Life's better with cake and a sprinkle of fairy dust
Friday was officially my last day in baking school. Finally I fling off my apron, throw my chef’s cap in the air and bid adieu to this clean, orderly, little laboratory of a kitchen. For six months, this was the place where my mind was opened to the wonders of bakery science, my hands were put to daily joyous labour and my heart felt, on more than one occasion, truly grateful to the Universe to be alive. It seemed only fitting that to commemorate this day, I should strive to not simply bake, but CREATE. And create I did; five flavours of these French madeleines with their lovely lady humps.
Look at those high, high HUMPS! A French madeleine just doesn’t feel right to me without that characteristic hump on one side. I don’t mean to sound pedantic but to me, no hump = just cake batter baked in a shell-shaped mould. NOT a madeleine.
The key to those beautiful (or ugly, to some) humps is a very well-chilled batter, preferably overnight. The gluten in the batter would have had time to mellow and cold batter in a hot oven tends to erupt in the middle, as the batter in the centre stays cold while the edges bake first. To save time, these were piped into their moulds, garnished (here, I used flaked almonds and chocolate chips) and then chilled super quickly in the school’s blast freezer. Wish I’d get me one of those for Christmas!
When these are baked, they should be golden brown around the edges and nicely-risen with that hump on the top.
The other thing that make French madeleines what they are is the addition of beurre noisette, literally ‘butter hazelnut’, which can be loosely translated as brown butter. Butter is gently simmered over a gentle heat until all the water boils off and the milk solids brown and sink to the bottom. This lends an incredibly nutty aroma, flavour and colour to the butter and if that’s even possible, makes butter better than it is.
I wished I’d taken pictures of the steps so that I could post a pictorial recipe here, but we had a maniacally busy 5-hour cake production going on as part of our assessment for the diploma and the last thing I wanted to do was to pick up a camera with my batter-covered hands every few minutes. After five hours of joyous labour, here’s an overview of the range of cakes my six classmates and I produced, a fitting finale to my diploma education in baking school, humps and all.