The long days and warm nights of summer are perfectly suited for settling in with a good book. I’ve been reading The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery, a fascinating and profound story about identity and personal conflict.
The story takes place in Paris, where the heroine Renée, a French concierge in an apartment building full or aristocrats, keeps her intellectualism hidden from the outside world and assumes the appearance of a common, uneducated woman. Her only friend, Portuguese Manuela, is in on her secret. After Manuela finishes her work cleaning the apartments, the two of them share a conversation over tea and fine French pastries together.
When a wealthy, cultured Japanese man moves into the building and immediately recognizes the common interests he and Renée share, Manuela gives her the help and courage she needs to shed her disguise, and the pastries to bring when she is invited to lunch at his home.
As followers of my blog know already, I also have a sweet spot for delicate, pretty pastries and homebaked goods. Therefore, it is fitting that I participated in the literary/culinary event Novel Food, hosted this summer by Simona from the blog Briciole, and try my hand at French haute patisserie.
In researching the perfect pastry to prepare for this event, I was drawn to a creation called gloutof, which Manuela bakes for Renée to much acclaim. However, a quick google search revealed that the gloutof is actually a kugelhopf, and it is well-documented by bloggers already.
Therefore, I decided to replicate another, simpler but equally elegant treat that Manuela often brings to Renée for their afternoon tea – Madeleines. Called Maddalene in Italian, these delicate, tender little cakes fill the kitchen with the warm summery fragrance of browned butter and lemon zest.
I borrowed the recipes from a 2007 entry in the blog 101 Cooks, making just a few small changes.
1 1/2 sticks butter
3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
4 large eggs
A pinch of salt
2/3 cups sugar
Zest of one lemon
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Butter and Flour for preparing the pan
Powdered sugar for dusting the Madeleines
A bit of extra flour for dusting baking pan
You will also need a Madeleine baking tray, available here and at most places that sell kitchen supplies.
Melt the butter in a pan over low heat until it browns and fills the kitchen with a warm, toasty fragrance. In my case, it was about 12 minutes, but this may differ on your stove.
In the meanwhile, butter and flour your Madeleine baking tray and set aside. Preheat your oven to 350° Fahrenheit.
Using an electric mixer to beat the eggs and salt together on high speed until frothy. Add sugar and continue beating for another minute or two.
Turn off your mixer and put it away; it’s done its work and from here on out you will be mixing gently by hand.
Gently stir in the lemon zest and vanilla. Carefully fold in the flour, mixing only as much as needed. Strain the butter into a dish using a wire strainer layered with a thin cloth or paper towel, removing the burnt bits. Add the butter, and stir gently until it is well-integrated into the batter.
Carefully spoon the batter into the Madeleine molds, filling them even with the tray. Bake for 12 minutes, until the edges are toast-colored and the tops are golden and springy to the touch.
Remove from baking tray, allow to cool, and dust with powdered sugar.