On a quiet corner in le Marais was a little café called Café des Feuilles d’Or. I’m not sure what it’s called today, or if it still even exists. But at the time it had a lovely patio that stretched out along the tree-lined street. There, at a lacy, iron table, sat a man in a grey overcoat which almost perfectly matched the leaden sky that cold, autumn morning. Had you been walking by at the time, you surely would have missed him, as he blended in so well with the other patrons in their grey overcoats sitting on the patio with him. I imagine they were all trying to pretend that
winter wasn’t just around the corner.
The waiter arrived, carrying a cup of coffee, a small glass of Armagnac and three perfect madeleines on a dainty plate which he placed in front of the man. Slowly the man picked up the first madeleine and dipped the crisp, golden edge into his brandy. He knew just how long to hold it there before it became over-saturated or began to disintegrate and pollute the golden liquid with crumbs. Contemplative, he took his first bite, his dark eyes wandering over the pavement, through a forest of men in grey and across the jumble of cold tables and chairs until they fell upon a woman sitting alone on the opposite side of the patio. There they stayed.
Had you been walking by at the time, she surely would have caught your eye, too. She wore a red trench coat, tied at the waist, and a black, wool cloche hat. Lost in a sea of thoughts, no doubt, she sat gazing out at the street beyond as she sipped a cup of black coffee. But clearly she felt the man’s eyes upon her because she took a deep breath so as to compose herself, set her coffee on the saucer and turned slowly to meet his steady gaze. Then, as if to invite him over, she smiled and nodded just once. The man was quite perceptive and understood immediately her unspoken invitation. He picked up his coffee and balanced the Armagnac on the plate with the two remaining madeleines, still untouched, then pressed his way through the crowd until he stood at her table. “Will you have a seat?” she suggested, and he did.
Quickly the conversation evolved from polite introductions to art and the literature of Marcel Proust, then, naturally, to what was really the most pressing matter at hand – the madeleines – which, it turns out, were the man’s favourite pastry. He insisted that, if made properly, they should have a sharp mountain on the top, or un mamelon, as he called it. Non, absolument pas, she contended, the batter must be chilled and let to rest long enough so that the mountain is only just a gently rising hill, like la courbe d’un sein!
And so the conversation flowed, like two parallel streams that diverged and came together over and over until they finally united as one river… and the man was sitting so close he could smell the woman’s perfume.
“Well, there is one thing I know for sure about madeleines,” the man stated very matter-of-factly. “Proust was absolutely right! They must be dipped into something!” And very dramatically he plunged the second madeleine into the woman’s coffee, which was now quite cold.
“Indeed!” she leaned back in her chair, laughing. “They absolutely must!” And, taking his last madeleine from the plate, she reached across and dipped it into his own lukewarm coffee, returning the favour.
And that is how these coffee madeleines came to be and why every year on their anniversary she dusts off the old madeleine pan and lets the batter rest in the refrigerator for at least one hour. And that is why she dips the tops in an espresso glaze just before serving them. The rest, as they say, est de l’histoire ancienne !
Coffee Madeleines with Espresso Icing
6 1/2 TBSP butter
3/4 cup fine sugar (130g)
3/4 cup flour (105g), sifted
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp instant Espresso powder
1/8 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
for the glaze
1/2 cup + 2 TBSP (90g) powdered sugar
1 1/2 TBSP brewed Espresso or strong coffee
1 tsp melted butter
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
pinch of salt
To make the madeleines, melt the butter in a small sauce pan. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the butter just starts to brown and turn nutty. Remove from the heat and pour into a heat safe bowl to cool.
Meanwhile whisk together the sugar, flour, baking powder, salt and instant coffee. With a wooden spoon, mix in the eggs, then the vanilla and the brown butter. Cover and refrigerate the batter for at least one hour.
Preheat the oven to 400F (200C). Grease the madeleine pan well with butter and dust with flour. Spoon the batter into the pan, filling each mold only half way. (In my pan this is approximately 2 teaspoons per mold.) Don’t overfill. Bake the madeleines for 7 – 8 minutes, or until they feel springy when pressed in the middle.
Allow to cool in the pan for a minute, then use a fork to carefully slide them out of the pan and cool completely on a rack.
Make the glaze by whisking together the sugar, espresso, butter, vanilla and salt. Add more espresso, a teaspoon at a time, if needed in order to make a glaze that is thin enough for you to dip the madeleines into. Transfer the glaze to a small cup and dip the top edge of each madeleine into the glaze. Place back on the rack to harden. When the glaze is solid, dust the madeleines with powdered sugar and serve.