January. A fresh start. A new year. A virginally white page in the great big book of our life.
Also the month which sees a huge increase in the sale of fruit, vegetables and sports gear. Not to mention the sale of gym –memberships.
Over all January is a happy month. People wishing other people happy New Year, kissing (three kisses on the cheek) people they normally wouldn’t touch with a fifty foot pole but hey, it is New Year and kissing someone who gives you the creeps is supposed to bring good luck!
But someone is not happy in January. Or rather something.
I’m taking about your oven.
Traditionally ovens are somewhat neglected these days. After the busy baking months of October (Apple pies! Pumpkin pies! Turkey!) November (Whatever, it is cold and we want something hot in our stomach to warm us up from the inside) and especially December (Christmas cookies! Christmas cake!) ovens all over the world suffer from neglect and abuse. Either they are not used at all or – even worse – their task are severely limited.
People hear me out. Stop this terrible abuse. Your oven is not fit for just grilling that piece of lean chicken or those vegetables. And you are definitely not doing it any service in just using it to heat up last night’s leftover lentils.
Please stop this madness. Prevent your trusty baking friend from growing rusty and from suffering from baking – withdrawal. It is for your own good really. Because what do you think will happen when your finally do need to use the oven for serious baking? Chances are the oven will be confused or overenthusiastic and will spoil your perfect cake batter.
Does this mean you have to throw all your healthy food plans away? No, of course not. By all means grill those vegetables and chicken, but bake the occasional cookie or cupcake. Make them small, light and savoury. Perhaps add a little lemon to boost your vitamin C intake.
Coincidently I made a batch of cookies who answer to your and your oven’s needs : “Madeleine”. Yes the same ones Proust waxes about so poetically in his “In Search of Lost Time”. Monsieur Proust and I may not share the same fond memories when it comes to Madeleines but I’m pretty sure our love for this most delicious treat is the same.
So please: do your oven a favour and put him to good use by making Madeleines. They will brighten your January day and who knows, maybe you will be inspired to read Mr. Proust’s masterpiece. (If you have read it: I applaud you! I did not have the honour of reading this myself and – looking at the size of it – I don’t know if I ever will). The recipe I used is from Pastry Maester Pierre Hermé, I don’t know if it is the same as Proust’s ma used but they taste so good someone ought to write a book about them, not just a paragraph.
Madeleines after the recipe by Pierre Hermé.
Ingredients (Monsieur Hermé says this will get you 12 dreamily good cookies, but I got 20 out of it)
100 gr. / 3.53 ounces of flour
3 gr./0.16 ounces of dry yeast
100 gr. /3.53 ounces of good quality butter
120 gr./4.23 ounces of powdered sugar
Zest of one whole lemon (here I differed from Pierre’s recipe: he uses ¼ of the lemon, I prefer my cookies to taste properly lemony not just Is-there-a-lemon-in-it-or-not)
You will of course need a baking tin to make Madeleines.
Combine the yeast and the flour into a bowl, while you are at it melt the butter in a little pot as soon as it has melted take it off the heat and put it aside to cool.
(bad picture I know, I know, perhaps I should take a photography course this year… or get Photoshop)
Next add the flour and yeast mixture, but here it gets a little tricky: put a strainer over the sugar-egg mixture and gently sieve the flour/yeast combo over the sugar and eggs. When you are one third through put aside the strainer and MANUALLY (no Kitchenaid! No Kenwood! NO NO No, thou shalt not use them, you go old school. Point final) fold the flour/yeast into the batter, gently does it. When all the flour has been added put the colander over the batter again and start the process again until all the flour is gone.
Now add the molten butter and the lemon zest while gently stirring the mixture. Keep stirring until all the butter has gone.
Heat your oven up to 220C°/428 F°.
Fill the shells in the baking tin for 2/3 with the batter and put in the oven. Bake for 5 min. at 220C°/428F° then lower the temperature to 200C°/392F° and bake for another 10min.
Take out of the oven and leave to cool before taking the cookies out of the tin, it will be easier to get them out in one piece this way.
Continue until you have finished all the batter.