Some people are born to sing or paint or play music. I was born to feed people. When I have friends over for dinner, I can’t help but make everything from scratch. I love orchestrating an evening from start to finish: flowers, table setting, music, cocktails and the food—lots of food. Planning a dinner party fills me with happy excitement. I get giddy poring through cookbooks and files of recipes; pairing dishes that complement each other, that will look pretty together on the plate and, most of all, will taste amazing.
I spend more time on the dessert than anything else. Sometimes I wish I could just go to Costco and get one of their giant pies. They are delicious and pretty and no one would care that I didn’t make it. But I am a Sugar Nerd and buying a prefab dessert would be tantamount to lip syncing on SNL. Even though the dessert is the most time-consuming element of my dinner parties, it’s my favorite part.
Then one day, everything changed. I came across a recipe for Daniel Boulud’s madeleines. A madeleine is a miniature French butter cake baked in a shell-shaped mold. I had never been a big fan of them—the ones I ran into were usually dry and bland. But the thought of serving warm little cakes, hot from the oven and dusted with powdered sugar, tantalized me. So I made them the next time we had friends over for dinner.
I have to add an “Ooh la la!” for emphasis here. We all kind of lost our minds. They were crispy on the outside and tender on the inside—lusciously buttery and not too sweet. The four of us ate every last one. We didn’t care. Everyone got a kick out of getting something hot from the oven and the house smelled so good! The best part: they took me ten minutes to make and I got just as many oohs and aahs as I do when I spend two days making dessert. I was liberated! These little babies are now my go-to dessert. Sometimes I serve them with fresh berries, other times with whipped cream. Most of the time, I already have the ingredients on hand—no more searching out hard-to-find things like almond paste or powdered egg whites! It’s also the perfect dessert for guests who are gluten-free. Just substitute the all-purpose flour with gluten-free flour. They are just as delicious. Please indulge me one last time: “Ooh la la!”
Now, when people are coming over for dinner, the only dessert decision I need to make is if the madeleines should have lemon, orange or grapefruit zest. Take that, giant Costco pie! I dream of you no more! Well, maybe I do when I take that nap with all the free time I have now. Those French know how to live! I truly get to have my cake and eat it, too. Ooh. La. La.
MADELEINES (adapted from Daniel Boulud)
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp kosher salt
¾ cup all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
2 large eggs
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 Tbsp light brown sugar
1 Tbsp honey
2 tsp finely grated lemon, orange or grapefruit zest
6 Tbsp (¾ stick) unsalted butter, melted and warm
Nonstick vegetable oil spray
Special Equipment: 1 madeleine pan (with 12 cake molds)*
Whisk baking powder, flour and salt in a small bowl. Whisk eggs, sugar, brown sugar, honey and zest in a medium bowl until smooth. Add dry ingredients and whisk until just smooth. Whisk in melted butter. Pour batter into a large plastic resealable bag and chill for at least 1 hour. (DO AHEAD: Batter can be made the day before. Keep chilled until ready to use.)
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Lightly spray madeleine pan with oil spray and dust with flour, tapping out the excess. Snip end off one corner of the plastic bag and pipe batter into the madeleine pan, filling molds two-thirds full.
Bake madeleines until the edges are golden brown and the centers are puffed up and spring back lightly when touched, about 7-8 minutes.
Release each cake gently with a toothpick or chopstick. Dust with powdered sugar and serve warm. Makes about 18 large Madeleines.
Receive tribute from guests.
*I like this madeleine pan, which can be purchased from Amazon.