Madeleines with Blood Orange Glaze and Pistachios

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Happy Mardi Gras! In honor of the holiday, we’re celebrating with some French history and buttery cookie-cakes. I give you, the madeleine.

The madeleine is most closely associated with the small town of Commercy, in the Lorraine region of eastern France. While no one knows for sure the true provenance of the madeleine, both nuns and royals are said to have had a hand in popularizing the cookie-sized cake.

Often the madeleine is associated with two different female bakers of the same name. Some histories suggest that the madeleine was simply named after a baker employed in the castle of Jean François Paul de Gondi, Cardinal de Retz in Lorraine. However, this is probably the least likely story of all, as absolutely no evidence of such a baker named madeleine has been found, nor any evidence that a baker in the household had any hand in the creation of the dessert at all. It’s also unclear if the house the woman worked in belonged to the Cardinal at all.

A slightly more convincing story suggests that an exiled Polish King and his French king son-in-law may have played a part. In 1725, King Louis XV of France married Maria Leszczynska, the daughter of the former Polish King, Stanislaw I Leszczynski. After losing his throne, Stanislaw was given the Duchy of Lorraine. He established himself in the Chateau de Luneville, and it’s suggested that it was here that the first madeleine was created by a woman named Madeleine Paulmier. Legend has it that Madeleine was a baker in the Duke’s castle and that in 1755, after she had created the madeleine, the Duke’s son-in-law, King Louis XV of France, tasted the confection, fell in love with it, and introduced the new dessert to the Court of Versailles. Others say the Duke gave it to his daughter, Maria, the Queen of France, and that it was she who introduced it to the court. Some sources state that the cookies were named after the baker herself, while others say that the King named them for his wife, Maria, though why they would be called madeleines instead of marias is hard to say. (I wish that I could dig through some local records in Lorraine to see if there was any credibility to this claim. With both a first and last name, if this woman existed, certainly she should show up somewhere.)

The second suggestion is that madeleines were not created in Lorraine at all, but instead in the kitchen of Jean Avice, the cook to Prince Talleyrand in Paris. Avice is credited with the distinctive shell-shape of the cookie, achieved by baking the batter in aspic molds. This seems like a good argument in favor of Avice, but his recipe is often dated to the 19th century, and madeleines almost certainly existed before then. Recipes dating back to the mid-1700s have been found, and were already being made in other parts of France.

I think perhaps the most compelling argument for the cookie is not related to a baker named Madeleine at all, but rather to the faith of French nuns. The name Madeleine is the French form of “Magdalene,” as in Mary Magdalene, the follower of Jesus Christ. It is known that convents around France baked lots of things, which would support the theory that nuns were behind at least the name of the dessert, if not also the recipe. It also seems that Commercy, in particular, had a convent named after Mary Magdalene. After the convents of France were shut down in 1790, the nuns may have sold the madeleine recipe to bakers for a profit. This might also explain how it spread across France around that time. While it might be more romantic to imagine one baker named Madeleine creating the treat in a humble kitchen, the fact is pastries were already big business in the 1700s, particularly in France. Additionally, there is a popular cupcake-like dessert in Spain that closely resembles the madeleine, called a magdalena. It’s hard to say which dessert came first, but the Catholic link between the two countries and the similarity in names seems undeniable.

While the dessert has been popular in France for centuries, a mention in the 1920s by Marcel Proust, in his work In Search of Lost Time, may have been responsible for taking the cake’s popularity beyond the French border. In the work, he describes how the madeleine crumbs transport him back in time to his childhood (though, as Proust grew up more than 160 miles away from Commercy, one must assume that the cookie had already been popularized throughout France.)

Perhaps we will never know the true creator for sure, but you can add your own name to the history of the dessert, and make it yourself! For the recipe, you will need a bit of lead time: Once made, the batter should be refrigerated at least three hours. After that, things come together quickly, and what you’re left with is fluffy, buttery, and perfect straight from the oven, or cooled and glazed. Either way, they’re quite comfortable alongside a hot cup of coffee.

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Madeleines with Blood Orange Glaze and Pistachios
Makes 12 full-size madeleines, or 24 mini madeleines.

Ingredients:
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 tsp salt
2 eggs
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 tsp almond extract
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
2 tsp blood orange zest, optional
4 tbsp (or 1/4 cup) butter, melted, plus 1 tbsp butter, melted, to grease the pans

For topping, optional:
1/2 cup of powdered sugar
OR
1 tsp blood orange juice
1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar
1/2 cup pistachios, chopped finely

Instructions:

Whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

Add sugar and eggs to a large bowl. Beat with a hand mixer until thick and pale, about 2-3 minutes. Fold the vanilla and almond extracts and orange zest into the mixture until just combined.

Fold in the melted butter. Sift the flour mixture over the top and fold in until no dry streaks remain.

Press plastic wrap directly on top of the batter (as you would with homemade pudding) and refrigerate for at least three hours, or up to two days.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Brush melted butter into the shell molds in a madeleine pan (or a small muffin tin), freeze pan for 5 minutes, then brush the remaining melted butter on. Lightly flour each shell.

