MAY IT PLEASE THE PALATE: Making me mad(eleines)

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My kitchen is small, yet powerful. Pots, pans, appliances and utensils are capable of multi-tasking. That 30-year-old Osterizer can still pulverize spices or make a silky mayonnaise. Mom’s old cast iron skillet can fry bacon or bake a roast. But nothing confounded me more than a recent try at making madeleines.

It started with a meeting with a friend. She was drinking Earl Grey tea, a long time favorite of mine, and I had the same. The tea is named after Charles Grey - Earl being his title - who was Prime Minister of Britain in the 1830s. Allegedly gifted to him from a foreign envoy, it is simply black tea flavored with bergamot oil. Bergamots are fruits grown historically in Calabria, Italy, a fragrant hybrid of lemon and bitter orange. Besides tea, the essential oil is used in everything from perfume to tobacco.

 After our meeting, my friend sent me a recipe for Earl Grey flavored madeleines. Madeleines are small sponge cakes that originated in France in the 19th century, named after some indeterminate cook. (Not Madeline of children’ literature. Raise your hand if you can finish the line, “In an old house in Paris that was covered with vines ...”)

I looked at the recipe and thought, “I can do this.” The ingredients are all baking staples, and the flavoring – if one is fresh out of Italian bergamots – can be the zest of one lemon and one clementine. Giving its eponymous flavor is a heaping tablespoon of Earl Grey tea; I was excited to find a tin that was additionally scented with lavender. I concluded, in my fluent French thought, that would be the coup de grace. (Until I actually looked up coup de grace. Insert shocked-face emoji.)

I deftly assembled the ingredients and whipped up the batter and put it in the refrigerator to rest. That is when I looked the next step of the recipe, and here is where we insert another shocked-faced emoji.

I needed a special madeleine mold! What? I couldn’t lay these flat on the same sheet pan I use to roast chicken and bake vegan cookies? Heavy sigh. Two stores later, I was the new owner of a $26 pan that has but one use: to make dainty little madeleines with their precious scallop-shell bottoms and adorable bumpy top.

Earl Grey Madeleines
Dorie Greenspan


INGREDIENTS:
2 cups/255 grams cake flour, plus more for dusting
1 tablespoon baking powder
3 tablespoons full-flavored honey
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons/255 grams unsalted butter (2 sticks plus 2 tablespoons), plus more for greasing
¾ cup plus 1 tablespoon/165 grams granulated sugar
2 bergamots or Meyer lemons (or 1 lemon and 1 clementine), finely zested
1 tablespoon loose Earl Grey tea, finely chopped
3 large eggs plus 1 large egg white, at room temperature
5 tablespoons/75 milliliters whole milk, slightly warm

PREPARATION:

1.Sift together the flour and baking powder. Put the honey in a medium heatproof bowl, and place a strainer over the bowl.

2.Bring the butter to a boil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. As the butter cooks, gently swirl the pan. The butter will foam, then bubble, then turn golden. In 5 to 7 minutes, when the butter browns (it will be the color of hazelnuts, and have that aroma as well), pour it through the strainer onto the honey. Some dark bits will slip through the strainer, and that’s fine! Stir to blend.

3.In a large bowl, whisk the sugar, zest, tea, eggs and egg white, and milk until combined; whisk 1 or 2 minutes more after the ingredients are blended. Add the flour mixture in three to four additions, whisking the ingredients together gently. You’ll have a thick batter that will fall back on itself in a ribbon. Switch to a spatula, and gradually stir in the warm butter-honey mixture. The batter will have a beautiful sheen. Press a piece of plastic wrap against the surface, and refrigerate the batter for at least 8 hours or up to 2 days.

4.When you’re ready to bake, center a rack in the oven, and heat it to 425 degrees. Butter and flour a regular-size madeleine pan (or coat it with nonstick baking spray); do this even if the pan is nonstick. Use a slightly rounded tablespoon of batter to fill each shell. Don’t worry about leveling the batter, as it will even out in the oven. Cover, and refrigerate any remaining batter.

5.Bake the madeleines until the cakes are golden and the bumps spring back when gently prodded, 11 to 13 minutes. Unmold immediately by rapping the pan against the counter. Serve now ... or don’t. The madeleines stale quickly, but that just makes them better for dunking. If you’re baking more madeleines, be certain to cool the pan between batches.

It is unlikely that I will “bake more madeleines” anytime soon, though they were indeed quite tasty. So if you want to borrow my madeleine pan, give me a shout. It’s a bit out of place among my other, more versatile kitchen accoutrements.
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Nick Roumel is a principal with Nacht & Roumel PC, a firm in Ann Arbor specializing in employment and civil rights litigation. He has many years of varied restaurant and catering experience, has taught Greek cooking classes, and wrote a food/restaurant column for “Current” magazine in Ann Arbor. Follow him at Twitter or Facebook @nickroumel, or Instagram @nroumel, or see fortyyearsacrossamerica.blogspot.com.