Monday, January 03, 2005

"little shell of cake, so generously sensual..." -- Marcel Proust, Swann's Way

I really don't know what has gotten into me, but it seems I find myself thinking more and more frequently these days of baking. And, trust me, this is not what I would ever decribe as my particular "area of expertise". Maybe it's just the change in the weather, but I am reading cookbooks like novels and finding inspiration everywhere. It may come from the pain d'épice recipe in Bernard Clayton's The Breads of France or Myrtle Allen's Ballymaloe House Brown Bread from James Beard's Beard on Bread. But, now, I am remembering a batch of little sponge-like lemon cakes I made once many years ago.

I had bought the madeleine plaque on impulse, attracted by its lovely curving scallop-shell indentations, as much as by the memory of reading about madeleines as described by Marcel Proust. While his ""seashell cake[s] so strictly pleated outside and so sensual inside" were often made with a fragrant hint of lemon zest, the ones below feed a chocoholic's dreams. These cake-like "cookies" are springy and light and may be eaten, as Proust did, dipped delicately in tea or, if you prefer, coffee. Either way, they are sure to please.

Chocolate Madeleines

1/4 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup unsweetened Dutch cocoa powder
1 teaspoon instant coffee crystals (optional)
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
pinch of salt
1/2 stick (2 oz.) unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon brandy (optional)
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg, plus 2 yolks
Powdered sugar for decoration

Pre heat oven to 375° F. Brush 12 madeleine molds with soft butter, evenly coating bottom and sides. Set aside.

Sift together the flour, cocoa, coffee, baking powder, salt and set aside.

In a small bowl, with an electric mixer, cream the butter, adding the vanilla, rum, and granulated sugar. Beat well. Add the egg and yolks, beating to mix (it will look curdled). Beat in dry ingredients just until mixed. Place a rounded teaspoonful of mixture into each of the molds. Do not spread, it will run by itself.

Bake for 12 minutes until madeleines spring back when touched lightly. Cool one minute, then invert onto wire rack to cool completely. Dust lightly with confectioners' sugar or cocoa powder if desired. Makes 1 dozen.

From Maida Heatter's Book of Great Chocolate Desserts