The French Teatime + Chestnut Cream Madeleine Recipe
Do you know about the French teatime? Oh, it’s not like the famous British afternoon ritual that almost every good Englishman observes. No, it’s more like the American “teatime”—it’s there if you want it, but otherwise one might as well drink café, non? The similarities don’t stop there, either. Both France and America were dedicated tea-drinkers in their pre-Revolutionary days. But as so often happens in revolutions (successful ones, that is), those things associated with a hated monarchy are inevitably tarnished. Poor tea…wasn’t its fault, really.
Tea-drinking has survived, however, in both countries as a lighter and more delicate alternative to the ubiquitous afternoon pick-me-up of espresso, cappuccino, latte, or what have you. There’s nothing at all wrong with coffee and its many clever disguises, but you must admit that there is a difference between a coffee break and teatime—one of culture and of comfort far beyond simply making it to dinnertime. We slow down, we savor, we enjoy the ritual whether it is native to us or not.
Now, whether you partake in teatime or a coffee break, I do hope you have a little something on the side…a little treat. It’s traditional, you know! The Brits have an admirable array of teatime tidbits. In America, honestly, it could be anything from a cookie to an energy bar. But the French enjoy a delightful little cake known as a madeleine. You’ve seen them—adorable shell-shaped cakes, sometimes with a hump on one side, like a tiny potbelly. They’re moist and buttery and altogether fun to eat.
There are many good madeleine recipes out there, but the one I currently favor is from Mimi Thorisson, author of the beautiful blog, Manger. I love this one mostly because it uses an ingredient that I adore—chestnut cream, or Crème de Marrons. This is basically a preserve of sweetened, puréed chestnuts. It lends a mild nuttiness and earthiness to dishes, both sweet and savory. You can purchase it online or make your own. I make my own using the method here. It’s a wonderful pot of happiness to have in the fridge, and it lasts quite a long time.
Now, a word on this recipe—Mimi’s recipe, as written, will not produce the characteristic hump that is the prized hallmark of a French madeleine. This doesn’t bother me at all, but should you wish them to have their little potbellies, just follow the optional instructions that I’ve appended to the recipe. It does add another step or two and quite a bit of time. But since most of that is downtime in the fridge, that means these little darlings are entirely suited to making ahead!
Chestnut Cream Madeleines
I’ve changed this recipe mostly in terms of method, but I’ve also added some salt. Many European sweet recipes do not have any salt, and I find the lack to be noticeable. It goes without saying that these are marvelous with tea, especially an aromatic Earl Grey or Jasmine. OR, for a truly sophisticated little dessert, serve one or two with a small glass of dark rum!
Adapted lightly from Manger
1/2 cup (100 gr.) sugar
7 oz. (200 gr.) chestnut cream
6 Tbs. (90 gr.) butter, melted and cooled
2 Tbs. rum (or any liquor/liqueur, really)
1 tsp. vanilla extract
3/4 cup + 2 Tbs. (100 gr.) flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
In the bowl of a mixer, blend together the sugar and eggs till creamy, thickened, and pale, 3 to 5 minutes. In a medium bowl, stir together the chestnut cream, butter, rum, and vanilla. Add to eggs and sugar, blending well. In a small bowl, stir together flour, baking powder, and salt. Add to wet ingredients, and stir gently till incorporated.
Butter a regular madeleine pan, dollop a Tbs. of batter into each cavity, and bake at 350° for 15 minutes, rotating pan partway through. The cakes should be golden and just firm to the touch. Unmold immediately and leave to cool on a pastry rack. Bake the second batch in the same way.
For those cute little humps, the dough must be chilled thoroughly after mixing, 3 or more hours. Then the filled pan is chilled again for an hour or so. Preheat the oven with a baking sheet inside to 400°. Bake the chilled madeleine pan on the baking sheet for 11 to 13 minutes.