Summer holidays usually mean catching up with my husband’s family in Brittany, France, and this year was no exception. We opted to take the train this summer, a long 12 hour journey but which gives us an excuse to stopover in Paris for a bit of family fun (and shopping for moi). This time around, we got to visit some new cafés and restaurants (see my updated list of where to eat and shop in Paris), as well as discovering new places to take the children.
Much to my delight, our hotel was right next door to a Pierre Hermé store, and our children were just as excited as I was to nibble on some exquisite macarons for afternoon tea. There was also an award-winning ice-cream shop nearby, called Une Glace à Paris, with lots of interesting flavour combinations to try, such as orange, carrot & ginger sorbet or caramel & lychee ice-cream. Despite the many choices on offer, our son opted for plain vanilla!
The waters in the far north-west coast of Brittany can be bitingly chilly, even in the height of summer, but our children seem to love nothing more than spending hours playing in the sand and occasionally entering the water for a bit of a splash. But what is most important about our summer holidays is that they get to spend time and bond with other members of the family with whom they, unfortunately, see too little of during the year. One person who plays a special role in their lives at the moment is their 92 year old great-great-aunt; she is currently the oldest member in the family but she still has the spirit of a child. And despite her age, she still does most of the cooking when we visit, and one can always find her in the kitchen baking some treats for the children. I have entered the kitchen on many mornings to find her baking a batch of madeleines, not intended to be eaten at breakfast but made in preparation for afternoon tea, called goûter. Not that that has stopped me from pinching a few to eat alongside my morning coffee!
I have loved eating madeleines since I was a wee child, and even though I bake them quite regularly at home, my son seems to associate madeleines with his great-great-aunt, someone he sees only once or twice a year. They are the perfect little cakes for little hands and, lately, I have even found myself serving them for dessert alongside a bowl of strawberries steeped in balsamic vinegar or even a chocolate mousse.
Madeleines are best when the batter can be made several days ahead and left to rest in the fridge. This resting period allows the gluten in the flour to develop, which helps to give you light and fluffy cakes. The batter also needs to be fridge-cold before you fill the madeleine moulds and bake them, because it is the combination of cold batter and the shock of the hot oven which helps the madeleines to achieve their characteristic bumps. In my husband’s family, the success of a batch of madeleines depends mostly on how large the bumps are!
Given how I often I make these cakes, I recently thought about buying a second mould. The problem with having one mould is that, after the first batch, I have to wait for the tray to cool before I can wash it, and then I have to grease and flour it again. I have one large aluminium mould which produces 12 large madeleines, plus an assortment of vintage moulds with a similar capacity. I also have a non-stick mini madeleine mould but, despite it being non-stick, I find I still have to grease and flour it like I would for my aluminium mould. That said, it is much easier to remove the cakes from a non-stick mould than an aluminium mould.
I recently purchased a silicone madeleine mould as I was curious to see if they were easier and better to use than aluminium. Whilst they were certainly easier to clean and the cakes popped out of the moulds very easily, I found the colouring on the cakes to be uneven. Moreover, the cakes didn’t have the same caramelisation that you can achieve with a normal mould. Even my son complained that the cakes were too pale and soft for his liking.
I have now resorted to using a baking spray on my aluminium madeleine mould, and I also flour the moulds for extra assurance.
My recent batch of madeleines were these honey madeleines. We frequently receive jars of honey as gifts, and I love the subtle sweetness they add to cakes and desserts. I also like to drink my tea with honey and I thought these madeleines would complement them perfectly.
- 150 g (5.3 oz) unsalted butter
- 3 eggs
- 150 g (5.3 oz) caster sugar
- 150 g (5.3 oz) plain flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 tablespoon runny honey
- 1 tablespoon orange blossom water (optional)
- butter and flour (or baking spray) to grease the madeleine mould
- Melt the butter in a small saucepan and set aside to cool.
- In a large bowl, or the bowl of an electric stand mixer, whisk together the eggs and sugar until the mixture is pale and thick.
- Add the flour, baking powder, honey, orange blossom water and melted butter. Mix until everything is well incorporated and the batter has a thick consistency.
- Leave the batter to rest in the fridge for at least 1 hour.
- Preheat the oven to 270°C (518°F).
- Generously grease the madeleine mould with butter and flour, even if it is non-stick. Another option is to use a special baking spray.
- Place a generous teaspoon of batter in the hole of each mould, or use a piping bag.
- Place the tray in the oven, and immediately turn down the temperature to 210°C (410°F). Bake until the madeleines have risen and are lightly golden on top. For large madeleine moulds similar to that pictured, this should take about 7-10 minutes, depending on your oven.
- Once the madeleines are cooked to your liking, remove the tray from the oven, and wait a few minutes before carefully removing the cakes from the moulds. Leave them to cool on a wire rack (the ridge-side facing down), and eat them warm or cold.
The batter can be made several days ahead of time and left in the fridge to rest. I have kept batter in the fridge for up to 5 days with no problems.
The madeleines are best eaten on the same day they are baked, and preferably when they are still warm.
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