As a child, I never understood why my mom would come home from work looking so tired. I’d been to work with her once or twice, and it just seemed like she sat there, staring at a computer screen, not really doing anything. It took years, basically until a couple years ago, for me to understand the sort of bone tired exhaustion that can come from what really does amount to just sitting there, staring at a computer. On the surface, you’re not really doing anything, but a grown up job that requires you to be actively engaged is really eight hours of a living version of those whack-a-mole games I was so terrible at when I’d go to Bullwinkle’s as a child.
So now, I understand. I understand feeling mildly defeated after a long day at work where almost everything is out of your control. And sometimes, if I’m really feeling bad for myself, I think about how I get to do this for at least another forty years.
And this, my friends, is how stress baking came about. I’m grateful and thankful and happy to be employed, but it sometimes just feels nice to go into the kitchen with a mission and know that if I do everything as directed, something awesome will come out of the oven.
That’s where madeleines come in. About a year ago, I’d just finished an especially stressful day and wandered into Williams-Sonoma, a dangerous, dangerous place, where I chanced upon a glittery, golden madeleine pan. Like everyone else who has ever been to Starbucks, I’ve grabbed a pack of those delicious madeleines that taunt you at the cash register and thought about how difficult they must be to make.
It turns out, all you need is one of those pans, some butter, sugar, eggs, and vanilla.
The shape and taste would lead you to believe that madeleines are an insane treat to make, something akin to macarons. And the reality is that they are incredibly easy to prepare and will never fail to impress people.
(I got this recipe from the back of that madeleine pan I bought at Williams-Sonoma):
You will need:
Softened, unsalted butter for brushing molds
1/2 cup (75g) all-purpose flour, sifted, plus more for dusting
1/3 cup (90g) granulated sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
4 tbs. (1/2 stick/60g) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
Confestioners’ sugar for dusting (optional)
A madeleine pan
Preheat an oven to 375°F. Using a pastry brush, heavily brush softened butter over each of the 16 molds in a madeleine pan, carefully buttering every ridge. Dust the molds with flour, tilting the pan to coat the surfaces evenly. Turn the pan upside down and tap it gently to dislodge the excess flour.
In a large bowl, combine the eggs, granulated sugar and salt. Using a wire whisk or a handheld mixer on medium-high speed, beat vigorously until pale, thick and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Beat in the vanilla. Sprinkle the sifted flour over the egg mixture and stir or beat on low speed to incorporate.
Using a rubber spatula, gently fold in half of the melted butter just until blended then fold in the remaining melted butter.
Divide the batter among the prepared molds, using a heaping tablespoon of batter for each mold (At this point, I wrap the madeleines tightly in saran wrap and then put them in the refrigerator for at least an hour but up to overnight–this gives them that beautiful, trademark bump that will inspire your own Proust-ian moment of waxing poetic about madeleines) Bake the madeleines until the tops spring back when lightly touched, 8 to 12 minutes.
Remove the pan from the oven and invert it over a wire rack, then rap it on the rack to release the madeleines. If any should stick, use your fingers to loosen the edges, being careful not to touch the hot pan, and invert and rap again.
Let the madeleines cool on the rack for 10 minutes. Using a fine-mesh sieve, dust the tops with confectioners sugar and serve. Makes 16.