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Sunday, November 22, 2009
The Madeleines were once chosen to represent France in the Cafe Europe in 2006. Such is the iconic stature of these little sponge cakes. Proust,of course had further immortalised it for most of us in his novel, Remembrance of Things Past where he described Madeleines as "little shell of cake, so generously sensual beneath the piety of its stern pleating..." - sigh, the sensitivity of a novelist.
I have always wanted to make Madeleines but did not have the mold for it. I tried it once half heartedly out of the request of my sister who has little sensitivity for pastries - "Just use any mold, I don't care". I used a friand mold and made it hurriedly without letting the batter stand overnight. Needless to say, it was neither 'sensuous' nor scrumptious. I had insistently wanted to get a metallic mold but had not been able to find one in Singapore. So,this naturally became my top shopping item when I went to E Dehillerin. And as I had mentioned earlier in 'Postcard From Paris -Part 1' - I spent a bomb on it (30 euro) - still baffled why it had cost so much.
Anyway, I just couldn't wait to use it when I got back. An appropriate baking choice to remember my trip with, I suppose. I chose to work with the Chocolate and Lemon Madeleines Recipe from Chococlate Desserts by Pierre Herme written by Dories Greenspan.
The Madeleine, when properly done,I understand, would have a light crust and tender crumb. Of course, when executed correctly, it should manifest a characteristic bump in the center. The overnight rest in the fridge is what gives the madeleines the bump.
I followed Pierre Herme's recipe diligently but bolted at his instruction to stick the pan into a 220C preheated oven before immediately reducing the heat to 180C - the rest of the baking done by sticking a metal spoon in between the oven door to keep it slightly ajar. I have seen similar instruction for macarons before and I truly disliked it. Anyway, since this is my first proper attempt at baking the Madeleines, I decided to follow the instructions - and failed my first round of baking. The bump was missing, the crust stuck to the pan... undoubtedly due to the overly low temperature. Luckily, I had more batter and for this second round, I decided to just bake at 200C throughout with the oven door closed! Elation, bless the knobby bump!
I do not know how it was decided that the Madeleine should come with a bump or that the macarons should have 'feet' but the French are undoubtedly serious and passionate about their food. I have had some 4-5 meals in Paris - painfully expensive - each meal easily cost 30-40euro for one. One of the most memorable meals I had (apart from the Beef Tartare I wrote about in Postcard from Paris- Part 2)was lunch at Le Relais du Parc, a restuarant created by Alain Ducasse situated at Renaissance le Parc Trocadero, where I stayed. The set lunch at 37 Euro was really reasonable by Paris standard for that area and setting. The restuarant actually has a nice courtyard but was somewhat closed that day when I went. The menu featured simple and tasty cuisine that are reminiscent of family meals.
I chose to start with a soup, Cepes En Fin Veloute d'autres Cuits et Crus (Cepe Mushroom Soup); had Fricasse de Volaille Fermiere with Macronis au Beaufort for mains (Free range poultry and macaroni with Beaufort cheese) and a Mini Sanit Honore for dessert.
The Cepes Mushroom soup was velvety but not heavy, I suspect they foamed it a little to keep it refreshingly light. The Macaroni with Beaufort was decidedly the best Macaroni and Cheese I've ever had. I was seized by the urge to reproduce this myself - taking note of the Beaufort cheese(I bought some just before I headed to the airport! Yeh! One step closer to success! :-P) and... the stick straight Macaroni. The closest I remember seeing back home is the Tortiglioni which is a straight tube but shorter. The chicken, served in a cast iron Le Creuset Casserole was delicious and wholesome. I cleaned the pot by soaking up all the gravy with bread. By then, I was so full,I couldn't finish the dessert. The Saint Honore had a Vanilla flavoured Chantilly Cream instead of Meringue. The chef had been generous with the Vanilla which made the Chantilly Cream absolutely heavenly and of course the custard cream filling was top notch.
Sigh, I have said this of Rome but I think it applies to Paris as well... you would have to be very unlucky to get bad food!