Julia Child’s Madeleines de Commercy
It’s impossible to cook a Julia Child recipe without summoning her in some way. From the first moment, you can feel her peering over your shoulder – self-assured, encouraging, generous. Once you’ve started, you’ll do anything to keep her there, so I’m always on the look-out for Julia Child cookbooks. Just before my last birthday, I found a second-hand copy of From Julia Child’s Kitchen that included this recipe for les Madeleines de Commercy. When the Cooking Channel invited bloggers to celebrate her upcoming birthday by posting about one of her recipes, I knew which one I wanted to make.
This recipe is everything I love about Julia Child (I’m sorry but I just can’t call her Julia). Well before Madeleines were readily available, wrapped in plastic and holding their breath at any given Starbucks, she was trying to find her own way back to the perfect Proustian Madeleine, part cake, part cookie and made to crumble in tea. After featuring Madeleines à la génoise on her show, she responded to a viewers desire to see the heavier Madeleines, with the hump in the middle, made famous by the bakers of Commercy (and of course Marcel Proust) with this recipe.
Based on Pierre Lacam’s Le Nouveau Mémorial de la Pâtisserie et des Glaces, the batter rests for an hour to allow the butter to congeal so that the hump will form during baking. I’d made them once before and tried to adapt them to my Kitchen Aid mixer, an unnecessary step. Julia Child had seen the electric mixer and the beaters, if they were called for, she would have told us. Limiting myself to a mixing bowl and wooden spoon was oddly liberating, a reminder that modern conveniences aren’t always convenient. I could have even done without the specialized Madeleine pans with the shell-shaped depressions. Her husband, Paul, believed early cooks used cockle shells and they tested it with ribbed scallop shells that worked. As they were baking, I could imagine whipping up a batch on a dessert island (provided it was stocked with unbleached, all-purposed flour as well).
Rested, scooped and baking, they were at the halfway point when I started to get nervous. The batter had spread evenly to fill the shells but there were no humps in sight. With only a couple of minutes left, they started to emerge and I breathed a sigh of relief. Unmolded and wobbling back and forth like newborns, I had the same question as Julia Child. Wondering why they should be baked in shell-shaped molds if they’re served hump side up, hiding the pretty ridges that were formed, she regrets “that only the ancient bakers of Commercy can say, if they could but mumble to us from their tombs.” For once, she didn’t have the answer, but it was comforting to know that even Julia Child looked for ghosts in her kitchen.
Les Madeleines de Commercy/The Madeleines with The Hump on Top
Original recipe found in From Julia Child’s Kitchen by Julia Child.
2 large eggs, beaten
2/3 cup sugar
1 cup unbleached, all-purpose flour
4 ounces unsalted butter and 1 1/2 tablespoons for buttering the molds (total of 5 1/4 ounces)
Pinch of salt
1 tablespoon flour
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Grated lemon zest from 1/2 lemon
3 drops of lemon juice (or 2 of lemon and 2 of bergamot)
2 large Madeleine pans
Per original recipe, all ingredients should be brought to room temperature before mixing so that the melted butter does not congeal in the batter before the ingredients have blended together.
Combine flour and sugar in a mixing bowl and add three quarters of the eggs. Beat vigorously with a wooden spoon to blend into a heavy cream – if very stiff, add a little bit of the remaining egg, one droplet at a time. Set aside for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, bring all of the butter to a boil until it begins to brown very lightly. Combine 1 1/2 tablespoons of the butter and tablespoon of flour in a small bowl and set aside.
Stir the rest of the butter over cold water until cool but still liquid. Beat the remaining bit of egg into the batter and stir in the cool butter. Stir in the salt, vanilla, grated lemon zest, lemon juice (and bergamot if using). Cover the batter, and set aside in the refrigerator for at least one hour. Meanwhile, paint the Madeleine cups with a light coating of the browned butter and flour mixture, wiping up any pools that form in the bottom. Set aside or refrigerate if the kitchen is warm.
Preheat the oven to 375°. Using a spoon and rubber spatula, drop a rounded tablespoonful of batter into each Madeleine cup. Do not spread the batter to fill the mold. Repeat with remaining batter and mold. Set pans on the middle rack and bake for about 15 minutes. The batter will spread on its own to fill the cups and a hump will gradually form in the middle. Unmold onto a rack, humped side up.
Serve as is, or sprinkle tops with a dusting of confectioner’s sugar.*
Makes 2 dozen Madeleines.
Notes: When cool, they can also be wrapped and frozen for later.