What does a pastry chef and small business owner do when they find themselves stuck at home with nothing but time? It’s a question I’ve been asking myself a fair amount over the last week. It’s a strange thing to be run off your feet entirely for months on end, and then suddenly have nothing to do. When I became a professional pastry chef I stopped cooking and baking at home – I simply didn’t have the energy for it. I also stopped reading and writing, more things I didn’t have energy for. I stopped doing anything but coming home, eating dinner, falling asleep and then going back to work: for almost a decade that was my life, and that’s hardly a life at all, is it?

Marcel Proust in ‘In Search of Lost Time’ famously wrote about how the simple act of eating a fresh madeleine with a cup of tea brought back an involuntary memory from the narrator’s childhood of sharing a madeleine with his aunt with a cup of tea. The recollection caused an “exquisite pleasure” invading his senses.

For me, making these madeleines brought back a whole host of memories. My first private catering job upon graduation was for a house warming in East London: a rooftop barbecue with a multi-course menu. There was a thunderstorm at one point and my sous chef slipped on the roof top and fell next to the revellers who were in the hot tub, thunder and lightning crashing around them, laughing hysterically. I baked these madeleines and served them fresh out of the oven to the party, all dripping wet on the marble floors, exquisite little pockets of sponge – crisp, delicate and light all at once.

Making them again now, in a time when none of us really know what the future holds, transported me back to standing in front of the oven at that party, anxiously watching the madeleines rise, the same songs on loop for hours. That night I felt like I had achieved something great, that making people happy with food was the best drug anyone could ever take. I popped a madeleine into my mouth straight out the oven, and also remembered how the host (who didn’t eat a single bite of the food we made for that outrageous, raucous party) said to me rather seriously when I offered him one, “eating is cheating,” before downing another glass of champagne and slipping back into the hot tub.

I wonder now how we move on after COVID-19. I wonder how I can keep on making people happy with food, but also look after myself. I question what “normal” is – should we go back to the way we were before lockdown? Exhausted and with no time to focus on my love of cooking outside of work? I hope not. I hope that we’re all able to take more time for ourselves and not feel guilty about it. I hope I can bake more madeleines, I hope you do too.

135g unsalted butter
3 whole eggs
150g demerara sugar
15g honey
135g plain flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
Pinch table salt

1. Make a beurre noisette (or brown butter) from your butter – in a small pan melt the butter entirely, then continue to cook over a low – medium heat, swirling continuously, until the milk solids have separated and caramelised at the bottom of the pan, and the beurre noisette smells nutty. Remove from the heat and strain through a fine sieve into a heatproof bowl to remove the solids. Set aside until cool.

2. Whisk together the eggs, demerara sugar & honey until thick and fluffy (sabayon) – you want your whisk to leave a ribbon. You can do this in a stand mixer or with a hand mixer (easier), or with a whisk (more time consuming).

3. Add the flour to your beurre noisette and mix well, ensuring there are no lumps. Add this to your egg mixture and whisk in briefly until just combined.

4. Lastly add your baking powder and salt, fold to combine and then place in a piping bag and rest in the fridge overnight. This is a vital step – always rest your madeleine mix!

5. When ready to bake, pre-heat your oven to 200°C and spray grease your madeleine moulds well (I use silicone moulds which don’t require grease + flour, but if you’re using metal ones spray grease + flour will help you tap the madeleines out more easily. If you don’t have a madeleine mould you can use a mini muffin tin, but obviously not quite the same thing; still just as delicious).

6. Pipe the madeleines into the moulds – it’s important to pipe more mix at the round of the mould and then let it taper off. The mix will even out, but piping this way will give the madeleines their signature little hump (which you technically cannot call it a madeleine without!).

7. Bake in the pre-heated oven for 8 mins – do not open the oven door during baking! When baked they’ll be starting to caramelise around the edges, have a small hump & be lightly golden brown. Let rest for a few seconds and then pop out of the moulds and serve immediately, with or without a cup of tea.

Article contributed by: Jackie Lee, Lashing Wellington 

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