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Let Them Eat Cake: Baking A Parisian Classic

by Sonja Albrecht
CulinaryEd Columnist
May 19, 2011

"... a little shell of cake, so generously sensual" —Marcel Proust

Not long ago, madeleines — little shell-shaped cakes — began making surprise guest appearances in New York's finest restaurants. Long a staple of Parisian baking, the classic cookie appears after the meal as a mellow palate-cleanser — essentially doing the job of the after-dinner mint.

An age-old recipe...
Madeleines are tiny pound cakes. Baking them by the classic recipe involves equal parts sugar, flour, eggs, and butter. A little lemon zest gives the cake a fresh, clean flavor — the perfect finish to a flavorful meal.

This crisp finish has earned the madeleine a New York restaurant job as an upscale fortune cookie, arriving after the last course. Traditionally, the madeleine is a tea-dipping cookie, eaten mid-afternoon.

The essence of the madeleine is timing. Like a souffle, the cake's flavor and texture comes together in the baking, and evaporates once it sits and cools. It helps to find a pastry or cake baking class that can demonstrate the delicate process.

...Reborn in New York's en vogue restaurants
Upscale New York restaurants consistently present their madeleines 'live.' This means it is one pastry chef's job to continuously bake madeleines for the evening. If you find yourself in a New York restaurant job after culinary school, you could find yourself drawing on cake baking class fundamentals: rising dough, and adding flair to the cookies. Nutmeg, orange blossom honey, rum, star anise these are just some of the ingredients pastry chefs at Artisanal, Eleven Madison Park, Virot, and other New York restaurants have added to their after-dinner madeleines. Experimenting with delicate flavors is one of the most pleasurable aspects of the pastry chef's job. If you're inspired by subtle flavors, you could be a five-star pastry chef in the making. Take a cake baking class, and invent your own perfect madeleine.

Sources:

  1. Amanda Hesser. "When a Sweet Nothing Becomes Really Something." The New York Times.
  2. Marcel Proust. Remembrance of Things Past. (New York: Vintage, 1982).


About the Author

Sonja Albrecht works as a writer and editor for an online media company. She has also taught college writing and completed a Ph.D. in English.
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