Spring, at last.
Spring and International Women’s Day has brought the memories of someone from my past flooding back in my mind.
Was my boss.
Was a great cook and style queen.
Was deeply unhappy most of her life.
Was Iranian – although she called herself Persian.
Is greatly missed.
It’s a funny one really, I spent only a year under her employ but working v. closely through a v. tough time in her life. Consequently, we knew each other v. well but by the time I left to pursue a ‘dream job’ temping at the Independent Newspaper (later to become full-time) we didn’t speak for another year or more and then only briefly. Our relationship burned hard and fast and then there was nothing left but memories.
But what fantastic memories!
Having grown up in Iran before the revolution, as the member of an aristocratic family, she had v. refined taste in fashion, men and food but she also knew the value of life and freedom. She wanted, and usually got, the best but she also had a great talent for creating something out of nothing as well.
She deserved better than her lot in life but it was also her choice.
Anyway back to the good stuff. Her finesse was in the detail. If she did something she did it with care and perfection. And this is how I would describe her madeleine’s – the joyous mouthful sized French cakes. As an Australian of the Italian persuasion I had missed out on this little delicacy, and being introduced to it was such a joy.
The wee shell-shaped cakes go so well with tea (or coffee) I really don’t know why they aren’t more widely celebrated.
¾ cup of flour
1 teaspoon baking power
3 large eggs
A pinch of salt
100g butter melted
1 teaspoon of vanilla essence/or not
1 tablespoon of rose water
½ cup caster sugar
1. In a medium bowl, sift together flour, baking powder and salt.
2. In a separate bowl beat eggs and caster sugar until combined well and light in colour. Add vanilla essence.
3. Fold in the flour mixture. Fold in the butter a little at a time. Chill for 30 mins (DO NOT SKIP THIS STEP)
4. Pre-heat oven to 220 degrees C/425 F/Gas mark 7 and place rack in the centre of the oven.
5. Butter and flour your madeleine tray and dollop the mixture into moulds – half full! Do not over fill as they should rise quite high.
6. Bake for 5 mins at 220 degrees C/425 F/Gas mark 7 then reduce heat to 200 degrees C/400 F/Gas mark 6 – this makes the little cakes rise up and then cook though with only slight tan.
7. Turn out on a cooking rack shell side up to avoid ruining the shell pattern.
8. Repeat for the remaining batter - pop batter back in the fridge between batches.
Makes 28 depending on tray size.
* original recipe from Martha Stewart
She would make them with orange flower water or a touch (literally a touch otherwise it tastes like soap) rose water. She would dust them with icing sugar and hand them out, packaged in glistening clear plastic bags, to her favourite people. I was so lucky and honoured that I happened to have been one of them. At least for a bit.
Excerpt from "Remembrance of Things Past" by Marcel Proust
… when one day in winter, as I came home, my mother, seeing that I was cold, offered me some tea, a thing I did not ordinarily take. I declined at first, and then, for no particular reason, changed my mind. She sent out for one of those short, plump little cakes called 'petites madeleines,' which look as though they had been moulded in the fluted scallop of a pilgrim's shell. And soon, mechanically, weary after a dull day with the prospect of a depressing morrow, I raised to my lips a spoonful of the tea in which I had soaked a morsel of the cake. No sooner had the warm liquid, and the crumbs with it, touched my palate, a shudder ran through my whole body, and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary changes that were taking place. … this new sensation having had on me the effect which love has of filling me with a precious essence; or rather this essence was not in me, it was myself. I had ceased now to feel mediocre, accidental, mortal. …