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Tea for Two

February 13, 2011
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I am just about finished reading The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery (Europa Editions 2008). The main character, Renee, a whip smart concierge who hides her intelligence from the upper crust of Paris who she is hired to serve, has a best friend that she knows she is lucky to have. Manuela is her name and she is a cleaning lady that works for one of the upper crust families in the apartment building where Renee is concierge. Each afternoon, Manuela pops into Renee’s apartment for a cup of tea and madeleines. Their relationship is lovely and you know by reading these exchanges how lucky these two women are to have one another.

To have your dear friend pop by everyday for a chat and some tea and cookies sounds like such a luxury. Ten years ago I wouldn’t have thought that time and friendship would be such luxuries. But now there seems to always be a mundane task to finish, an agonizing errand to run, or work that ends up lasting until after 5pm no matter how hard I try to leave on time. But Renee and Manuela have their priorities straight: you can always spare some time in the day and some sweets to share with a dear friend.

Friendship has been on my mind a lot lately. I’ve realized that some of my relationships that I do hold very dear have been on cruise control. I’m letting errands and tasks and work (ugh), get in the way of spending time with people who mean a lot to me. So, thank you Renee and Manuela for the reality check on what’s important. And just as importantly, for making me want to try a madeleine.

I’m always hesitant to bake something since I don’t want to eat all of it (I can’t let it go to waste!) and it’s nigh impossible to cut down a baked goods recipe to one serving (how do you cut one egg into fourths or fifths?). But inviting friends over for sweets is a great reason to bake something and an even better excuse to spend some quality time together.

In honor of Manuela and Renee, below is a recipe for madeleines. The other recipe is for a lemon poppy seed cake. This cake isn’t overly sweet and has a citrus zing to it that’s perfect for tea.

Honey Madeleines
From The Country Cooking of France by Anne Willan (Chronicle Books, 2007)

Anne advises that for the madeleines to get that tell tale hump, the batter needs to be chilled for at least two hours before they are baked in a hot oven. To keep the madeleines from sticking to their pan, you’ll need to butter the molds twice.

1 cup all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ cup butter, melted, more for the molds
½ cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
1 heaping tablespoon honey
grated zest of ½ lemon
2 eggs
1 egg yolk

You’ll need a special baking pan for madeleines found at better stocked kitchen and restaurant supply stores. I found mine at Williams-Sonoma. This recipe calls for a pan with 18 medium molds but I was only able to find one with 12 molds. I baked a full pan of 12 and then had enough batter to bake only 4 madeleines after that. I probably could have distributed the batter a bit better to get the 18 madeleines the batter was supposed to yield.

Preheat the over to 400 F.

Sift the flour and baking powder together into a bowl. In a large bowl, combine the melted butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar, honey, lemon zest, eggs and egg yolk. Whisk the ingredients until very smooth, 1 to 2 minutes. I used my stand mixer with the whisk attachment. Cover and refrigerate the batter for at least 2 hours and up to 8 hours. When ready to bake, brush the molds with melted butter, chill in the freezer until set, and then butter the molds a second time.

Spoon the batter into the molds, filling them almost to the rim. Don’t worry about spreading out the batter all the way to the edges of the mold. As the madeleines bake, the batter will expand to fill the mold. Bake the madeleines until they are puffed, golden brown, and just starting to pull from the edges of the mold. This will take about 8 to 10 minutes. Turn the madeleines out onto a rack to cool.

They taste best when right out of the oven. If they’re not gobbled up right away, they can be stored in an airtight container for 2 to 3 days.

Lemon Drizzle Cake
From Cook with Jamie by Jamie Oliver (The Penguin Group, 2007)

For the cake:
½ cup butter, softened
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
4 large eggs
1 ½ cups ground almonds
1 ½ tablespoons poppy seeds
zest and juice of 2 lemons
1 cup self-rising flour, sifted

For the lemon syrup:
¼ cup superfine sugar
7 tablespoons lemon juice (4 lemons should do it)

For the lemon icing:
1 ¼ cup powdered sugar
zest and juice of 1 lemon

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Grease and line the bottom and sides of an 8-inch springform cake pan with wax paper.

Using the paddle attachment with your electric mixer, beat the butter with the sugar until light and creamy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well in between additions. Turn off the mixer, and fold in by hand using a spatula the rest of the ingredients: ground almonds, poppy seeds, lemon zest and juice, and the sifted flour. Spoon the mixture into the prepared cake pan. The batter will be thick.

Bake the cake for 35- 40 minutes or until lightly golden. Check to see if the cake is ready by inserting a toothpick into its center. If it comes out clean, it’s ready. If it comes out with batter stuck to it, it needs more time. Allow the cake to cool on a rack, keeping it in its pan.

When the cake is out of the oven, make the lemon syrup by heating the sugar and lemon juice in a pan until the sugar dissolves. This will take only a few minutes.
While the cake is still warm, poke lots of holes in the top with a skewer. Pour the lemon syrup slowly and a little bit at a time over the cake, so the syrup makes its way through the cake.

When the cake is almost cool, unlatch the spring form pan, peel of the wax paper, and place it on a serving plate. To finish off the cake, sift the powdered sugar into a bowl and add the lemon juice and zest. Stir until smooth. Pour the icing over the top of the cake and let it drizzle over the top and down the sides.

Just like the madeleines, the cake tastes best when it’s just made. But if you have leftovers, they’ll keep for about 2 days covered in an airtight container.

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