Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Madeleine Failure

Everyone seems to love madeleines, those dainty shell-shaped airy puffs sold in 3-packs at Starbucks and European-style bakeries. I’ve had a madeleine mold for about 10 years, long before they became quite so popular. It was my grandmother's. The pan has been used several times, although not always yielding a great result. (Actually I had more success making soap in the mold than the madeleines!)

Brilliant Daughter and I took a tart class recently and got a hot tip on where to get a pound of chef-grade vanilla beans for less than $25. Naturally, we jumped on the opportunity and ordered said pound, which arrived two days later. I couldn’t stand waiting for Brilliant Daughter to come over to bake with them, so I set out on my own. Probably the first of many mistakes. I should have had some patience and waited. Not that I cannot cook or bake without her, because I certainly can and with great success. But the vanilla bean baking was supposed to be a joint venture yielding a string of posts on this blog about that fragrant shriveled stick full of tasty little seeds. Ah, well….

The recipe for the vanilla bean madeleines, which I have subsequently thrown out, was more involved than your standard home cook would care to invest time in. It required making a brown butter, a 20-minute process of hovering around the stove. Then you had to strain the solids from the butter and let it cool. My new professional KitchenAid mixer made it easy to whip the eggs. Three minutes and they had tripled in volume and were thick and luscious looking. I patiently added the sugar, whipped for another 2 minutes until the mixture got thicker, then added the vanilla and vanilla bean. I took my time gently folding in the flour, and then the strained butter. I greased the molds with PAM, per the instructions.

The first batch stuck to the pan miserably. Those that I could coax out looked pathetically flat and somehow diseased. Pock-marked and with pieces missing, they were pitiful. The flavor was fine, and they probably could have been used as a substitute for ladyfingers in a trifle or tiramisu. I felt strongly that the PAM had something to do with it. So I did some research and found that you are supposed to use butter AND flour (not PAM and flour, not margarine and flour, but BUTTER AND FLOUR) to grease the molds. So grease them up I did. Then I gently sifted flour over it all and tapped out the excess. Round two had me anxiously waiting at the oven window, which I might add is completely fruitless as you cannot see through my 40-year-old oven window due to a variety of reasons. (Can you tell I’m a little bitter over having to bake in an unreliable, outdated, too-small oven???)

The second batch did rise and puff and from all appearances looked good, until I tried to get them out of the pan. This time they came out with a bit less effort, but pieces of them refused to budge from the pan. This left me with another dozen of slightly less pockmarked madeleines. Well, at least I was making progress.

At this point, my faithful husband noticed my frustration. He offered to go out and hunt down a Teflon madeleine pan to ease my pain. What I really wanted, I almost screamed at him, is a new frigging oven. Although it wasn’t the oven causing the problem, when I have baking failures and am frustrated, I take it out on the oven. In fact my whole kitchen it a bit of a disaster, but I’ll save that for another post.

I decided to persevere with the pan I had, really greasing it up good and being heavy-handed with the flour. Hoping the third time would be a charm, I popped the mold in the god#%@# oven and paced. I guess persistence is a virtue, because the third set came out reasonably well. Not all of them, but the majority of them, which at least made me a little bit happy. But I cannot seem to abide by partial happiness, and made an attempt to ruin said madeleines further.

Six of the cookies turned out really good. But I so hated the look of the others I thought I would glaze them with a vanilla bean glaze. Powdered sugar, vanilla bean, vanilla and cream. I painted the glaze on the cookies, and let them set. And set. And set. Hmmm….the glaze wouldn’t set. Put them in the fridge. Still, the glaze did not set up firmly. I gave up. Really. It is two days later and that madeleine pan is still in the sink to be washed, but I refuse to wash it because I am pissed. Next time, I’m sending my husband out to buy me a Teflon madeleine pan. Really.


eatingplum said...

Madeleines are a pain, but I learned a few things in school that made it way easier.

The butter and flour is a big deal, like you wrote. Flour generously. I actually very lightly tap out the excess...you don't want clumps of flour but you want to flour more than an average cake pan.

Also, when they're done, I give a good knock on the pan to shake them out. The ones that refuse, I take them out with a little paring knife. Seems to work.

I've tried three madeleine pans. The nonstick one is the worst, actually. The traditional French tin ones are the best. You can borrow mine sometime if you want and try them out. :)

Or maybe you can just blame the recipe! I have a good recipe you can try as well.

Don't give up!

Mrs. B said...

Thanks Jen! I won't give up, but I will take a break from making them, so I don't let the frustration get to me. Glad the non-stick isn't worth it - as it was $40 at the restaurant supply store.

heather said...

Hey Mrs B,
I have a teflon one and would mail it to you if it were worth even the price of shipping!!! I have yet to be successful with madeleines, after many, MANY attempts. If 'eatingplum' is willing to share the recipe, I'd give it another go! I ADORE the taste of a well made madeleine, and would be so happy to finally get it right!

Mrs. B said...

I'm so glad I'm not the only one. I'll ask for the recipe. I'd hate to give up making them based on my results. They're just so good!

Mrs. B said...

Heather, I have obtained the madeleine recipe from the very generous Eatingplum. Haven't had a chance to check it out, but here it is.

1 cup flour
1 t baking powder
4 eggs
2/3 c granulated sugar
grated zest of one orange
1/2 c butter, melted

1) Sift flour with the baking powder.
2) Whisk eggs and sugar together in a bowl until they hold a ribbon (you should be able to do a figure eight with your whisk, and have it hold the "eight" for a good 1-2 seconds). Add the orange zest.
3) Fold the flour into the eggs in three batches. Then temper the butter with some of the batter and add the rest of the batter. Chill the dough for 20-30 minutes so that the butter hardens a little.
4) Preheat oven to 450 F. Prepare tins by buttering and flouring them generously (!!!)
5) Spoon or pipe the batter into the tins so that they are only 2/3 full.
5) Bake for 5 min at 450 F then reduce heat to 400 F and continue baking until golden brown, about five minutes.

Makes 25-30 madeleines.

(from La Varenne)