Fill molds almost all the way to the top, but not quite full. (Batter will will be thick, but will spread and even out as it bakes).

Bake for 10-12 minutes. Begin checking for doneness at 10 minutes. Each cookie should spring back when you press your finger into the center.

Dust lightly with powdered sugar. Or, add about 1 tbsp of blood orange juice to 1/2 cup of confectioner’s sugar. Dip half of a (cooled) madeleine into the glaze, and immediately top with fresh, chopped pistachios.

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Perhaps there is no more perfect dessert than a madeleine. Half cookie, half cake, a springy sponge cookie-cake that makes for a light-as-air dessert. It’s a perfect little two-bite, shell-shaped morsel, and it’s not hard to see why it went down in history.

The Shakers + Citrus Shaker Pie

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I’m somehow surprised every year when citrus season sneaks up on me. I can never wrap my head around the fact that it’s in winter, because my favorite citrus recipes seem so light and summery. Wishful thinking, I guess. In celebration of all the beautiful citrus fruit at our disposal this time of year, I made a Shaker pie, slightly altering the original recipe, which uses regular lemons. Instead, I used two of the yummiest members of the citrus family: blood oranges and Meyer lemons. And the recipe is inspired by a community that is almost extinct: the Shakers.

Folks today probably know the Shakers more for their simple, well-built furniture. I decided to write about them, because after one of their members passed away in 2017, there were only two Shakers left in the world. The reasons vary: Some Shakers who were adopted into the Community as children chose to leave as adults, others opposed the hard-work and celibate lifestyle, and finally, they just stopped accepting new members. At this point, you couldn’t become a Shaker if you wanted to. While their numbers have dwindled, the Shakers are still one of the longest-lasting Christian sects in the United States.

The first group of Shakers formed in Manchester, England. They were originally known as “Shaking Quakers” because their religion was an off-shoot of the Quaker religion, and because, during their sermons, Shakers often tremble and twitch. A short time before the American Revolutionary War, Mother (as she was called) Ann Lee led a small group of followers from England to the American colonies. As pacifists, Shakers refused to fight the British or swear an oath of allegiance (as it was against their religion), leading to jail time for some. In the years following the War, Shaker religious communities grew and spread through the United States. At their peak, as many as 6,000 members worshiped in communities across the country.

Shakers live piously and communally. Though men and women live as equals and serve equally in religious leadership, they live separately, since marriage and sex are forbidden. Members are acquired through adoption or recruitment. As an agrarian society, Shakers grow or raise most of their own food and live quite frugally, aiming to waste as little as possible.

Which leads us to this little pie, made in accordance with the Shaker lifestyle, simply and efficiently. A Shaker lemon pie is made of whole, thinly sliced lemons, allowed to sit in sugar for a day to allow the peels to break down. This mixture is then mixed with eggs and baked. Very simple and very delicious. Shakers would probably object to the use of non-local fruit.

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Citrus Shaker Pie

Citrus Pie Filling Ingredients:
Slightly adapted from NPR, and Smitten Kitchen.

Ingredients:
2 Meyer lemons
1 blood orange
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
pinch of salt
4 eggs
3 tablespoons butter, melted
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
Dough for a double crust pie. I always use this recipe for my pie crusts.

Instructions:

Zest both the lemon and the blood orange.

Cut the ends off both the Meyer lemon and blood orange, discard.

As thinly as possible, slice the entire orange and lemon, including the peel, into rings, removing any seeds as you go.

In a container with a lid, combine the zest, sugar, salt, and citrus. Stir or shake the container to coat the fruit with the sugar mixture. Cover, and allow to sit for 24 hours at room temperature, stirring or shaking every hour or two. After the fruit has broken down, do not drain or remove fruit, but do remove any seeds that made it into the mixture.

Beat 4 eggs together well. Add to the blood orange and Meyer lemon mixture, along with flour, and melted butter.

Roll out the bottom portion of your pie crust and place in pie pan. Add the lemon-orange filling.

Roll out the top layer of the pie and carefully cover the mixture with it. Cut away any unnecessary dough. Sealing the top and bottom crusts together, create a decorative edge with your hands or a fork. Allow the pie to chill in the refrigerator for about 20 minutes.

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees.

Beat one egg thoroughly with a bit of water, and lightly brush over the top crust and edges of the pie. Sprinkle top with sugar.

Slice a few holes into the top of the pie crust to allow steam to release while cooking.

Bake for 20 minutes at 425 degrees. After 20 minutes, decrease the heat in the oven to 350 degrees and bake for another 45 minutes.

For clean slices, allow the pie to cool completely before cutting.

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I really love the combination of blood orange and lemon here. You get the tartness from the lemon, but it’s not overly tart, and the orange not only mellows the flavor, but makes for a pretty and unexpected pie filling. Also, I love that you use almost the entire fruit in this recipe, and the preparation is so hands-off. Guess the Shakers know what’s up. Make yours soon, before citrus season disappears!