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Monday, 30 August 2010

Paris - Tu Me Manques. (In which Jen bakes lots of madeleines)

Today has been a bit of a wistful, thinky sort of a day. Probably it's because our holidays are over. I am actually quite looking forward to getting back to work tomorrow, but there's always that sadness of something ending - I feel the same on January 6th every year when the Christmas tree comes down and the room suddenly seems like it's just that little bit darker and emptier than it ever has been.

So, after a morning of fiendish flat cleaning, I shut myself away in the kitchen (which is looking lovely and organised, thank you Matt!) with Stacey Kent's stunning Raconte Moi album, and began Operation Madeleine.

Even thinking about madeleines makes me feel better. I first encountered them when I was a language assistant in a primary school near Nantes while I was studying for my A levels. I was there for 3 weeks, and remember being knocked sideways by homesickness. Every day after school, my host-mum had a cup of tea made with honey and a plate of madeleines waiting for me. These were shop bought, and a bit dry and cloying, but they nonetheless made me feel better.

When, a few years later, I moved to Paris for a year, I had to have serious words with my brain in order to keep me from flinging myself with gay abandon onto every tartelette, opera, religieuse and other cream-filled delight that I saw. Apologies for stating the bleeding obvious, but Paris does cake like no other. However, among all these marvels of the patisserie it was the humble, buttery little madeleine I turned to when I needed a pick-me-up.

My lovely friend and super chic Parisienne, Cat, bought me a book on madeleines for my birthday this year, and, unforgivably, it has languished on my bookshelf until today. I shall attempt to refrain from getting too Proustian on you with my madeleine inspired recollections, but after having consumed an alarming number of them today, my brain is soaked with Paris. I feel a list coming on ...

Mon Paris À Moi

Photo by the wonderful Robert Doisneau

  1. Eating ice cream from Berthillon in the pouring rain. Pomme verte and cacao - perfection in two scoops.
  2. That first view of the Eiffel Tower as you round a corner.
  3. The sun catching the stones of the Louvre in the middle of Autumn and making them gold against the silver of the river.
  4. Finally understanding why Monet's waterlilies are such a breathtakingly big deal at L'Orangerie.
  5. The market on the Rue Mouffetard - dithering happily over goats cheese, and being almost hypnotised by rotisserie chickens dripping their amber fat onto the crispy little potatoes underneath.
  6. Dancing at the Caveau de la Huchette with the only man I have ever seen wearing spats in a non ironic fashion.
  7. Candelit Chopin in the freezing cold Eglise de St Ephraim, then hot chocolates afterwards..
  8. Pizza in the office at midnight writing up the report on the first night of the Sarko/Sego election.
  9. People watching at Bastille with a demi-peche.
  10. Notre Dame's rose window. If I could have a tiny version to carry around with me and look at every day I would be a happy woman.

I will go back soon. I will.

So, back to the matter of the madeleine. Armed with my new, swanky silicone madeleine tins (good grief they make baking so much easier, I must invest in more of them) I embarked on a batch of lemon accented ones. They turned out really rather well, despite being a tad on the anemic looking side (patience being a virtue I do not possess at the best of times, least of all when baking something tasty).

I vow that by tomorrow night I will have eaten them all. I will also have listened to Stacey Kent some more. Ooh..and I will have had my hair cut (l-o-n-g overdue) so I can try to fashion it into some sort of chic Parisienne up do. I shall no doubt fail, but I shall damn well try!

Voici, the recipe, translated from 'Mini Madeleines'  by Sandra Mahut. Bon appétit, tout-le-monde.

Jen xx

Ingredients (makes about 27 madeleines)

150g plain flour, sieved
125g  almost melted butter
150g caster sugar
2 large eggs
2 tbsps milk
1 tsp baking powder
Juice and finely chopped zest of one lemon

  1. Whisk the eggs and sugar together until you have a pale yellow smooth paste.
  2. Gradually add the flour and baking powder, whisking all the time.
  3. Pour in the butter and the milk and stir in, then gradually add the lemon juice and zest.
  4. Leave the mixture in the fridge for half an hour.
  5. Preheat the oven to 220 C (Gas mark 7).
  6. Blob one teaspoon of the mixture into each of your buttered madeleine shapes (I buttered my silicone tin too, to be on the safe side).
  7. Put into the oven and cook for about 4 minutes.
  8. Lower the temperature of the oven to 180 C (Gas mark 4) and leave to cook for another 4-6 minutes.
  9. Once the madeleines are lightly coloured, take them out and immediately turn them out onto a cooling rack.
  10. Enjoy on their own or dunked into a cup of tisane - be warned, may cause excessive reminiscing!

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