Like many people I have been eating chocolate for my entire life with enthusiasm, gusto and an eye (or palate) of discernment. Nevermind that I went well into adult life only able to tolerate milk chocolate; once you go dark you don’t go back, as they say. Dark chocolate is the stuff of dreams. I love this stuff. I had a shrink once who was (bless his heart) discerning about many things but when he said “coffee is the chcolate of adulthood” he lost me. No Mitchel, chocolate is the chocolate of adulthood.
This is meant to be a series of posts and maybe it will be, but let’s just start at the end. This good people is the best dark chocolate in the world. It is Equal Exchange Organic Fairly Traded Panama Dark Chocolate. I found it at Target but you can also buy it from their site: Equal Exchange Coop or for a crazy high price from Amazon only in lots of 6 bars. (I love Amazon, but what the hell?)
This chocolate is so deep, so balanced, so silky when melted or used in baking that I fell in love with it. It makes a frosting that would astound you. Trust Mommy, after decades of research this is the one. Nothing from Belgium (where I have actually been more than once and eaten many chocolates), or France, or Italy, or Switzerland approaches the glory of this chocolate. Panama? Who knew.
Now Upward and Onward to the Madeleines
Not all self respecting madeleines are dipped in chocolate, far from it. I’m fairly certain that Marcel Proust’s were not. I don’t even always dip mine, and I make really divine and perfect madeleines every time; but most often I do. It’s all very simple really and you can impress your friends and possibly slip yourself into a reverie of lost time pretty much any time you want. They are easy to make and best enjoyed the same day.
Here’s the recipe. Note that there is no link. That would be because no one invented this recipe, not anyone that can be named and has a website anyway. It is one of those things from the dawn of baking which never ever changes.
This recipe makes about 3 dozen or fewer depending on how you fill the little shell shaped indents in the pan. Were they originally baked in shells? I think not. Still, it’s very charming. The shape I mean. You will need one of these special pans. Sorry, but without the classic pan your tiny cakes will not actually be madeleines.
Preheat that oven folks! 375 degrees.
INGREDIENTS IN THREE GROUPS
(there is a reason for this)
First : 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter …
… and a more for pans (or if you are a vulgarian and essentially a cheater like me, spray the already non-stick Madeleine pan lightly with Pam, yes – I realize that this is fundamentally disgusting, but there is so much butter in these bad boys that on one will ever know).
Second : 1 cup sifted all-purpose flour.
You can sift that into a large mixing bowl or just plop it in there and agitate it a bit with a whisk to imitate sifting. I have found that there is actually no discernable difference whatsoever between these methods.
Third : 4 large eggs, room temperature
2/3 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest
Take the eggs, sugar and salt and put them in your mixer with its whisk attachment firmly in place and begin first very slowly to combine. Then move up in speed but no further than the middle speed and let it go a long time (seven or eight minutes it will take) until you have a glossy, slightly foamy, thick suspension. This is the essence of your madeleine and you probably already observed that there are a lot of eggs in there. It is this suspension that differentiates your madeleine from say a waffle batter or a cupcake mix. This gives the tiny cakes their glossy density that is so unlike anything else. Not like a pound cake, not like a golden cake, but only like a madeleine. It’s probably what sent Marcel Proust into such paroxysms of rapture.
I only use beautiful fresh organic free range eggs. They are worth every cent of investment and not only in peace of mind (I can’t see why it is thought necessary to torture chickens to produce cheap eggs) but also in flavor. Something like these.
Once you have your glossy mixture add the lemon zest and vanilla extract. Now, this part is very important. I use probably slightly more lemon zest in my perfect madeleines than most people and gentle bakers should proceed with caution. Here’s the truth, lemon zest is a divine entity, but also an entity to be treated with the utmost respect. Note here my beautiful little pile of lemon zest. It is important to take the time to do this right, and sadly you can not do it in advance. lemon zests simply do not “hold”, trust me on that.
I used my trusty Deiss PRO Citrus Lemon Zester & Cheese Grater. That object of beauty is a prize that I won from the marvelous Gail Dickinson of the divine Chocolate, Chocolate, and More blog. She is a famous internet doyen of chocolate and may well not agree with me about the Panamanian chocolate, but she knows her kitchen tools and this was a very nice prize. It’s very nice for grating chocolate and of course lemon rind as well.
When you are going for the zest take care that you only grate off the thin lemony layer at the surface of the lemon. You don’t want that white pulpy stuff, it’s bitter. Look closely and see the tiny beads of lemony rind essence that are the surface of the lemon? that’s what you want. Once you have grated them it is not enough. Now take your sharpest chef’s knife and mince those grated bits into a very fine fluffy dust like lemony saw dust. That is what you carefully measure into your half teaspoon. That is what will distribute properly in your suspension and give your tongue a pleasant surprise. With all those eggs it’s almost as if hollandaise sauce were somehow a cake. I kid you not.
Don’t forget the vanilla extract. that’s one of the ways that your mouth will know that this is cake. If you are fetishistic and have a Bourbon Madagascar Vanilla Bean then scrape vanilla seeds from a pod in there instead. Give it a very show mix to incorporate and there you have the mighty soul of the madeleine.
Then : In the mixing bowl gently but thoroughly fold first the flour, then the butter in. I find that my best results are achieved with a Danish Dough Whisk. Conceived as a hand tool for combining bread dough ingredients without tearing gluten strings apart I use it for many applications in baking even when I don’t have anything like those considerations. I use it always when I want my suspension to hold its integrity. You want not to lose the slight buoyancy of the mixture.
At last : Spoon this into the shallow shell shaped indentations in the pan. Be sure not to overfill them. Bake for a scant 7 to 8 minutes. They are ready when they are golden brown and have developed a raised center not entirely unlike the breast of a pubescent girl.
Turn them out onto a rack to cool.
Dust them with a little powdered sugar if you want.
To dip in chocolate simply take that bar and break it into its constituent squares and drop them in a microwave safe bowl or mug. Zap in increments of 30 seconds until the chocolate melts. Dip the madeleines in about a third of the way on the wide end and then lay them on a wax or parchment paper to cool. Put that in the freezer for a minute or two to set them while you lick out the remaining chocolate from the microwave safe bowl or mug.