Before I left the office on Friday, I looked at the list I keep on my phone of my planned blog posts to work out what I was scheduled to make over the weekend and what I needed to buy from the supermarket on the way home from work.
It was a carefully curated list. It ticked the box of seasonality – as far as that’s possible in January/February – and had been planned so as to avoid repetition of ingredients and/or techniques as far as possible. There was, I felt, a good balance of the indulgent and the slightly more nutritious (which is, I think, the most you can ever say for my recipes).
The problem was, I didn’t really want to make any of it.
Already this year, there have been two or three recipes that I’ve tested and photographed and started to draft a post for when I’ve just abandoned them, deleting the pictures and whatever I’d written without a second thought. Everything tasted fine but they were posts for the sake of posting. Posts for the sake of showing instagram that I, too, was enthralled by blood oranges and meyer lemons (for the record, I’ll take a regular lemon over a meyer lemon any day).
I’m a very different cook to the one who started this blog nearly four years ago (ps Kate, I think we have an anniversary coming up soon…). There has been a shift in the way I think about food and, most importantly, the way that I eat. What I need from this blog – and what I can give to it in return – has changed over time.
What it all comes back to is why I started this blog in the first place. In most of the early posts, illustrated by (unfiltered) pictures from my phone and read by no more than three people, I was writing about the risotto that I had eaten for supper the night before or the lemon drizzle cake that was too big for any of my tupperware so I’d carried it on a cake stand on two tubes and a train to deliver it to my grandmother when she was too ill to bake (but not too ill to want to eat cake).
Since then, this blog has changed its name at least once and been through several re-designs. Much to my amazement, it’s now read by more than three people. But somewhere along the line – probably the point at which I started scheduling my weekends around what I needed to make for the blog – it stopped feeling real.
Quite often, the food that I enjoy most isn’t what I’ve made for the blog that week but what I’ve made just because. Bright and tart grapefruit donuts, with a scattering of chia seeds. Frozen yoghurt with a ripple of cranberry and star anise sauce running through it. Sweet potato waffles with whatever berries I could find lurking in the freezer. This is what I’m really eating (except I’m also really eating whatever I make for the blog, whether I particularly want to or not, and therefore end up lurching from one sugar high to the next).
What does this rambling mean? I don’t really know. There may be more posts in future, there may be fewer. I might write about my (currently non-existent) balcony garden if I ever do anything other than read books about how to grow runner beans up my drainpipe. I don’t know what I’ll post about next week or if I’ll get round to posting at all. There might be cookies or ice cream or pancakes or something else entirely depending on what I fancy. Right now, all I’m certain of is that there will be food.
All of which brings me onto these madeleines.
Within minutes of seeing the recipe in this month’s issue of Bon Appetit, I’d started making my first batch, experimenting with flours and spices until I had a version that was still true to the original but different enough to excite me (although, sadly, without that much-prized bump). Several more batches followed over the course of the weekend – the batter takes mere minutes to make and can (and should!) then be left in the fridge for an hour or two until you’re ready to bake. The spices are gentle and fragrant; a touch of nutmeg and a hint of star anise. They don’t demand your attention like those aggressively spiced cakes of winter do, heavy, as they tend to be, on ginger and cinnamon. There are flecks of brown butter and vanilla too and just enough lemon zest to bring a lightness to each cake.
I hadn’t planned on posting about these madeleines but we really, really liked them. So here they are.
I'm convinced I used to have a metal madeleine tin but the only one that I could find was a cheap silicon version I bought in a French supermarket. I'm not generally a silicon fan but I was surprisingly happy with the results; I do think they needed a couple of minutes longer than if they'd been in a metal tray (the madeleines are also slightly bigger than usual - not that I'm complaining about that). The batter needs to rest for at least an hour in the fridge as the characteristic shape and texture relies on the reaction between the cold batter and the hot oven. It will last for a day or two so you can bake off some madeleines whenever the urge strikes!
- 90g (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter
- 1 star anise
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 95g (3/4 cup less 1 tablespoon) rice flour
- 1 tablespoon corn flour / corn starch
- A generous pinch each of ginger, nutmeg and clove
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
- 2 large eggs
- 70g (1/3 cup plus a little extra for luck) demerara sugar
- 1 tablespoon honey
- Zest of 1/2 a lemon
- 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste (or vanilla extract)
- Place the butter in a small pan with the star anise and cinnamon stick. Cook over a medium-low heat until the butter starts to bubble and turns golden brown. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool a little; you want the butter warm but not hot. Leave the spices in the butter to infuse for the moment.
- In one bowl, lightly whisk together the flours, spices, baking powder and salt. In another bowl, whisk the eggs, sugar, honey, lemon zest and vanilla until lightly and frothy. Add the dry ingredients and gently whisk until just combined. Finally, remove the star anise and cinnamon from the butter and whisk that into the batter. Decant into a piping bag or freezer bag and chill for at least an hour or overnight (I tried both, the overnight ones had a slightly better texture but it was marginal).
- When you're ready to bake, preheat the oven 190C/375F (fan) and lightly grease a madeleine tray - either metal or silicone. Pipe the batter into the holes until they're about 3/4 full and bake for 10 - 12 minutes until risen and golden brown.
- Remove from the tin, leave to cool for a few minutes and dust with icing sugar. Eat while still warm; if you have any left over, you can revive them with a couple of minutes in a warm oven.
Adapted from Daniel Boulud's madeleines in the February 2014 issue of Bon Appetit.