11/16: Kitchen Store Heaven & Vegan Madeleines
Somehow, I’ve been in Paris almost two months. Now when I walk out of my apartment, I don’t wince before descending the spiral of wooden steps smoothed to a vertical luge by hundreds of years of use. Nor do I have to summon linguistic courage before sidling up to a cash register at my grocery store or pharmacie, my arsenal of basic phrases having expanded, finally, to near-adequacy. But I do still stop and gawk when I ascend from the metro stop by Le Cordon Bleu and see the Eiffel Tower rising over the school and everything else, more bronze-colored and beautiful than I realized it would be. It’s a daily reminder that I’m here! In Paris! Living here!
One of the best surprises of my new life in Paris is the quartier I live in. It’s called Les Halles, and it’s in the first arrondissement bordering the Seine. It’s named for the sprawling food market – “the halls” – that occupied a giant square near the Eglise Saint-Eustache for 800 years. It was torn down in 1974 to build a mall (classic), but signs of the market linger in the surrounding cobblestoned streets. There are bistros that used to serve all-night fare to butchers and fishmongers (and now do a steady if overpriced business with out-of-towners), produce stalls cleverly calling themselves “Les Halles” on the touristy Rue Montorgeuil, and best of all by far, the cluster of kitchen stores that surely would only set up shop so near their competitors if there was a constant deluge of customers with nothing on the mind but foodstuffs.
Around the corner from me there’s E. Dehillerin, open since the 1800s and stocking gorgeous (and wallet-annahilating) copper cookware, Mora, the pastry-equipment mecca, and G. Detou, carrier of hard-to-find baking ingredients like nut flours and all manner of chocolates and candies. (Because the letter G is pronounced in French like the English J, the name “G. Detou” is a homonymical nudge-nudge joke, sounding just like “j’ai de tout” – I have it all.
It was at Dehillerin that I came to acquire the most expensive – and least intentionally purchased – madeleine mold ever. I’d come to the kitchen store a few times over the past few weeks, trying to make mine a recognizable face to the staff who I was certain had endless, if uncertain, favors to bestow upon neighbors and friends. But seeing as the store was always packed with tourists who came and went, I realized ingratiating myself might take something more than a friendly greeting. So I did what any pastry student would do, and I brought one of my practice bakes – a Pithiviers – in a Le Cordon Bleu box.
On the fateful day, I stepped inside the store, puff pastry triumph in hand and hope in my heart. But my hopes quickly plummeted: The store was more packed than I’d ever seen it. Everywhere, customers were fighting for the beleaguered salesmen’s attention, searching for a whisk here, a particular pastry tip there. I looked around and calculated that my best chance at a one-on-one with an employee would be the check-out counter, manned, I noticed, by a gangly French teenager.
So I grabbed the nearest thing I saw that I might actually be able to justify buying, a madeleine mold (I needed to practice them for my final), and headed toward the cash register. Once I got to the front of the line and the employee rank me up, my jaw dropped under my mask. The metal madeleine mold was 48 euros.
Now, two things you need to know if you ever to to Dehillerin: One – they have every possible size of tart ring you could possibly need. And two – they don’t put price tags on anything. This was the day I learned that. Although I’m sure every Parisian does know it, and scoffs at the tourists and expats like me that don’t. And they probably don’t do something as ridiculous as shop at Dehillerin.
The pastry box was still tucked under my arm, and this had just become the most expensive gift I’d ever attempted to give. Accepting my receipt with a wince, I put the Pithiviers box on the counter and explained, as quickly as I could in my awkward French, that I’d like to give this as a gift to the staff. The kid behind the counter furrowed his brow, and asked if there was anyone in particular it was for. Feeling a flush creep up my cheeks, I replied, “Non, c’est un cadeau pour tout le monde!” (I trust I’ll know in a year if there was a smoother way to say that.) He accepted it with a chuckle, and I hightailed it out of the store, my purse distended by the mold and my wallet a little lighter.
Here’s the thing about madeleines. Dainty and French though they might be – everybody’s always talking about the ‘characteristic hump’ (which sounds like more like a disease than a pastry feature) if you ask me, they’re actually the humblest and simplest French pastry of any I know. And that so far includes around 40 desserts we’ve made or watched chefs make at Le Cordon Bleu.
Madeleines are just tiny cakes, with a scoop of batter plunked into a shell-shaped mold. And something else I realized, as I set about making enough madeleines to make use of every euro’s worth of that god-forsaken mold, is that they can very easily be made vegan.
