Monday, October 01, 2007

Madeleine’s Walk on the Savory Side

As cliché as it may seem, the Madeline books, by Ludwig Bemelmens, were my favorite books starting in kindergarten. Enchanted at an early age with the "old house in Paris all covered in vines" and the "twelve little girls in two straight lines", I loved the shadowy walks along the Seine with Miss Clavel. The adventures were all beside the point. Those little girls and their life in Paris were creating pictures in my head. (Watch out, I’m here to tell you: those pictures can be powerful!)

Many years past kindergarten, I was introduced to a new version (and spelling of madeleine) by a passage in Proust’s Remembrance of Times Past and his famous musings on a memory of the madeleines of his childhood through the stimulation of an olfactory anchor. How can anyone read that passage and not come away with at least a slight curiosity about what all the fuss is about?

Fast-forward to the stale looking pre-packaged madeleines (or so they are called) for sale in the greasy cellophane packages at the counter of Starbucks. They just never appealed to me. It was not until I moved here that I tasted my first madeleine.

One of my favorite vendors at the marché, Christophe, is a veritable wizard with madeleines! (Okay...perhaps I overstate his abilities a bit...perhaps he is simply at the level of Artist!) The first of these little cakes I tasted was well-stuffed with little chunks of chocolate.

Then there was a little lemon-thyme number that couldn’t be more perfect with an afternoon cup of tea.

And then he recently handed me a taste (as he often does while I wait my turn in line...or when I'm speeding through the market - and on those days it's a good thing because if I'm running, that is breakfast!) filled with a small bonbon of nutella. See what I mean?!? Artist, I tell you!

His madeleines make great little gifts and are always appreciated by the recipient. Buttery sacks have gone to my old car rental agency people, the administrative assistants and librarians at the IEFEE, guests coming into town to stay at the flat around the corner owned by friends in London, even my apartment rental agency has been on the list of recipients for these lovely little taste treats. In fact, a bag of these little gems went back with me to Minnesota, winning him two new fans across the Atlantic!

Christophe's madeleines quite certainly sell themselves but his humor and friendly nature add to the mix. (I really felt like a "regular" the day he enthusiastically brought his wife over to meet me as I shopped for vegetables one morning!)

When he’s not emptying his baskets of the day’s stash of madeleines to happy customers, he can often be found at the keys of the piano taking over from the gentleman who shows up each Saturday morning to entertain café patrons and market shoppers alike.

Or he could just as likely be found roaming around the market visiting his other vendor friends and teasing and joking with shoppers who did not get to the market early enough to score a madeleine - or six!

I’ve been as enchanted by these madeleines as I was by the first Madeline. And so some time ago, I told Christophe that I was going to write a piece about his little creations and discreetly asked if he would share the recipe with my readers. Leaving barely time for a breath, a firm “No!” made it clear that La Fourchette was not going to get the scoop on the world’s best madeleine recipe. He deserves to be so protective of his secret. The daily lines and empty baskets long before the market ends say it all.

Not really feeling the need to try my hand at the sweet version with Christophe showing up in my ‘hood several days a week, (and for my French readers, his lovely wife is now selling these madeleines at the Puyricard marché on Fridays!) I did find the idea of the savory type to be quite intriguing. Something really not French – a tweak that might be made by someone from...say...California!

Not quite corn-bread not quite cake...not quite biscuit, not quite muffin, this savory madeleine will be the first of many. With a delicate crumb, the sweetness of the cornmeal marries beautifully with the shallots. This time paired with a black bean soup, it was a lovely alternative to corn bread or tortillas. A good way to dress up a simple soup for company and give your meal a French twist.

(Of course, this would be the day to discover how “off” my oven is! Getting the temp up and steady was a real challenge for this project. As a result, I imagine that the next batch will be a bit toastier around the edges...but the taste and texture: still fabulous!)

Bon Appétit!

Savory Cornmeal, Shallot and Créme Fraiche Madeleines

1/3 cup minced shallot
2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter
1/3 cup yellow cornmeal
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon double-acting baking powder
1 large egg, beaten lightly
1/4 cup crème fraîche or sour cream
3 tablespoons water

In a skillet cook the shallot in 1 tablespoon of the butter over moderately low heat, stirring, until it is softened and let the mixture cool completely. In a bowl stir together the cornmeal, the flour, the baking powder, and the cooled shallot mixture, add the remaining 1 tablespoon butter, cut into bits, and blend the mixture until it resembles fine meal. Stir in the egg, 1/4 cup of the crème fraîche, the water, and salt and pepper to taste and stir the batter until it is combined well.

Heat a madeleine pan (with 10-12 madeleines at about 2 tablespoons capacity each) in the middle of a preheated 400°F. oven for 2 minutes, remove the pan from the oven, and into each Madeleine “cup”, spoon a heaping 1 1/2 teaspoons of the batter.

Bake in the middle of the 400°F. oven for 6 to 8 minutes, or until a tester inserted in the centers comes out clean, turn them out onto racks, and let them cool completely. The madeleines may be made 3 days in advance and kept chilled in an airtight container.

Makes 16


Greg said...

OK, but isn't this really just the same as cornbread mix from a box? ;-)

In a world where we have to worry whether Dick Cheney is so nuts -- and so in control of the US government -- that the US might actually invade Iran, I find it strangely comforting to know that life goes on, as usual, at the French markets.

la fourchette said...


Ahhh yes, you have cornbread mix in a box...and Dick Cheney. Mon pauvre! Here I am making madeleines from scratch and daily treks to the French market. Wish I could send some of these madeleines your way as a means of comfort in these strange times.


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