Madeleines have many admirers. Take Proust, in the “episode of the madeleine” from his epic novel In Search of Lost Time:
“No sooner had the warm liquid mixed with the crumbs touched my palate than a shudder ran through me and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary thing that was happening to me. An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses, something isolated, detached, with no suggestion of its origin.”
Sadly, I have not had such an evocative experience consuming a madeleine. But I understand how food, particularly sweet confections, can affect people. Madeleines are to France what cupcakes are to Australia: small little sponge cakes sometimes flavoured with vanilla or lemon. Almond meal is sometimes used to replace the flour, to make a denser cake.
Cute as a button, madeleines are traditionally baked in trays with shell-shaped indentations. Madeleine trays usually contain multiple moulds, making it easy to cook in batches of six or more.
Madeleines have a short shelf life and tend to taste stale very quickly. For this reason, I have never had a really great example from a cake shop or bakery. They are much more delicious eaten straight from the oven, still warm. I serve these in the restaurant baked to order. It only takes 15 minutes, which seems a lifetime to some but is very much worth the wait. As they come from the oven, they are piped with a good squirt of lemon curd and served piping hot.
I first ate lemon curd on a holiday in Queensland, served as a dessert, a pot straight from the fridge placed on the table with a loaf of white bread. In the middle of summer the cool lemon curd was a real treat. It’s probably the best thing to come from a glut of lemons from the tree in the yard.
Lemon curd has many uses other than a quick dessert fix. If bored and with a few hours to spare, try a cake of fresh crepes stacked a dozen high layered with lemon curd. This is left in the fridge to set before being smothered with whipped cream. The cake can be sliced into wedges, and is both impressive and delicious.
Lemon curd is not usually served with madeleines, however lemon-flavoured madeleines are quite common. Add the finely grated zest of a lemon to the cake batter and a lovely lemon aroma will fill the house. One tablespoon of cocoa powder can also be added in place of one tablespoon of flour for an attempt at a chocolate madeleine.
Madeleines filled with lemon curd
– 270g castor sugar
– 4 eggs
– 1 egg yolk, extra
– finely grated zest of 5 lemons
– juice of 4 lemons
– 170g softened butter
Note: The lemon curd can be made in advance. It will keep for four days in the fridge, and any excess is lovely spread on fresh bread or toast.
To make the lemon curd, thoroughly whisk together the sugar, eggs, egg yolk, lemon zest and juice. Transfer to a double boiler or a heatproof bowl that fits snugly over a pan of gently simmering water and whisk until thick and pale. If the curd does not thicken after a few minutes, increase the heat slightly. Once thickened, remove from the heat and leave to cool to room temperature. Whisk in the softened butter, a little at a time (if you add it all at once, the curd will split). Transfer the lemon curd to a piping bag with a small nozzle or a squeezable plastic bottle.
– 400g unsalted butter
– 480g plain flour
– 2 tsp baking powder
– 360g castor sugar
– pinch of salt
– finely grated zest of 4 lemons
– 8 large (60g) eggs
For the madeleines, preheat the oven to 200ºC and grease two 12-cup madeleine trays. In a small saucepan, melt the butter over a very low heat then set aside to cool. Sift the flour with the baking powder.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the sugar and salt, then add the lemon zest and rub together with your fingertips until well incorporated. Fix the bowl in place and fit the whisk attachment, then whisk in the eggs until pale and fluffy. Gently fold in the sifted flour and baking powder, then the cooled melted butter.
Spoon the batter into the trays, filling each cup to the brim, and bake for eight to 10 minutes. When cooked, the madeleines should be soft, fluffy and offer a little resistance to the touch.
Remove from the oven, then pierce the base of each warm madeleine with a skewer and carefully pipe or squeeze some lemon curd into the centre (each one should hold about one-and-a-half teaspoons of curd before it threatens to burst). Dust with icing sugar and serve immediately.
NV Espelt Moscatell de l’ Empordà, Spain ($25, 500ml)
– Liam O’Brien, head sommelier, Cutler & Co
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Sep 10, 2016 as "Madeleines filled with lemon curd". Subscribe here.