft, fluffy interior. Many people prefer madeleines fresh out of the oven, still warm and slightly soft. The small cakes can also be wrapped and stored in airtight containers for up to one month, although they do tend to acquire a lightly stale quality.
Typically, madeleines are dipped in tea. This is especially true with old and slightly stale madeleines, which are ideally suited for dipping. Some people also use the cookies as a base for tiramisu, or layer them with pastry cream and frosting to turn them into true petit fours. Many bakeries make variations with lemon or poppy seeds, for additional flavor, and lemon madeleines are very popular.
To make madeleines, melt one half cup of unsalted butter and set it aside to cool. Sift together one cup of flour, one half teaspoon baking powder, and one eighth teaspoon salt. In a separate bowl, beat three large eggs together with two thirds of a cup of sugar until the mixture turns pale. Fold the flour into the eggs, being careful not to overcombine as this can cause the batter to collapse. Next, add a small amount of the egg mixture to the melted butter before folding the butter into the batter in three segments.
Ladle the batter into a buttered and floured madeleine pan, and bake for around 12 minutes at 375 degrees Fahrenheit (190 degrees Celsius). The madeleines should be golden and slightly springy, and be careful not to overcook, as they do not taste pleasant when they dry out. Remove the pan from the oven, rap it against a counter to knock the cakes loose, and turn them out onto racks to cool. Allow the madeleines to cool completely before storing them in an airtight container lined with tissue or parchment paper.
Aren't madeleines the important cookie in Proust's Remembrance of Things Past? I never got as far as reading it but I remember a professor of mine talking about it. Something about he watched someone dip a madeleine into tea and it started this whole stream of memory.
I used to think of that sometimes when I would go to La Madeleine, the bakery, when I went to college in DC. My, they have delicious things to eat there (no idea if they have actual madeleines or not!).
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