Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Baking Seashells (aka Madelines)

This is a winter that doesn't seem to want to end. Normally, that is my definition of a PERFECT winter. But, the collective city whine of "won't it ever end" seems to have gotten to me. Or to be more frank with myself, it's the omg can it just get warm enough to go to the playground because if I have to play one more minute of thomas the tank engine I'm going to pull out my blooming hair! that's gotten to me, and I, too, am wishing for winter's end.

Spring would be so lovely right now. Warm breeze, light jackets, no mittens and little daffodil buds: I eagerly await your arrival.

But for now, I will imitate summer and bake some seashells. These seashells are best on cold afternoons, dipped in milky sweet tea, and savored as only something that is more-butter-than-anything-else can be. Summer is far away friends, and buttery treats await.

These are relatively time-consuming. They require special equipment. And, please, don't even THINK about using salted butter, inferior-quality butter, or old butter. Fresh, fragrant, top-notch, room-temperature, UNsalted butter only please. You'll be doing yourself and your madelines a grand injustice if not. Also, use cake flour, please. Not all-purpose. Now, given all those restrictions, should you still bother to make these? Absolutely. You'll want winter to never leave, just so you can make these every day.

Madelines *

Adapted from The Joy Of Cooking

makes about 20 little cakes

1 1/2 cup cake flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature, cut into small pieces, plus more for buttering the molds
3 large eggs, at room temperature**
1 large egg yolk
3/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla

special equipment needed: madeline pan, and sifter

*I almost rechristened the recipe Seashell Cakes, but then they would have lost the association with Proust, and that just won't do
**bring eggs to room temperature quickly by placing them unbroken in a bowl of very warm water

Sift the flour, baking powder and salt together over a small bowl placed on a plate. Put sifter on plate and pour flour mixture back into the sifter. Place aside.

Mash and beat the butter in a medium bowl with a wooden mixing spoon (or spatula) until it is the consistency of mayonnaise. If necessary, place the bowl in a larger bowl of hot water to warm the bowl and hasten the softening of the butter. (This is especially necessary if your house is colder than 70 degrees.)

In a large bowl with a hand mixer (or in a standing mixer) beat the eggs, the yolk, the sugar and the vanilla on high until thick and pale yellow in color (about 2 - 5 minutes.) Then sift the flour mixture over the egg mixture bit by bit, folding in and fully incorporating as you go, until all the flour is sifted in. Take your time sifting it in.

Next, fold a dollop of the egg/flour mixture into the butter, combine it, then scrape all the butter mixture into the egg/flour mixture. Fold together until well combined (but don't over stir.) Let rest at least 30 minutes, and up to 2 hours, before baking.

Before baking, preheat oven to 450 degrees. Using melted butter, brush the madeline molds. Then dollop on the batter into each mold, so it looks about 3/4 full. (This isn't pourable batter so a little guesswork is necessary.) Bake until the cakes are golden on the top and golden brown around the edges, 8 to 10 minutes. Immediately loosen each cake and unmold on rack to cool. If necessary, wipe the molds clean and let cool, rebutter them, and bake with remaining batter.

If you have any leftovers, make sure you store them in tupperware and eat them within two days.

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