Monday, March 28, 2011

Madeleines, Lemon Squares and Taxes

All images © Valery Rizzo

During her daughter’s week off for spring recess, a good friend of mine next-door Catherine decided to use the same week to organize, prepare taxes and bake. The baking I’m sure was to add some fun to all the organizing and tax preparation. Catherine’s plan was to make lemon or pineapple squares like her mother used to make and her daughter Indigo wanted to make madeleines. I thought they were pretty ambitious plans because after all don’t most mothers bake chocolate chip cookies or brownies with their daughters. I was really impressed.

Both recipes seemed to me to be very classic things to bake. The madeleines made me think of my grandmother, Agnes. She was from Brittany an area in the north-west of France and was a strong French influence in my life. I would have loved to have gone to Paris together before she passed away, but of course I was too young and busy to know how special and important that would have been to me. It made me think of the goûter or the 4pm snack we used to share with my sister and grandfather. My grandmother would always have two cups of black coffee and my grandfather would have tea with some sort of toast or sweet. Then there were those sugar cubes, I always remember the sugar cubes. Sometimes my grandmother would poke my shoulder bones in to make a point about the importance of good posture and once she even smacked me in my forehead which I later found out was so I would relax my face and not develop wrinkle lines…funny. My grandparents were also big world travelers. I pulled out a bunch of old postcards she had sent me over the years from all their many voyages and read them as I enjoyed a madeleine and some tea. The flavor was similar to, but somewhat lighter than sponge cake.

The lemon squares made me think of a very classic American recipe they would serve in a retro diner or something June Cleaver would have made in her kitchen. The strong tart flavor from the lemons covered with a bit of sweet confectioners' sugar, on top of a buttery crust and served with some fresh organic blackberries and a hot cup of coffee, was really something special.

Well, the day did not go exactly as planned. They thought the mission would be an easy one, but instead they found themselves not knowing what they were doing, they threw pans and bowls around the kitchen, did a lot of yelling and then the math tutor called and thirty-six madeleines were burned in the process. In the end after many hugs and apologies their creations were unbelievable and just as I had imagined.

Both recipes were adapted from Martha Stewart's honey madeleines and lemon squares.

4 table spoons unsalted butter

1 tablespoon honey

½ teaspoon pure almond or vanilla extract

¾ cup all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

pinch of salt

2 large eggs

1/3 cup granulated sugar

1 tablespoon packed light brown sugar

1. In a small saucepan melt the butter over low heat, making sure it doesn’t Brown. Remove from heat, and stir in the honey and vanilla extract. Let cool.

2. In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Then in a medium bowl beat the eggs and sugars with a rubber spatula until combined. Gently fold in the flour mixture until just combined add the butter mixture and gently fold in. Make sure to fold and not mix. Save some melted butter to brush the madeleine molds later. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate the batter for 30 minutes.

3. Preheat oven to 425° with rack placed in center of oven. With a brush coat the madeleine molds with melted butter and set aside.

4. Using a spoon fill each mold three quarters full with batter. Bake until madeleines have puffed and the edges are golden brown, 8 to 10 min.

5. Remove from oven and let madeleines cool until pan is just cool enough to handle. Unmold cookies, and serve warm or at room temperature. If serving at room temperature you have the option of sprinkling some confectioners' sugar on top. Makes 1 dozen.

For the crust

¾ cup (1 ½ sticks) unsalted butter, frozen

1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour

¾ cup confectioners' sugar

¾ teaspoon coarse salt

For the Filling

4 large eggs, lightly beaten

1 ½ cups sugar

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

¼ teaspoon coarse salt

¾ cup fresh lemon juice (about 5 lemons)

1. Preheat oven to 350° then butter a 9 by 13 inch baking pan and line with waxed paper.

2. To make the crust, grate the frozen butter with a cheese grater using large holes then set aside. Whisk together flour, sugar and salt in a large bowl. Add butter and stir with a wooden spoon until combined and mixture looks crumbly.

3.Transfer mixture to prepared pan. Press mixture evenly onto bottom with your hands. Freeze crust for 15 min. Then bake until slightly golden, 16 to 18 minutes.

4. Meanwhile, make the filling by whisking together eggs, sugar, flour and salt in a medium bowl until smooth. Stir in fresh lemon juice and then pour over hot crust.

5. Reduce oven temperature to 325° and bake until filling is set and edges are slightly golden brown, about 18 minutes.  Let cool slightly on a wire rack.  After slightly cooled lift out by gripping waxed paper underneath and let cool completely on a wire rack before cutting into squares. Sprinkle confectioners’ sugar on top and pair with fresh organic and blackberries.


  1. Will have to try the Madeleines :)

  2. Strange enough, when I was growing up in Italy, we used to eat a lot of madelaines.They have them is Spain, too.

    We used to buy big bags full of them, but, what we really, really enjoyed eating, at four o' clock, for our "merenda" was Nutella on crackers!Sweet, delicious Nutella!

    Merenda was for children... the grown ups would just have a cup of espresso, or ice cold lemon tea, at that time, in Summer.

    Your photos are really beautiful, Valery. I always found madeleines a bit dry, but... if they they were good enough for Marcel Proust, with a cup of tea, tea, they'll have to be good for me!

    And you make them look absolutely delicious!


  3. Love the way you told this story! Get set for more baking as spring break approaches and Indigo and I do spring clutter clearing and baking! Are thinking pineapple squares and strawberry pie - but on different days for sure. We also have to make bunny cakes for Easter!.... Wish us luck....

  4. LOVE lemon squares! Yours look great, seriously drooling at my desk right now..

    Will be giving this a try sometime, thanks!

  5. The madeleines look good and yummy! They'd be perfect for fun afternoon tea parties.

  6. Iwill try Lemon sguares looks diffrent and delicious recipe.
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