French Jewels: Coffee and Almond Madeleines

“If you don’t know history, then you don’t know anything. You are a leaf that doesn’t know it is part of a tree.” Michael Crichton

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Madeleines are associated with a little French town, Commercy, whose bakers were said to have once paid a large amount of money for the recipe of the little cakes baked and sold in their local area. However, nuns in eighteenth-century France were well know to have frequently supported themselves and their schools by producing and selling this particular sweet. Historians think that at the time of the abolishment of convents and monasteries during the French Revolution, the nuns origin ally sold their own recipe to the bakers of Commercy. According to another legend, during the 18th century in the French town of Commercy, in the region of Lorraine, a young servant girl name Madeleine made them for Stanislas Leszczynska, the deposed king of Poland when he was exiled to Lorraine, what started the fashion for madeleines. They became popular in Versailles by Marie, the daughter of Leszczynska, who was married to Louis XV. Another story lays the origins of the madeleine with Jean Avice, considered the “master of choux pastry,” who worked as a pastry chef for Prince Talleyrand. Jean Avice is believed by some to have invented the Madeleine in the 19th century by baking little cakes in aspic molds.

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“History is a set of lies agreed upon.” Napoleon

Marcel Proust in his autobiographical novel “À la recherche du temps perdu” (Remembrance of Things Past) wrote in 1923: ‘She sent for one of those squat plump little cakes called “petites madeleines,” which look as though they had been molded in the fluted valve of a scallop shell … I raised to my lips a spoonful of the tea in which I had soaked a morsel of the cake. No sooner had the warm liquid mixed with the crumbs touched my palate than a shudder ran through me and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary thing that was happening to me. An exquisite pleasure invaded my senses …’

“Study the past if you would define the future.” Confucius

Ingredients
113 g salted butter, melted
130 g plain flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
3 medium eggs at room temperature
133 g light brown sugar
2 teaspoons of instant coffee
2 teaspoons of French almond extract
100 g milk chocolate (to decorate)

Method
Melt the butter in a pan and leave to cool completely. Incorporate baking powder into the flour. Beat the eggs and sugar together until doubled in volume then add the instant coffee (dissolved in a tiny amount of water) and almond extract. Sift the flour/baking powder  into the batter mixture and fold in very gently, trying to keep the air until all the ingredients are now combined. Leave to make a thick batter to stand for 10 – 15 mins until the batter has settled and thickened a little more. Add a tablespoon of batter onto each section of a Madeleine tray. Bake in 180 degrees C, pre-heated oven for 8 – 10 minutes, then leave it to cool in the pan for a little while before turning them out. Once completely cooled, decorate with melted chocolate.

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“History is that certainty produced at the point where the imperfections of memory meet the inadequacies of documentation.” Julian Barnes

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