In addition to learning never to buy anything without a price tag, I also recently learned (from reading this 2017 meta-analysis linked here) that butter has a higher carbon footprint than pork. As a former vegan and former employee of a climate magazine, I knew animal ingredients are worse for the climate than plant-based ingredients. But I’d always understood dairy to be middling – better than meat but worse than plants. And while that’s sort of true, it turns out it’s a bit more complicated. Butter and cream, according to the meta-analysis, are more accurately grouped with meats like pork and poultry, sitting between plants on the low-impact end and red meats like beef and lamb on the high end. And butter has a higher impact than, say, milk, because of the large quantities of milk required to create it (21 pounds of whole milk to make one pound of butter).
Seeing as I’m living in France (the butter capital of the planet) and attending French pastry school (the butter capital of the universe), you could say I’m looking upon lots of desserts with a little climate – and yes, caloric – guilt these days.
Can French pastry be veganized? That’s the obvious question, and not one I’m yet prepared to answer. It’s only week 7 at pastry school! But a sponge like a madeleine batter definitely can be made with all plant-based ingredients.
So I wanted to share the recipe I came up with for vegan madeleines – with a cinnamon apple glaze that tastes like fall along the Seine. Now, if you don’t have a madeleine mold (which, why would you, unless you spiraled into buying it while awkwardly trying to give away a dessert for free), I bet you could bake these in a muffin tin. I haven’t tried that though, so let me know if you do! And note: I find the vegan butter lowers the height of the characteristic hump, but remember: we don’t care! It’s still a delicious cake, hump or no!
Recipe: Vegan Madeleines with Apple-Cinnamon Glaze
Time: 2 hours total. (15 minutes prep, 15 minutes bake, 90 minutes cooling and glazing.)
Makes: 12 madeleines
For the batter
- 100g (¾ cups) all-purpose flour
- 5g (1 tsp) baking powder
- 100g (7 tbsp) vegan butter, melted
- 80g (5 tbsp) applesauce
- 50g (¼ cup) sugar
- 10g (1 ¼ tsp) honey
- 30g (2 tbsp) soy milk
- ¼ teaspoon vanilla (or pinch of vanilla powder)
- Zest of ½ lemon
For the glaze
- 1 cup (100g) powdered sugar
- 250g (1 cup) apple juice (will reduce down)
- Slice of lemon (for squeezing)
- Pinch cinnamon
- Preheat oven to 375F (190C).
- Prepare madeleine mold by buttering well with a vegan butter into all the crevices with a pastry brush, then flouring lightly.
- Melt vegan butter in a bowl in the microwave, or on the stovetop. Set aside.
- Combine flour, baking powder, and lemon zest and whisk well to combine completely.
- In a separate bowl, whisk together the applesauce and sugar.
- Add honey, milk, and vanilla to the applesauce mixture and whisk to combine.
- Add half the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, whisk until combined, then add the remaining dry ingredients and whisk again.
- Add the reserved bowl of melted vegan butter and whisk until fully combined.
- Spoon an equal amount of batter into each mold, eyeballing it as best you can to keep them consistent.
- Bake 4 minutes at 375F (190C) and then lower to 325F (160F) and bake an additional 10-13 minutes, until cakes are well browned at edges and beginning to brown across the middle.
MAKE THE APPLE-CINNAMON GLAZE
The glaze is what really makes these madeleines taste like pure fall. Reducing apple juice on the stove and then adding a tablespoon or two to powdered sugar, along with a pinch of cinnamon and a squeeze of lemon, makes these snacky cakes taste like an apple orchard with just a little pucker. Or if you like a lot more pucker with your autumn leaves, omit the reduced apple juice and combine the juice of half a lemon with powdered sugar and cinnamon.
- Pour a cup of apple juice into a saucepan, and cook over medium heat until reduced to a couple of tablespoons.
- Add 1 cup (100g) powdered sugar to a small or medium bowl.
- Once the reduced juice is cool, add a spoonful, a squeeze of lemon, and a small pinch of cinnamon. Whisk well to combine.
- Depending on the consistency, add more reduced apple juice, lemon, or powdered sugar.
- Once madeleines are cool, dip them in the glaze to your heart’s content! Optionally also roll them in pecan pieces for even more fall feels. Then let the madeleines drain and dry on a cooling rack with a paper towel under it.
Once dried…. eat them all at once. Or be moderate. Whatever suits you.