03 December, 2013

"Happy Christmas!" From Europe, With Love: Day 3: Noël

I spent quite a lot of time trying to decide whether or not to include France in this series.  To me, it seems like the typical country you think of when you hear the word "Europe".  But after asking my readers on Facebook, out the bevy of answers that followed only one person said that they thought of France when they heard "Europe".  Maybe it is just me then...  Which is quite possible.  I am an odd duck.

Christmas in France...  Paris.  That is the first thing that pops into my head.  The Eiffel Tower lit up and the streets decked out in lights for Christmas.  I'm sure that is exactly what their board of tourism wants me to think about.  The food is always next on my mind.  But, the problem with France is...they are always eating dessert.  Year 'round; macarons, eclairs, genoise, sweet croissants..you name it.  So when I asked some of the French folk around me what a signature French Christmas dessert might be, they drew a blank.  One friend of mine said that her Christmas growing up centered more around the main meal food than the dessert.  I was shocked to hear that, but...I've been shocked plenty while preparing this series.  She told me that their Christmas table wasn't "Christmas" yet unless there was a ratatouille (reminded them of the humble beginning Christ had in the manger), a brandied roast goose with cognac fruit sauce, or a boeuf Bourguignon on the table.  Another of my friends from church grew up as a French Canadian in Quebec...  Her Christmas table came with tourtierre for sure but no real defined desserts that were "must haves".  *sigh*

Now what?  Dig deeper, that's what...

I looked up "French Christmas Cookies" and got the mother load!  Meringues, cinnamon palmiers, gaulettes, honey sesame cookies, madeleines, gaufrettes, almond macarons, chocolate spice crisps, ginger cookies, and vanilla sables.  Well now...that's more like it!  Though, it struck me as odd that madeleines would be on the list because they are clearly a "tea cake".  But, because of that anomaly, I chose madeleines.  I just couldn't resist.  It was either madeleines or Buche de Noel (Yule Log).  I've made Buche de Noel plenty of times before so I didn't want to do that.  I can do a cake roll in my sleep. 

Cake Release & Madeleine Pan

You'll need a madeleine pan for this recipe of course.  The cake release spray is optional.  Butter will work, but cake release is a little extra insurance. 

 I will warn you, the following two recipes are different in technique in the fact that the orange madeleine recipe requires 12 hours of refrigeration for best turn out, whereas the chocolate madeleine recipe requires none and is able to go in the oven immediately.    Hmmm...wait for orange or charge full steam ahead for chocolate.  What a decision!  No matter which flavor you choose, you're sure to have a Joyeux Noël with these on the table!!

**The U.S. measurements appear first followed by the European weights in parenthesis, unless only U.S. measurements were given.  I weighed the amounts out first, then measured them with U.S. measuring cups and spoons.  You can thank me later.


Chocolate Madeleines
1/4 c. unsalted butter, melted and cool
2 eggs
1/3 c. caster sugar
1/3 c. flour, sifted
2 T. high quality cocoa powder (I used Callebaut)

1 tsp. baking powder

Preheat oven to 350 F

In a bowl whisk eggs and sugar on high for 5 minutes.  While the mixer is mixing sift flour, cocoa powder, and baking powder together in a bowl.  When you have whisked the eggs long enough that the egg mixture has the consistency of thick ribbons when a spoon lifts and drops it back into the bowl, it is ready for the flour mixture.  On lowest setting or with a rubber spatula fold in or lightly mix in the dry ingredients.

Pour the melted butter down the side of your bowl as you put it into the mixing bowl, have the mixer on lowest setting as you do this OR do it by hand, gently.   

Spoon the batter into a greased madeleine pan and bake for 10-12 minutes or until toothpick clean. 

Serve drizzled with chocolate.

Orange Madeleines
1 orange
1/2 tsp. orange oil, optional
3/4 c. + 1 T. granulated sugar (160g)
1 1/3 c. + 1 T. cake flour (175g)
2 tsp. baking powder
12 ½ T. butter (180g), melted and cooled
4 eggs
1 2/3 T. honey (35g)
2 T. butter for greasing pan

Using a zester, zest a whole orange into a large mixing bowl and toss the sugar, honey, and eggs in with the zest.  Whisk the mixture on high for 5 minutes.  While that is mixing sift together cake flour and baking powder and set it aside until the egg mixture has turned slightly pale and produces a thick ribbon when you dip in a spoon and let the egg mixture fall off back into the bowl.  At this point gently fold in your flour mixture or use the lowest setting on your mixer and mix just until flour is incorporated.  Then slowly drizzle the butter in down the side of the mixing bowl while the mixer is on low.   Cover batter with plastic wrap and allow it to refrigerate for 12 hours.

Preheat oven to 400 F

Brush the baking mold with 2 T. of melted butter and then dust it with flour as well.  Refrigerate the mold for 15 minutes to allow the butter to harden.  Then fill each mold ¾ of the way and tap it on the counter to bring any bubbles up to the top .  Bake for 10-12 minutes.  Allow them to cool at least 2 minutes before removing from the pan.

Dust with powdered sugar.

The orange madeleines were so bright and fluffy....and orangy.  Adding orange oil to the butter was a great plan instead of just relying on the orange zest to deliver the flavor.  The chocolate madeleines, well, now those took my breath away.  They were so rich and moist, I found myself wishing I had doubled the recipe when I made them initially.  No matter which one of these two recipes you choose to try, you'll be pleased.  I personally would go for the chocolate because chocolate is my one true food weakness next to apple crisp and cheesecake.  Heck, you could even add the orange oil to the chocolate batter.  Do whatever seems yummy...  Above all...have fun in the kitchen!   

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