Madeleines have got to be one of my favourite things to bake (and no, of course I’m not biased!) They’re sweet, petite, take only a few ingredients, a fraction of the baking time of a larger cake, and bring so much happiness. The last batch I baked disappeared alongside a pot of tea in around ten minutes. These cakes might be simple, but they’re fiendishly moreish.
The scallop-shape of the madeleine apparently dates – according to baking mythology at least – from the 18th century. One story relates how Madeleine Paulmier, a cook for Stanislaus I, duke of Lorraine and exiled King of Poland, was forced to improvise a dessert, and on the spur of the moment baked the little cakes in scallop shells. Of course, the scallop shell is also inextricably linked to the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, another place where these cakes may have originated…
Whatever the history, madeleines continue to charm whoever eats them. They’re especially magnificent when dipped in tea – a la Proust – or in my case, coffee.
With this recipe, I’ve tried to bring together the simple elegance of a classic French madeleine, with the spices and flavours that, for me, signify winter and the festive season. I’ve replaced classic lemon zest with orange, and added saffron, nutmeg, cinnamon and a dash of clove to call to mind those intoxicating scents and flavours that make you feel as if you’re being wrapped in homely, kitchen warmth having come in from the cold.
P.s. I infused my caster sugar with a cinnamon stick, a handful of cloves and a fresh nutmeg for a week or two before using it. It smells amazing, and is a useful thing to have around in the festive season!
Winter Spice Madeleines
- small pinch of saffron strands
- 1 tbsp milk
- 4-5 whole cloves
- 2 free-range eggs
- 100g golden caster sugar
- 100g butter, plus extra for greasing
- zest of 1/2 orange
- 100g self-raising flour (or 100g of plain flour and 3/4 tsp baking powder)
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- fresh nutmeg
For the spiced sugar:
- 1 1/2 tbsp golden caster sugar
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- fresh nutmeg
- Pre-heat your oven to 200C / 400F / Gas mark 6. Brush your madeleine tin with melted butter and dust with a little flour.
- Place the saffron strands into a bowl or pan with the milk and cloves and warm gently, either in the microwave for a few seconds, or over the hob. Set aside to cool and infuse.
- Whisk together the eggs and caster sugar until light and frothy.
- Melt the butter and leave to cool slightly, then stir in along with the orange zest.
- Remove the cloves from the milk. Add the milk and saffron to the cake mixture.
- Sift in the flour and cinnamon and a good grating of fresh nutmeg. Stir gently to combine.
- Leave to rest for a few minutes, then spoon into the prepared tins, so that they are 3/4 full.
- Bake for around 8-10 minutes, or until risen and pale golden. Place the tray on a wire rack to cool slightly.
- Meanwhile, grind the caster sugar in a pestle and mortar (or with a spice grinder) until it has a finer texture – somewhere between caster and icing sugar.
- Place it on a plate with the cinnamon and another good grating of nutmeg and stir together.
- Quickly, while the cakes are still warm, roll them around in the sugar.
- Serve fresh, with a cup of tea, coffee or even mulled wine…
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