Although France is famous for its crêpes this isn’t a custom for Shrove Tuesday, but eating rich food before fasting begins – hence the gras, or fat. I thought I’d better explain in case there are any Mancunians reading this and just concentrate on the Mardi and conclude it’s a night of fighting. In fact the latter would make sense too, as its followed by a season of penance. Might as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb hey?
Not being a fan of pancakes, I thought I’d use this as an opportunity to make some “Madeleines” for the first time. This seems especially appropriate as these famous French baked treats are supposedly named after Mary Magdalene (the French Madeleine is the equivilant of Magdalene). In fact Madeleines come from the little French town of Commercy where there was once a convent dedicated to St. Mary Magdelen. The nuns there were meant to have supported themselves and their schools by making and selling these cake-like cookies.
Historians believe that when all the convents and monasteries of France were abolished during the French Revolution they were forced to sell their recipe to the nearby bakers.
Ingredients and Method; (Makes 24 cookies)
100g butter, 130g plain flour, 1/2 tspn baking powder, 3 large eggs, 100g sugar, 2 tsp vanilla essence, freshly squeezed juice from a large orange, handful of candied orange peel (or the grated zest of the orange) and 100g dark or milk chocolate drops.
1. Heat butter in a small saucepan over medium heat just until very light golden brown. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature.
2. Mix together the flour and baking powder so the latter permeates the former.
3. Beat the eggs and sugar in a large bowl with a hand blender until they’re tripled in volume. Lower speed to medium and beat in the vanilla, orange juice and orange peel. Then lightly fold in the chocolate drops. I use the peel because it’s easier (bit lazy) and I like the firmer texture, but if you want a lighter texture you need to use grated peel.
4. Fold in the flour mixture a tablespoon at a time. Try and use a light hand to keep the lightness, but you do have to give each tablespoon several folds to ensure that the flour is being dissolved in the wet mixture. You’ll see as you fold little pockets of flour become apparent.
5. Finally fold in the cooled butter. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes until slightly firm.
6. Preheat oven to 375°F/190 C/170 C Fan. Apply butter or non-stick cooking spray to a two 12-mold madeleine pans. Using a teaspoon, and scooping from the bottom to ensure you have chocolate drops in each Madeleine, put the batter into each mold until it’s about 1/2 – 2/3rds full. Anymore than this and the batter will rise to much and spread over the top, which means you won’t have a clear she’ll pattern. Make sure too that you leave the batter mounded in the center.
7. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until the edges are golden brown and the centers spring back when lightly touched. Remove them from the moulds and then leave them to cool on wire racks.