"Those look like some sort of big Klingon insects or something," G commented as he passed the cooling rack on the way to his second cup of coffee.
I didn't take it personally. Neither did the little cakes. Nor did the Klingons, as far as I know.
Sometimes I like to get up early on a weekend morning and bake. I feel like I'm stealing a march on the day, as if I've gotten something accomplished even before breakfast or Saturday morning dance class. This weekend I had more motivation than usual -- three motivations, in fact. I was headed to a party later on, and then to a dinner (another opportunity to meet with a remarkable blogger). And a colleague's mother had passed away. All of these are events that, to my mind, call for baked goods. Something homemade, something delectable, preferably; something chocolate is almost always a good choice when bringing a party platter, a friendship token or comfort to the bereaved.
I've been working on a nutty chocolate chunk madeleine for a while. I first made them last spring for a dinner party, and had liked them very much. But I never noted down my recipe, and it had gotten lost somewhere in my memory. It was one of those "I'll base this on my tried-and-true madeleine formula, and add a little bit of this, a little bit of that..."
I made another stab at it recently, and didn't like it quite as much as I'd remembered. It was the pistachios. Within the context of the melting almondy chocolatey little cakes, the pistachios were still flavorful but had turned a bit soft. It must have been true last spring as well, since my experience is that when you bake nuts into a cake, even if you toast them first, they invariably soften in the moist crumb. Madeleines, and other cakes, are simply not like a crisp little cookie, where nuts will almost always maintain their crunch and snap. On a confessional note, this frustrates me. I have a hard time accepting it. I want the soft cakey madeleines, and the crisp, crunchy nuts. Together.
Why not bake the nuts on top of the madeleines, I thought. And so I gave it a try. For this run, I used a mixture of pecans, almonds and pistachios. Considering the nutritional value of nuts, and the health-giving properties of dark chocolate, this would make my madeleines practically a health food. Especially since the batter has a base of almond paste, which makes the flavor of these not unlike the lovely Chocolate Nut Loaf of Pierre Hermé. Once I sprinkled the nuts and patted them lightly into the batter so they'd stick, I was struck by the resemblance to one of my favorite confections, the mendiant: a chocolate disk (or in some cases, a bar) studded with any combination of nuts and dried fruits that strikes the confectioner's fancy. The word mendiant means beggar in French; the confections are originally named for mendicant monastic orders.
G has decided that he prefers the original pistachios-inside version, since he's not as wild about nuts as I am (you may construe this last sentence however you like). For my little party platter, I mixed both kinds. For those whom I'm quite sure are as nuts about nuts as I, I gave the nuttified version. Personally I'm very fond of these madeleines mendiants, with their crunch-nutty tops (or feet, depending on how you look at them). It's true that after a day under wraps, the nuts have softened a bit. They're still crunchier than when baked inside the cakes. And I feel sure that if I go to a little trouble and heat the madeleines a bit before serving, they'll crisp up. This will have the added benefit of giving the dark chocolate chunks inside the cakes a chance to become melty again. Crunchy little cakes with soft interiors, running with melting chocolate, crisp with nuts -- something for those in distress, good to have at a party, and a warm gesture of friendship.
And Klingon bugs or no, you may want to consider that they wouldn't make a bad Valentine at all...
Madeleines Mendiants au Chocolat
5 ounces bittersweet chocolate (85% cocoa solids works well here)
7 ounces almond paste, cut into small pieces
1 cup granulated sugar
5 eggs, room temperature
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup sifted unbleached all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
10 tablespoons(1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
7 ounces chopped bittersweet chocolate (something you like to eat; I used 70% for this purpose)
2 cups assorted nuts ( a mixture of coarsely chopped pecans, crisp pistachio halves, and slivered almonds, for example)
1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Brush madeleine molds with melted butter and dust lightly with flour, or spray lightly with baker's cooking spray.
2. Melt the 5 ounces of chocolate over boiling water or in a microwave. Allow to cool.
3. Cream the almond paste and sugar in a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Transfer to a large mixer bowl and add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the melted chocolate, and blend. Add the vanilla extract and the salt and beat until light and fluffy, 1 to 2 minutes.
4. Sift the flour and baking powder together and fold lightly into the almond-chocolate mixture. Gently fold in the melted butter just until combined. Stir in the chopped chocolate pieces.
5. Spoon the batter into the molds, filling them three-fourths full. Sprinkle nuts to cover each madeleine, and pat them lightly onto the batter, so that they stick.
6. Bake just until they spring back in the center, 8 to 10 minutes. Do not overbake.
7. Let cool for 5 minutes, and then gently remove to wire racks to cool completely. Allow the molds to cool before wiping clean and rebrushing with melted butter or cooking spray.
8. Repeat the process with the remaining batter and nuts.
These madeleines keep very well for 4-5 days in an airtight container with waxed paper between layers. They don't dry out as quickly as many others, due to the high proportion of almond paste. They also freeze well wrapped in wax paper and sealed in airtight bags. In both cases, it's advisable to refresh them slightly in a warm oven for several minutes.
Approximately 48 large madeleines.