Friday, July 5, 2013

The Perfect Meal

The Perfect Meal, Harper Perennial, 2013

This is the book I am now reading and cannot put down even though I know that I will be sad when I have finished it.  I found it while looking for a guide book on New York last month.  I bought it purely based on the cover.  When I got it home and read the back, I was afraid I would be disappointed in Mr. Baxter's views about the demise of French cooking and eating traditions.  I was afraid that he, an expat Australian married to a French woman and living in Paris, had come to the conclusion that it is impossible to find a good meal in France these days.  Instead, he decides that he will prepare the perfect (albeit imaginary) meal, offering up the best of France's traditional recipes.  I am most of the way through the book and he is making his choices, doing tremendous amounts of research (oh, the things writers must go through), and offering wonderful history lessons and stories along the way... all about food, bien sûr.  It didn't hurt that he decided upon kir royale as his apéritif.  It just happens to be my favorite, either royale (champagne) or regular (white wine).
From my January dinner cruise on the Seine with ACIS--

A recipe for kir is found in this blogpost:
Mr. Baxter's recipe is at the end of this post.

Yesterday morning, I read the chapter entitled "First Catch Your Madeleine."  Mr. Baxter's dad was a pastry cook so cakes are near and dear to his heart.  He writes about financiers, macarons, cannelés, and finally madeleines, a little cake he says this about:

"Above all, I remained steadfast in my devotion to the madeleine, though not solely for culinary reasons.  How many cakes could be said to have inspired a literary masterpiece?" (p. 81)

He is referring to Marcel Proust's À La Recherche du Temps Perdu (I immediately jumped up and downloaded a portion of it, Swann's Way, onto my Kindle, as well as the complete work in French-- it was free-- for when I have finished The Perfect Meal).  Proust immortalized the madeleine in his writing, so Mr. Baxter and his daughter head to the town of Illiers/Combray, Proust's hometown for more research into these little cakes.

Inspired, I decided that madeleines would make a very nice July 4th dessert for the Ex-Ex, Son #1 and me.  (Son #2 is at the beach with a friend.)  I had some nice juicy strawberries on hand and Cool Whip (even after a taste test of that and the real homemade stuff, they love it anyway-- what can I say?) and decided to make Strawberry Shortcake with a French twist.

Out came Mildred the Mixer to whip up the sugar, lemon zest, eggs, and vanilla.

Then the madeleine pan was buttered and dusted with flour.

The batter rested in the refrigerator while we grilled and hung out on the newly powerwashed and stained deck (home improvement project of the summer done!).  Son #1 loves to grill sausages.  He seasoned them with Old Bay, garlic salt, Italian seasonings, and red pepper flakes this time.

I decided to eat one with a little slice of Brie under it.  Yum!

There is hope for that boy yet.

The madeleines were a success, too.  The Ex-Ex even has a few left for breakfast this week.
See how happy he is!

Classic Madeleines
from Dorie Greenspan's Around My French Table

Makes 12 large or 36 mini cakes

2/3 c. all-purpose flour
3/4 tsp. baking powder
Pinch of salt
1/2 c. sugar
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
2 large eggs, at room temperature
2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
6 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted and cooled

Whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt.  Set aside.
Put the sugar and lemon zest in the bowl of a stand mixer or a large bowl and use your fingers to rub them together until the sugar is moist and fragrant.  Add the eggs to the bowl and beat, using the whisk attachment or a hand mixer or whisk, for about 2 minutes, or until the batter is light colored, fluffy, and thick.  Beat in the vanilla extract, then, using a rubber spatula, fold in the dry ingredients followed by the butter.
You can use the batter now, but it's better if you give it a little rest.  For real convenience, you can spoon the batter into buttered-and-floured madeleine molds, cover, and chill, then bake the cakes directly from the fridge.  In either case, press a piece of plastic wrap against the surface of the batter and refrigerate it for at least 3 hours, or overnight.
When you are ready to bake, center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 400˚F.  Place the buttered and floured molds on a baking sheet and spoon the batter into the molds, filling each one to the top.
Bake large madeleines for 11-13 minutes, minis for 8-10 minutes, or until they are golden and the tops spring back when prodded gently.  Remove the pan(s) from the oven and release the madeleines from the molds by rapping the edge of the pan against the counter.  Gently pry any recalcitrant madeleines from the pan using your fingers or a butter knife.  Transfer the cakes to a rack to cool.
Just before serving, dust with confectioners' sugar, if you wish.

Kir Royal Florian
from The Perfect Meal

Place a coffee spoon of Florian Confiture Pétales de Rose in the bottom of a champagne glass.  Add some lychee-based liqueur such as Soho or Lichido to taste, and top up with cold champagne.

Bon appétit and happy summer reading and baking!

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