I feel as thought I should explain the fact that we have a Madeleine pan in our kitchen. Normally I try not to accumulate specialty baking equipment of almost any kind due to a lack of appropriately sized kitchen cabinets. A Madeleine pan is a perfect example of a nearly useless piece of baking equipment: it has only one purpose, to bake cookies in the shape of sea shells. Of course when I gave it to Peter for his birthday (before I realized it was much more efficient to just ask him what he wanted), I was under the misguided impression that they were one of his favorite cookies. Which means I have used the Madeleine pan exactly twice for its intended purpose, and one of those times was last week. Of course there are all kinds of other useful, if totally unnecessary, things one can do with a Madeleine pan: use it as another baking sheet for cookies (as long as you don’t mind their nautical-themed shape), use it to shape ravioli (although the shape doesn’t really hold with such a gooey filling), and use it to freeze pesto (otherwise the pesto liquid could run away). Anyways, if you decide to make these cookies, eat them while they are still warm. My ladies in physics didn’t get the fresh-out-of-the-oven experience, but I did dip some of the cookies in chocolate to try to make up for it.
Madeleines (adapted from The Book of French Provincial Cooking)
(Makes about 2 dozen cookies)
3 eggs, separated
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup butter, melted
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Powdered sugar to dust the cookies and/or chocolate chips for melting
Make the dough: Begin by separating the eggs. Put the egg whites in a medium mixing bowl in preparation for being beaten into stiff peaks and put the egg yolks in the main mixing bowl. Add the sugar to the egg yolks and mix well to combine. Sift the flour and baking powder on top of the egg yolk and sugar mixture, but don’t mix them in quite yet. Melt the butter and mix it with the lemon juice and vanilla. Now as you slowly pour the butter/lemon/vanilla liquid into the main mixing bowl, stir in the flour and baking powder. Finally it’s time to beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form. Fold the egg whites carefully into the main bowl; I like to fold in 1/3 of the egg whites initially to lighten up the batter and then add the rest. Let the dough sit in the fridge for 30 minutes covered with a damp towel or plastic wrap.
Bake the dough: Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Coat the madeleine pan with a layer of butter (just in the shell-shaped indentations) and then cover with a light dusting of flour. I did not butter and flour the pan again after the first batch of cookies. When the dough is done chilling in the fridge, measure out a heaping spoonful of dough into each shell-shaped indentation in the madeleine pan. Each shell should only be filled to about 2/3 its volume (the cookies will expand during baking). Bake the madeleines for 7 minutes at 425 degrees F and then lower the temperature to 375 degrees F and bake for another 7 minutes. After the first 7 minutes, the cookies should have puffed up and after the second 7 minutes they should be nicely golden with a hint of light brown around their edges. Remove the cookies to a cooling rack carefully after they come out of the oven. Since I prefer the shell-shaped side of the cookies, I like to place that side up on the cooling rack.
Decorate the cookies: A simple dusting of powdered sugar once the cookies are at least mostly cool looks wonderful. You can also melt 1/4 cup or so of chocolate chips in the microwave or oven in a very small bowl (not much wider than the cookies) and dip the ends of each cookie into the chocolate. The chocolate will harden overnight.