When my mom suffered a stroke years ago, the only thing she wanted to eat for a long time was — inexplicably — lemon meringue pie.
When my elderly aunt was hospitalized last year, the only food that could comfort her was — surprisingly — madeleines.
Say what you will about the women in my family, but there’s no denying they like their sweets.
I readily admit I take after them, too.
When I would visit my aunt in the hospital, I’d pick up madeleines from a French bakery to take to her for a real treat. Because believe it or not, even though I bake up a storm at home on a regular basis, madeleines were not something I’d ever made.
Wanting to surprise my aunt, I bought madeleine pans this year. I was going to bake her some fresh to deliver in person. But then COVID-19 crushed those plans mercilessly.
As I wait out shelter-in-place until it’s permissible to drive an hour to visit someone her age again, I decided to break in my pans with a madeleine test-run.
I found the perfect recipe in the newly reissued classic cookbook, “The Last Course: The Desserts of Gramercy Tavern” (Random House) of which I received a review copy. The cookbook is by the incomparable Claudia Fleming, the former pastry chef at New York’s landmark Gramercy Tavern.
Originally published in 2001, the book became coveted not only by home-cooks, but top pastry chefs. If the latter prize it so much, you know it’s got to be worth having in your collection, too.
Her desserts have always been lauded for their precision without pretension. They are crave-able and do-able, without unnecessary frills. And they’ve stood the test of time. “Cantaloupe Sorbet,” “Rhubarb-Rose Cobbler with Rose Cream,” “Lemon Verbena Custards, ” and “Chocolate Caramel Tarts” are just as relevant and satisfying as they were decades ago.
“Chestnut-Honey Madeleines” are made with earthy chestnut honey. However, I swapped that out for sage honey, of which I received a sample.
Bee K’onscious Artisanal Honey is a Denver company that sources raw, unfiltered, single-origin honey from around the world. Each jar even comes with a bar code that customers can scan to trace the honey to the single beekeeper who produced it.
The company sells four different varietals: Brazilian Cipo Uva, Brazilian Marmeleiro Prateado, Montana Clover, and California Sage. Each 12-ounce jar is $18 and available on the Bee K’onscious web site.
The California Sage Honey hails from California’s Sierra Nevada. Light gold in color, it has a slight leafy aroma, and a sweet, delicate taste of vanilla. There’s a twinge of earthiness on the finish, rather than a potent taste of Thanksgiving stuffing.
Besides honey, these madeleines get extra deliciousness from browned butter that give them a richer, nuttier profile. Although I’ve made browned butter often, this is the first time a recipe has instructed me to melt the butter in a skillet rather than in a saucepan. It’s genius, as a skillet provides more surface area to brown the butter faster. The skillet also provides a bigger, better view of the butter, so you can tell more easily when to pull it off the heat.
Madeleines bake up fast — in only about 5 minutes. These teeny cakes that eat like cookies are moist, tender, quite buttery, and redolent of vanilla and floral notes.
I can’t wait for the day to bake a batch for my aunt to enjoy.
Chestnut (Or Sage)-Honey Madeleines
(Makes 2 dozen)
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, plus additional softened butter for the molds
4 large eggs
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons firmly packed dark brown sugar
1/4 cup chestnut or sage honey (or lavender or wildflower honey)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cake flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
Confectioners’ sugar for dusting
In a small skillet, over medium heat, melt the butter. Continue to let the butter cook until some of the white milk solids fall to the bottom of the skillet and turn a rich hazelnut brown, about 5 minutes. Strain the browned butter through a fine sieve into a small bowl.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the eggs, both sugars, and honey until pale and foamy, 2 to 3 minutes.
Sift both flours, the baking powder, and salt over the egg mixture and use a rubber spatula to gently fold in. Fold in the browned butter. Cover the batter and refrigerate for at least 8 hours, or overnight.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Liberally butter the madeleine molds. Spoon or pipe the batter evenly into the molds. Bake for 5 to 7 minutes, until golden brown. Transfer the pans to a wire rack to cool for 5 minutes, then unmold the cakes and let them cool completely on the rack. Dust the madeleines with confectioners’ sugar before serving.
Serving Suggestion: Serve with whipped creme fraiche, if you like.
Adapted from “The Last Course” by Claudia Fleming