Celebrating Food! Celebrating Life!

Pierre Hermé’s Madeleine Vanille

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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.

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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.

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Madeleine Vanille (from Le Livre des Four Secs et Moelleux de Pierre Hermé)

Ingredients

70g superfine castor sugar

10g trimoline

75g whole eggs

1g vanilla extract

75g pastry flour or cake flour

2g baking powder

75g clarified butter

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Method

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

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characteristic humps on the tops of well-developed madeleines
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Cheap madeleine pan scarred with burnt butter marks.

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Reflections and Modifications

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!

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26 responses

  1. Madeleine are my all time favorites… Nice Post.

    Thanks for Sharing.

    September 24, 2011 at 12:28 am

  2. I used to love Delifrance’s madelines. Thanks so much for sharing with us in detail your experiment. Awesome!

    September 24, 2011 at 7:46 am

    • Alan (travellingfoodies)

      Pleasure is mine, Edith. :)

      October 29, 2011 at 10:46 pm

  3. The tarnished madeline pans would look vintage, I’d say that’s a plus point. I don’t believe in pricey baking pans and vessels. Even top bakeries and professional chefs use the normal tins.

    Onto the vanilla, how about vanilla paste? It would be more intense than extract but I’m not sure how well it would incorporate into the batter.

    September 24, 2011 at 10:33 am

    • Alan (travellingfoodies)

      you are right on the cheap moulds make good pastry part. Its not the gear, but the person wielding it.

      Vanilla paste would definitely do much much better than essence. But still toying with the idea of using a real pod.

      October 29, 2011 at 10:49 pm

  4. I have the same $2 daiso pans and they’ve served me very well, even now :D burnt = vintage looking hehe

    And coincidentally I just made the same madeleine recipe, (but I changed it into matcha flavored ones) and really oddly enough, in my draft post, I also talked about how PH published this book in japanese and then in chinese, etc. lol great minds huh? ;p

    and i tried not refrigerating overnight but instead resting for an hour in front of a fan and there are humps, though not so visible ones – so I guess his instructions probably assume that you’re working in a less humid, air-conditioned environment which would give that hump without the long rest!

    September 24, 2011 at 5:02 pm

    • Alan (travellingfoodies)

      aiyah, hump or no hump, they are still delicious! Tis just us being anal retentive sometimes, macarons must have their feet while madeleines with humps.

      October 29, 2011 at 10:50 pm

  5. LOL :) Vanilla essence is indeed an odd choice in the book! You are very right about the resting time. Just like when we do financier, frangipane or cannele bordelais, we always have a good night of rest for the dough to develop fully. :)
    Perfect madeleine!

    September 25, 2011 at 12:09 pm

    • Alan (travellingfoodies)

      Hi Chef Gregoire, thanks for the tip on the resting time!

      October 29, 2011 at 10:54 pm

  6. Alan, your madeleine makes me want to go Daiso tomorrow to get the $2.00 pans.

    September 30, 2011 at 11:33 pm

    • Alan (travellingfoodies)

      you should Veronica! cheap and good! if you don’t mind the burnt marks at the end that is. :)

      October 29, 2011 at 10:54 pm

  7. THat looks so delicious, I want to follow Quay Po to Daiso to buy one too lol!

    October 4, 2011 at 12:07 am

    • Alan (travellingfoodies)

      haha you should Jeannie. I can’t tell you how delighted I was when I saw them for grabs at Daiso. And they run out quite quickly from what I observe. :)

      October 29, 2011 at 10:55 pm

  8. hi alan, i’m not sure if i have asked you this before about the trimoline, did you make your own syrup? what is the other subsitutions that we can use?

    October 4, 2011 at 9:49 am

    • Alan (travellingfoodies)

      Hi Lena! you can use glucose as a substitute. It should work quite well in place of trimoline.

      October 29, 2011 at 11:02 pm

  9. I love this cookbook to bits and have so far utilised it quite highly :) Your madeleines turned out really perfect!

    October 13, 2011 at 4:20 am

    • Alan (travellingfoodies)

      I can certainly see that you love and used the book a lot! Its a good book, highly pictorial and instructions were fairly simple to follow. What’s more, the results are very gratifying :)

      October 29, 2011 at 11:03 pm

  10. Anton

    I’ve tried these twice, the first time they fell. They had a huge crumb so I blamed it on too much baking powder – it’s hard to measure so little on the scale I have. New pocket gram scale on the way.

