Today would have been Julia Child's 100th birthday, and in honor of this merry occasion I've decided to use her recipe for madeleines. The pan for this popular little cake is a terrible unit-tasker, which I generally try to stay away from as my kitchen is cluttered enough; I've left madeleines to the French bakeries and cafes for that very reason. Nevertheless, I've always wanted to bake them in my own home so, with Julia Child in mind, I let my rule slide and bought the pan against my better judgement. Of course, I won't make them all the time, but they'll be a wonderful treat on special occasions (or at least this is what I told myself while making the purchase).
Coincidentally, I'm in the middle of reading, As Always, Julia: The Letter's of Julia Child & Avis DeVoto, edited by Joan Reardon. Their correspondence reveals, among other things, the struggle to get Mastering the Art of French Cooking published. As Always, Julia discusses the state of American cooking in the mid 1950s, when the most common dish on the table was a casserole made from canned soup. Basic cooking ingredients such as shallots or fresh herbs were difficult or nearly impossible to find in American markets. It's easy to take for granted how lucky we are to have the incredible variety and quality of foods found in grocery stores and farmer's markets today.
Julia Child was a natural born teacher, which has always been clear in her cookbooks and television shows. Her attention to detail, specificity, and continual drive to "get it right" made her one of the most beloved cooks and cookbook authors of all time. Mastering gave greater confidence to the home cook and set the bar for the way cookbooks are written. On television, Julia possessed that rare quality which allowed her audience to really feel as if they knew her personally. She will always be remembered as a pioneer for cooking shows and food T.V. today.
This is a wonderful recipe for classic madeleines. They created perfect humps on the their back side, were beautifully browned around the edges, and slipped easily out of the pan. Such a fun and delicious treat that can be made in a snap. I can't think of any better way to celebrate the life of this intelligent, funny, and incredibly inspiring woman, than by using one of her recipes. Happy Birthday Julia Child and Bon Appetit!
Recipe from Julia Child, The Way to Cook
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
2/3 cup sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour (scooped and leveled), plus 1 tablespoon for preparing the molds
5 ounces (1¼ sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 6 pieces
A pinch of salt
Grated lemon zest (from half a lemon)
Drops of freshly squeezed lemon juice
Drops of pure vanilla extract
Confectioners sugar, for sprinkling
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. To make the batter, measure ¼ cup of the beaten eggs and place them in a medium bowl. Using a wooden spoon, beat in the 1 cup of the flour along with the sugar, until well blended (this mixture will be quite thick, never fear). Set aside to rest for 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, place the butter in a 2-quart saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Allow the butter to brown just slightly, then immediately remove it from the heat (it should smell nutty, not burned). Measure out 1½ tablespoons of the browned butter and place it in a small bowl along with the remaining 1 tablespoon flour. Stir to blend and set aside. Pour the remaining butter into another small bowl and stir over an ice bath until cool, but still liquid.
Stir the cooled butter and remaining egg into the batter mixture. Stir in the salt and lemon zest. Add the lemon juice and vanilla extract to taste.
To prepare the pans for baking, brush the shell molds with the flour and browned butter mixture (making sure you get into all the nooks and crannies). Scoop the batter by generous tablespoons into the shells. Bake for 14 to 15 minutes until the cakes are lightly browned around the edges, humped in the middle, and slightly shrunk from their molds. Unmold onto a drying rack shell-side down. When cool, turn the madeleines shell-side up and dust with confectioners sugar. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator or cover individually in plastic wrap and freeze for longer storage.
Yield: about 16 madeleines
- If you don't own a madeleine pan, or feel the need to buy one, try baking them in scallop shells instead. You could also bake the batter in muffin tins and call them Commercy Cupcakes.