Pierre Hermé’s Madeleine Vanille
We bought Pierre Hermé’s “Le Livre des Four Secs et Moelleux de Pierre Hermé” as we were in transit through Taipei on our way back from Osaka this March and its severely under utilised, apart from the Financier Carre Blanc I’d tried 2 months back. Then again, many of the recipe books I have are severely under utilised. :p
It’s interesting to note that this book was never published in French. In fact, the only thing french about it is its title! It was orginally published in Japanese last year and it doesnt take much for one to see why. He has 7 dessert shops in Tokyo alone, only 2 short of his stronghold in Paris, with plans to open in other parts of Japan in the near future. It is then printed in Chinese, which bears the title “Pierre Hermé 冩給你的法式點心書”. Not quite an accurate translation but don’t you just love the title.
Unlike his other publications like ph10 or Infinitement, this book, which was targeted at the Japanese audience comprises of 20+ simple-to-follow petit four sec recipes, with “dry” confections ranging from some teacake-like madeleines and financiers, to biscuit-like sables and tuiles, as well as some cakes and “pains”. The recipes do not have bedazzling multi-component bakes, nor do they require elaborated ganaches, mousses or frostings. The most that one needs to conjure are some glacages for the cakes. However, they are “dry” in “form” but not in palate sensation; the textures of the financiers were soft and moist, and I would expect the same from the rest as well. And this is verified by none other than his recipe for Madeleine Vanille.
Madeleines are dainty little teacakes curiously shaped like clam shells with prominent humps on their backs. These small pieces, perfect to be enjoyed over a cup of freshly brewed earl grey often have a genoise-like texture and hence best dunked into tea to moisten them up a bit. The ancestral lineage of the almost symbiotic relationship between oreos and milk must be traced back to madeleines and tea I thought. Pierre Hermé’s madeleines uses trimoline which makes the madeleines so soft and tender that one has almost has to redefine how these confections should taste like. He revolutionises classic recipes, drawing one away and forcing one to rethink what a good piece of confection SHOULD taste like instead of what it WOULD HAVE tasted in the past. Some others, like the great Japanese patissier 河田勝彦, are more “purists” in manner would probably disgree and prefer to revoke the “old ways” and nostalgia by making people walk down memory lanes through the history of pastry making. In fact, he is greatly respected in Japan for doing so and his latest book is exemplary of this. Some others like Pierre Hermé forge ahead bringing pastry making to new heights and braving through uncharted waters. I love them both but if I was forced to choose, I prefer the latter more.
70g superfine castor sugar
75g whole eggs
1g vanilla extract
75g pastry flour or cake flour
2g baking powder
75g clarified butter
sift flour with baking powder
in a bowl, mix castor sugar with trimoline and whole eggs until creamy and smooth
add vanilla extract and mix well
incorporate sifted flour into egg mixture
finally add clarified butter
leave to rest for 10-15 min (see below)
meanwhile, prepare madeleine pans by greasing and dusting the cavities and surrounding with melted butter and cake flour respectively.
pipe batter mixture into mould cavities until 80% filled
in a preheated oven at 210C, lower temperature to 200C and bake for 6 min
unmould immediately after removing from oven and lay to cool on wire rack.
serve with tea and best consumed within same day
The recipe calls for invert sugar aka trimoline, which lends the madeleines their soft and moist interior textures while allowing the exterior to brown and crisp up slightly. Another ingredient used is a type of superfine castor sugar which is somewhat more moist than the regular ones we are accustomed to using. It retains much more moisture and crumbles like wet sand. The closest available product of such sort is Japanese 上白糖 but I’m not about to go out and spend a premium for it. Instead I blitz normal castor sugar until fine and used them in the batter. Why not use icing or confectioner’s sugar some of you might ask. Storebought icing sugar usually contains a certain amount of corn starch as an anti-caking agent, preventing the sugar crystals from clumping together. I’m not sure how this is going to affect the texture of the tea cakes but I aint gonna take the risk, considering the rather high percentage of sugar that’s going into it. Corn starch might provide extra lift which in this case, means causing the madeleines to go out of shape, perhaps. Not gonna try to find out.
Clarified butter is used in place of normal butter for that luxuriously rich textures and it can be easily prepared at home by melting unsalted butter over low heat and leaving it to stand for water and oils to separate. Even then, I’m too lazy to prepare it and used ghee instead, which is essentially the same thing! Whatever that works right?
Truth be told, I’d forgotten to dust the pans after buttering them, no thanks to all that eagerness to get them baked asap. However, owing to the fact that the pans were greased in overtly zealous fashion earlier, I had no problems in unmoulding the madeleines after baking was done. That said, the
cheapo cheap 2 bucks madeleine pans from Daiso were browned by burnt butter in an almost irrevocable manner, leaving them scarred for life. Still usable, just not very presentable. Oh well, you pay peanuts, you get monkeys.
PH’s original recipe requires the batter to be left to rest for 10-15 min before it can be baked but we all know that this is not enough. Instead, the mixture was refrigerated overnight as time is a crucial ingredient in ensuring the proper development of a pronounced bulge on the top which characterises a well-made madeleine. However, I feel that there are 2 points which require a bit more attention and abiding by. (1) The batter needs to be covered with cling film directly over the surface during refrigeration. This prevents condensation from dripping onto the batter. Water was painstakingly excluded from the batter through the use of clarified butter and we don’t want to be introducing it back into the batter by accident, do we? What we want is moisture, not sogginess. (2) the batter, after ample resting should be returned back to room temperature before being piped into the mould. This allows for more uniform heat distribution within each mould, ensuring a more uniform cooking process, not unlike how you would not throw a piece of steak freshly out of the freezer but instead, thaw it religiously before searing it over a hot grill.
If there’s one thing I find disagreeable in this recipe, it has to be the vanilla extract. Why on earth is this used in place of real vanilla beans? And why only a miserly 1g!? A glance through the recipe and its not difficult to know why. It would indeed be difficult to incorporate vanilla seeds from the pod into the batter given how lacking the recipe is in wet ingredients. One way, perhaps could be to homogenise just melted, warm clarified butter with vanilla seeds. Another way, which is slightly more workable, but more tedious is to make my own invert sugar by simply heating sugar syrup with a tinge of lemon juice or cream of tartar. The hydrolytic process breaks down sucrose into glucose and fructose. Vanilla seeds may be added when the syrup is boiling to allow the infusion to take place. The major drawback for this method is the potential risk of the vanilla seeds, acting as “seeds” in the “seeding method” promoting recrystallisation of sugar. That was a bit mind boggling to read i know. Oh well, only one way to find out. But the thought of packing the qualities of all 3 varieties of vanilla into one single madeleine is quite exciting, inheriting the rich and lush qualities of bourbon madagascar and tahitian while giving a slight spicy edge with the mexican pod à la Madeleine Vanille Infinitement! The very thought of it is already making me drool!