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.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Tiny Taste Treats: Mini-Shortbread Bites

I love my tea: bagged, loose, black, green, white, anything except fruit-flavored. I love my teapots, of which I have many—gifts from friends and family, as well as hand me downs from my mother and grandmothers. And I love to have treats with my tea, so when I saw a recipe for mini-shortbread bites, I thought it would be the perfect accompaniment.

What I really liked about this recipe is that it takes about 5 minutes to make and 15 minutes to bake, and it lends itself to all sorts of flavors. If a friend called and asked to drop by, these could be out of the oven by the time she got to my house. If you need a last-minute item for an office party or child’s classroom, this would work well. They are easy to transport, and suit most everyone’s tastes. The original recipe called for dried blueberries. Since I didn’t have any, I substituted dried cranberries. But you could use any dried fruit (diced apricots and crystallized ginger would make a good combo), mini chocolate chips (kinda like bacon – they go well with everything), chopped nuts (toasted pecans would be my choice), or just leave them plain. If you root around in your pantry, I’m sure you can come up with some interesting combinations…and it will be so worth it.

Made in mini-muffin tins, they remind me of friands but have the consistency of shortbread. Buttery, sweet, with a small crumb. Treat yourself to an afternoon respite with a plate of these baby bites and a pot of tea and forget about the laundry, the report you have due, and bills that need to be paid.

Shortbread Bites
1 1/2 cups flour
2/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 tablespoon orange zest
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup unsalted butter, cold
2/3 cup dried blueberries (See substitution options above)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a food processor, pulse flour, sugar, cornstarch, salt and zest. Cut butter into small cubes and add to flour mixture, pulsing until a fine crumb forms. Add in dried blueberries. Press 2 tablespoons mixture into 36 mini-muffin cups. (I found that a small ice cream scoop yielded the correct amount, which I then tamped down with my fingers.)

Bake 15-20 minutes until golden. Cool for 5 minutes before removing from pan.

NOTE: the high amount of butter in this recipe means the dough should not stick to your pan. I had no problems whatsoever, but if you are concerned, you can grease or spray your pans ahead of time.