    The 2nd time – I increased the batch x3 and used the same baking powder measurement. They came out great but they are a little too much like corn bread. Not sure why or is that the goal ?

    Maybe I need a finer flour ? I’m using the King Arthur All Purpose.

    December 3, 2011 at 10:39 am

    • Alan (travellingfoodies)

      Hi Anton,
      Sorry for the delayed reply. I followed PH’s recipe and it worked fine for me. I’m wondering if it had to do with the oven temperature or duration of baking. And yes, like you’d mentioned an electronic scale definitely helps. The baking powder is to provide lift and hence produce that little hump which characterises a madeleine. It also makes the confection more spongy and less hefty. Yet, the teacake should remain moist and soft.

      I doubt the flour used is in question as the one I’d used is very ordinary and nothing fanciful. It would be good to sift your flour twice carefully to ensure that the dry ingredients are evenly incorporated.

      Do you have an oven thermometer? It might be worthwhile to get one if you don’t. Also, try to adjust the baking time accordingly as oven varies from one to another. Let me know the results of your future experimentations. :)

      December 7, 2011 at 7:56 pm

  11. Lester Fontayne

    Thanks for posting this. It is, without doubt, the best madeleine recipe I’ve yet tried, producing wonderfully crisp edges whilst remaining soft and moist inside. Thanks for your notes, too, which are most illuminating. Making the clarified butter was straightforward, but next time I’ll follow your lead of using ghee and save myself a job.

    Seeing as this particular book is unlikely to be available in English, I’d have no objections to you dipping into it further, hint hint. ;o)

    February 17, 2012 at 1:10 am

    • Alan (travellingfoodies)

      Hi Lester, so sorry for the late reply. Yes I like the recipe very much as well. And I’m glad it worked for you too!

      I’ll definitely be trying out more recipes from that book so do keep a look out. :)

      February 23, 2012 at 8:43 am

  12. Viv

    NICE!!!

    First time visitor from Australia :) I used the same recipe (i have the same book) but used vanilla paste instead – it contains real vanilla seed, and frankly, 1 tspn good quality paste = 1 vanilla bean :)

    Turned out REALLY well for u though. Lovely pictures!!!

    May 5, 2012 at 4:24 pm

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  15. Homer

    The vanilla PH uses will likely be a 10 fold or 20 fold (1kg to 1Litre Liquid or 2kg to 1 Litre Liquid). Perhaps the measly 1g was to not have the vanilla over-ride the flavour of butter?

    But, in a huge production like his, for baked products in which vanilla will lose a lot of its more delicate aroma molecules, sometimes, its cheaper and justifiable to use extract. However, there is a lot of rubbish out there, and a lot of ‘vanilla extract’ is actually a wood industry byproduct with ground, dyed cellulose to mimic the seeds.

    Quality of great butter is of utmost importance in this dainty tea cake, and olden recipes have almond flour in them. Remember that in the old days, cows grazed freely in the fields, eating all sorts of flowers, herbs and grass. A Madeleine made with Yves Bordier butter is simply heavenly. With a touch of lemon zest, its breathtaking.

    Furthermore, almonds were not selectively bred for size and uniformity. The bitter almond flavour of real almonds has been bred out modern varietals, without the rich almond buttery flavour that can still be tasted in Marcona almonds. A bitter almond can sometimes pop up as a mutation in Marcona almonds.

    Macarons of Nancy were made down the road from where the Madeleine is known to have come from. So, its not inconceivable that almonds played a role in this cake too, adding more flavour and texture.

    Trimoline in PH’s recipe can be substituted with Honey, which has the same softening and moisture retention aspects, with the added advantage of flavour. A single varietal honey, perhaps a Chestnut or Citrus, Lavender or Cherry Flower honey would certainly bring this confection to another level.

    This wonderful confection seems simple to make, but is actually very complex in nature once we break it down. That is the beauty of looking backwards into the soul of a recipe, understanding it, then bringing it forward. Just like how you could eliminate wheat flour and use rice flour with your madeleines in addition to pullulan………

    August 4, 2012 at 1:25 pm

    • Alan (travellingfoodies)

      Thanks Nick!!!!!! :)

      August 6, 2012 at 11:50 am

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