“She sent out for one of those short, plump little cakes called ‘petites madeleines,’ which look as though they had been moulded in the fluted scallop of a pilgrim’s shell. And soon, mechanically, weary after a dull day with the prospect of a depressing morrow, I raised to my lips a spoonful of the tea in which I had soaked a morsel of the cake. No sooner had the warm liquid, and the crumbs with it, touched my palate, a shudder ran through my whole body, and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary changes that were taking place. An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses…”
That’s how Marcel Proust described the little cakes in his book Remembrance of Things Past. A sponge-like cookie/cake that has its own place in French literature, and is so delicious, too. What’s not to love about madeleines? Did I mention that baking them is a joy? Easy to make, and they leave your house full of the heavenly scent of butter and vanilla. Enjoy! PS: Hope you liked the film — be sure to subscribe!
Makes about 2 dozen madeleines
- 175 g butter, melted and cooled
- 245g all-purpose flour
- pinch of salt (preferably fleur de sel)
- 4 eggs
- 200g granulated sugar
- 1 1/2 tsps vanilla extract
- 3 tbsp ground almonds
Grease the madeleine tray with butter and dust with flour. Melt the butter and set aside to cool. Sift the flour and salt into a bowl. Beat the eggs and sugar until thick and pale. I usually do this in my Kitchen Aid mixer but a handheld mixer should work just fine. Add the vanilla extract to the cooled butter. Fold the flour through the eggs and sugar, then fold in the butter and vanilla and finally the ground almonds. Fill the madeleine shells ¾ full and pop in fridge for about an hour. Preheat your oven to 190°C and bake the madeleines for about 8-10 minutes or until the edges are golden brown and the tiny cakes spring back when gently pressed in the center. Cool on a wire rack before serving. You can experiment with lots of different flavors. Lemon zest is very common and used in many recipes, for example.
Sweet, glossy and bursting with flavor, Agen prunes have been part of south-west France’s gastronomic history since the 12th century. During that time, crusaders returned back from Syria with Damson plum trees which the Bendectine monks of Clairac, not far from Agen, crossed with their own, local plum variety. The result was a new kind of plum which they called the Ente plum. Since then, the plum has been used to produce the famous pruneaux d’Agen, named after the city from which the prunes were shipped all over Europe. Today, more than half of the production of the fruit is still taking place in the Lot-et-Garonne.
The dark plums are harvested between mid-August and mid-September. By that time, they are so ripe and sun-drenched that the trees either naturally drop them or need nothing more than a gentle shake to let them fall to into the harvesting nets. After careful sorting, the best fruits are dried and preserved for year-round use.
This Friday, Sinterklaas will be celebrated in the Netherlands and every child will be full of nervous anticipation waiting for a knock on the door or window, and hopefully, a bag left behind withpresents. Actually, the big man and his helpers have been in the country since the middle of November, and the kids have regularly had their shoes filled with kruidnoten, chocolate letters and candy. I’ve had my shoe filled a few times even. Hey, who said I ever grew up?.
For those of you unfamiliar with the tradition, Sinterklaas is like the Dutch Santa Claus. In fact, Sinterklaas is the original Santa Claus! The Dutch Protestant settlers brought the tradition of Sinterklaas — along with many others — with them to New Amsterdam (modern day New York) in the 17th century. The Dutch continued to celebrate the feast of Saint Nicholas, but for a long time, it was separate from Christmas. That all changed when Clement Clark Moore published his Twas the Night Before Christmas in 1822; the Santa Claus we now know was born — and in 1931 Coca Cola gave him a face!
This post, however, is about another Dutch treat that made it big — speculaas.