Browned Butter Pomegranate Rose Madeleines
Anatole France, a French poet, journalist, and Nobel Prize-winning novelist, once remarked: “Life is too short and Proust is too long.”
Published in a series of seven volumes between the years 1913 and 1927, Marcel Proust’s novel Remembrance of Things Past is a narrated telling of his own (fictionalized) life story. More than 4,000 pages, it is indeed a very challenging read. His allegorical search for truth is defined by the concept of “involuntary memory” — literally, spontaneous remembrances of things past, flashbacks, triggered by everyday actions, sights, sounds, tastes, smells.
The most famous of Proust’s literary recollections, an evocation of a profound childhood remembrance upon tasting a crumbly, tea-dipped madeleine.*
I, like France, won’t pretend to have conquered the work in its entirety. Nor that my experiences eating madeleines are particularly memory-laden. Or even that my two days in Paris as a high schooler, while remembered with much fondness, were synonymous with traditional French fare (unless you count a croissant from the hotel breakfast + a banana Nutella crêpe shared with two friends in the Eiffel Tower).
Following our whistle-stop tour of all the city’s major sites, I should have beelined to the boulangeries and pâtisseries for an afternoon of sampling. Baguette warm from the oven with shatteringly crisp crust that gives way to an airy, chewy interior. Dainty macarons in every color of the rainbow. Cannelé Bordelais, fluted cakelets imbued with rum and vanilla custard. And plump, buttery madeleines — my favorite of all the French pastries.
Baked in tins with shallow molds that resemble the shell of a sea scallop, madeleines are elegantly ridged on the top and smooth on the bottom. Basic ingredients — eggs, butter, granulated sugar, and white flour — become these beautiful part cookies-part cakes.
To fulfill the promises of family and friends for a healthier madeleine sans gluten, my latest creation invokes poetic license. I replace two whole eggs with four egg whites, the AP flour with a trio of gluten-free flours, and white sugar with a maple syrup-turbinado combo. To compensate for losing the yolks, I took the standard melted butter a couple hues further to a nutty deep brown, then subtly perfumed it with rosewater.
The batter is as thick and silky as ever. The madeleines themselves golden and rich, a delicately dry, almost spongy crumb, with pretty fuschia pomegranate arils adding a seasonal pop of juicy sweetness. Simple little luxuries, lightened.
What’s in it for me?
Lightly sweet from a combination of pure maple syrup and turbinado sugar, each serving comes in at only 7 grams of sugar, while also providing 2 grams of fiber and 4 grams of protein. Unlike traditional madeleines, these use no wheat-based flour, and are therefore gluten-free.
Nut flours and seed flours provide plant sterols, heart-healthy poly- and mono-unsaturated fatty acids, as well as fiber. Pepita flour (used here) is naturally low in carbohydrates, and is a small source of protein, plus magnesium, phosphorous, iron, and zinc.
Oats and oat flour are good sources of fiber, particularly soluble fiber, and are among the richest known sources of manganese, a trace mineral with antioxidant properties and important roles in skeletal development, wound healing, metabolism, and fetal development.
Light and powdery arrowroot flour (also called arrowroot starch) is a gluten-free starch extracted from the roots of the eponymous arrowroot plant. Basically flavorless, it is commonly used as a thickening agent in soups and sauces, but also helps retain moisture for a tender, light crumb and promotes a golden color to gluten-free baked goods.
Cholesterol-free and virtually fat-free, one egg white provides more than 3 grams of protein. The protein in eggs is considered one of the highest-quality sources because of the body’s ability to so readily and quickly utilize it, and because all nine of the essential amino acids are represented.
Pomegranates are a rich source of antioxidants, and 1/2 cup of the jewel-toned arils contains approximately 15% each of your daily vitamins C and K, as well as several B vitamins.
Will 2017 be the year of Proust? Or see me back in Paris to rectify my travel tasting oversights? Probably not, but I suppose only time will tell. In the meantime, I can definitely bake more memories of madeleines.
Brighten up your own dessert routine, or browned-butter-up your loved ones with this sweetest of gifts. C’est magnifique!
Tell me… Have you read Proust? Are madeleines your favorite French pastry?
- 6 Tbsp unsalted butter
- 6 drops rosewater
- 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 6 Tbsp nut or seed flour/meal (I used homemade pepita; see HGN Notes for instructions)
- 4 Tbsp oat flour, plus more for dusting (certified gluten-free, as needed)
- 2 Tbsp arrowroot flour (also called arrowroot starch)
- A pinch of salt
- 4 large egg whites, room temperature
- 1 Tbsp maple syrup
- 2 Tbsp turbinado sugar
- 1/4 cup pomegranate arils
- Butter or otherwise grease your madeleine tins, then lightly dust with oat flour, tapping out any extra. Placed the greased and floured tins into the freezer while you prepare the recipe. (See HGN Notes for the rationale behind this!)
- In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, melt butter until rich brown and nutty smelling. Watch carefully to avoid burning. Remove immediately from the heat, add the 6 drops of rosewater, and then set aside at least 10 minutes to cool.
- Onto a piece of wax paper or into a small bowl, sift together the baking powder, flours and salt. Set aside.
- In a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk the egg whites, maple syrup and sugar until smooth. Fold in the dry ingredients, just enough to combine, and then whisk the melted brown butter in until smooth. Refrigerate the batter, bowl covered with plastic wrap, for at least 1 hour. (Can be made and refrigerated up to 1 day ahead of baking.)
- Preheat the oven to 375° F with a rack in the middle position.
- Remove the tins from the freezer, and spoon in the batter, filling each well about 3/4 full. Immediately transfer the filled tins to the oven, and bake 10 to 12 minutes, or until the edges are golden brown, and the centers are puffed and spring back when gently pressed with a finger.
- Invert the tins to release the madeleines immediately after removing from the oven, and cool on a wire rack. While best eaten just barely cool, leftover madeleines can be stored for several days in an airtight container. (Note: If you have a traditional metal madeleine tin, wash immediately with a stiff brush and hot water, but no dish soap -- this helps retain its "seasoning.")
If you don't want/need milk, a quicker method than the above is to run 1 cup raw nuts -- pecans, almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, etc. (or seeds, to make them nut-free) -- through a food processor or high-speed blender on high until a fine meal is achieved.
Why super-chill the greased and floured tins? Many bakers agree that this helps cool the batter slightly pre-bake, increasing the likelihood that the madeleines will form their classic "hump." For extra insurance, take the extra step to briefly pop the batter-filled tin into the freezer before baking -- 10 minutes should be fine.
+ Dip one end of each madeleine into melted chocolate, place on a tray lined with wax or parchment paper, and refrigerate 5 to 10 minutes until set.
+ Fold chopped nuts, seeds, chocolate, chopped candied ginger, unsweetened shredded coconut, or dried fruits into the batter before portioning out.
+ Dust the tops of the madeleines warm from the oven with a light sprinkling of powdered sugar.
*Scholars dispute the fact that Proust’s “cookie” translates to a madeleine, and some claim he wrote the episode around a bite of either dry toast or a flat, crunchy rusk dipped in tea. I’m not one to go against scholarly thinking, buuut I’m sticking with the madeleine.
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