Earlier today I caught part of a discussion on memoir writing on Talk of the Nation*, a program I sometimes tune into on NPR. While some points of advice seemed sager than others, what really stuck with me was the mediator Marion Roach Smith’s insistence that for memoir writing to ring true in any format, one must check their embellishments; a good story, told well, is intriguing enough. Forever the self-conscious writer, I re-read my nine blog entries to date, and found that as a small but growing collection, this blog reads as a diary of a
reformed reforming picky eater.
*Is it just me, or do you as well find this program very hit or miss? I suppose it’s to be expected when a show relies so heavily on audience participation. I often find myself puzzled and astounded by the broad range of call-in commentaries ranging from brilliant to close-minded.
Had I not just heard that tidbit of advice about truth in writing, I might have been a bit ashamed, but honestly, I am still a picky eater; albeit, one who now will at least try a bite of most anything that has been proclaimed delectable. This small, but significant, change in my gustatory outlook has thankfully lead to me often leaving the table with the new-found realization that, for example, YES, oysters/[insert intimidating food here] are delicious, even when months earlier I might have screwed up my face in displeasure at the proposition of eating something so slimy and snot-like** in appearance.
** I think many would be fibbing if they did not admit to at one time drawing this conclusion after a good long stare at a raw oyster.
For every joyful realization of pleasure, there stands a food that, while popular with many, still eludes me in its appeal. The worst offenders including: coffee, onions (aside from scallions and leeks), peanuts/peanut butter, coconut, smoked foods (except bacon), most cruciferous vegetables, mole, whiskey, and hollandaise sauce. Now, I’m certain I would have eventually discovered the wonders of delicate madeleines, but strangely enough, it was that which usually hindered, that spurred me to try my first.
One fateful afternoon in middle-school, my friend Ajie and I went to Starbucks to study. We knew that proper etiquette (and likely store policy) mandated that we make some purchase prior to plopping down on the overstuffed chairs for a couple hours of homework; so, with some trepidation I approached the counter. But what to order? I didn’t (and don’t) like coffee, had yet to discover the pleasure of green tea, and still turned my nose up at anything chocolate, leaving none of the traditional contenders. Yet, by the register I spied a seemingly innocent package of dainty cookies called madeleines, and like many before me, my purchase was sealed with aesthetics. One bite in, and I was enamored with the spongy, vanilla scented treat. While the mass-produced version still on offer at Starbucks years later does satisfy, they inspire but a shadow of the true pleasure garnered from a bite of a freshly made madeleine. Deceptively simple in ingredients, these really come down to technique, so read the recipe instructions through before baking up a batch.
These straddle the line between cake and cookie; petite and delicate (and undeniably cute), with a pleasantly spongy texture, they make a lovely snack or light dessert. Eat them plain or try them dipped in melted chocolate or dusted with powdered sugar. While simple enough to make (and using ingredients common in a well-stocked pantry) they do require some vigilance, as their delicate nature doesn’t take well to over-baking, or over-mixing. That being said, they’re one of my favorite treats to whip up. I prefer traditional tinned molds, rather than the contemporary nonstick versions available, as the darker nonstick finish tends to lead to over-baking.
Adapted, just barely, from a Joy of Cooking recipe.
1 ½ cups (5.25 oz) sifted cake flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon kosher salt
12 tablespoons (6 oz) unsalted butter, cubed, at room temp + a few tablespoons melted butter for greasing madeleine molds
3 large eggs, at room temp
1 large egg yolk, at room temp
¾ cup (5.25 oz) granulated sugar
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 450°F.
Sift together the cake flour, baking powder and salt.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, or in a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugar and vanilla until the mixture is uniform, thickens and is a sunny pale yellow color.
With a wooden spoon mash the softened butter against the sides of a medium mixing bowl until it is mayonnaise-like in texture.
Fold the dry ingredients into the egg + sugar mixture using a broad rubber spatula.
Add a large dollop (about ½ cup) of the egg mixture to the butter, and mix thoroughly (this helps lighten the butter so as to make it easier to mix into the batter). Scrape the butter into the remaining egg mixture and fold together.
Let rest at room temperature for at least 30 minutes.
When you’re ready to bake off the madeleines, thoroughly brush the madeleine molds with melted butter. Fill the molds ¾ of the way full, and set aside any remaining batter. Bake for 7-9 minutes* or until golden and spongy with golden-brown edges.
If necessary, gently loosen the edges of the madeleine from the mold, and turn them out immediately onto a cooling rack.
Madeleines are best eaten the day they are baked. If you don’t anticipate finishing the whole batch within a day or so, the unbaked batter may be refrigerated for 3-4 days, and baked off when ready to eat. Just be sure to allow the batter to come to room temperature before baking, or they won’t brown properly, and may in fact stick to the molds, temperamental creatures that they are.
*Check at the earliest time for the first batch, due to the high baking temperature these go from perfectly baked to overdone quite quickly.