Sunday, October 30, 2011

Madeleines for Autumn Tea

Lemon Madeleines

Madeleines. What could be better than fresh-baked lemon Madeleines for a Fall Tea. The furnace has been on for several weeks. There's already frost on the ground. Now the annual leaf rake-up starts. Who wouldn't welcome a warming cup of tea as a break from raking leaves. And why not invite your Mom to tea? I recently took along my Madeleines pan  to my mother's house so she could watch me whip up Madeleines. Her grandaughter's name is Madeleine. I wanted Mom to enjoy the namesake with hopefully better quality and freshness than Costco's yummies.

There are "secrets" to making good Madeleines. After pouring over many recipes, some good and others really not good at all, I decided there really is a lot of technique involved in these little wonders.  Baking does take practise. It takes analysis and correcting from mistakes to get the results you want.  I'm not formally trained in baking. No doubt if you are in a school or working in a food processing environment, you'd learn a lot. I've only baked a few batches. I know how to fluff them up and how to make them crispy on the outside and soft and pillowy on the inside. I am still working on how best to dust the outside lightly with icing sugar.
Displaying the Madeleines is also a challenge. First, I recommend that you don't pile them one on another as in the first photo or you lose the visual impact of  these scalloped-edged treats. Also, if serving without tongs, your guest's fingers might touch another cookie and (heaven-forbide) contaminate the display for others. I found a large round plate works well, an oval glass plate or a tiered plate even better. Separate the cookies out so guests can lift them by pinching the sides between the fingers. Its a dainty thing. Your fingers won't get sugar on them.
I have found that when you are serving tea, having the freshest best baked goods possible adds to the enjoyment of tea. Also, if your mother is at your table, she will know the difference and tell you with a scowling look, biting into a stale dry biscuit. " Dear," she would say,"Have you tried baking them with less time?" Sure, I thought about that. The lesson here is - don't serve anything at tea that your mother would disapprove of.

Try incorporating some leaves, pine cones late fall flowers into a table setting. Bring the outside in to harmonize the environment and to celebrate the season. I picked nastursium and marigolds from Mom's garden as a token of the season and to honour her work with the garden during the summer. We found a favorite vase that hadn't been used in a long time. Nostalgic perhaps, but our parents have been doing things year over year and understand the ways of tea. Doing tea using traditional methods is to honour them and our ancestors. I think back to my family who built houses in the late 1700's here in Ontario as Loyalists and pioneers. They settled the land and made families. They contributed to developing the land and were leaders in their community. They became educated and their offspring became judges, lawyers, accountants and business and community developers. They had tea. Mom still has the cutlery and the modest china they ate and drank from. I have teacups from both grandsmothers estates. Using them for tea, is an honoring of the past. Consider a Tea for Autumn and honour the family and your past. Make life special.