Scientific Study

A scientific study was not on the agenda today, but as I walked into the store to pick up a few things I could not get myself to walk by the beautiful flowers outside the grocery store. From the vivid tulips to the un-opened daffodils – like most great gifts the beauty is disproportionate to size with the little ones containing jewels, chocolates, and today, daffodils. I softly apologized for cursing at them earlier in the season and bent down to pick them up. I wandered into the store, standing tall and draping my flowers across my arms like a proper bouquet and I added the following to my list: dried lavender, Meyer lemons and butter. Suddenly I was craving them, not in any particular recipe, just them. As I placed my ingredients onto the checkout stand, I smiled as I noticed all my items were a shade of purple or yellow. Even the cheese and onions I had come in for blended into the color palate I had somehow gone with for the day. The only contrast was the butter lettuce that created such a beautiful backdrop that I almost felt I should rearrange the shopping bag to properly coordinate everyone.

I’ve heard lots of people say – you eat with your eyes first but I always thought of this as more of a plating focus; a way to show the diner that some additional thought went into organizing your dish to elevate it from the usual concoction one might plate at home. My food is slightly unrefined, a mesh of flavors jumbled up to the last moment in a harmonious blending of one pot wonders. Comfort food. My son on the other hand, likes to keep his ingredients separated. The ketchup should not touch the egg sandwich and its best to put his fruit on a separate small dish. Perhaps he is destined for a stint at a 5 star restaurant in his future, carefully dishing and plating the end results with tiny tweezers. But as I looked at the bag I had just purchased I thought of eating with my eyes a bit differently. Why had I bought purple and yellow flowers out of all the others? Was I already subconsciously craving lemon and lavender? They were not ingredients prominently displayed, I had to go and find the lavender and walk around for the lemons. But the more I looked at the flowers, the more I craved my elusive dessert. But, what should I have? I had recently made cookies and was not really craving those and a cake seemed too ambitious for Tuesday. I walked into my kitchen, unloaded my bag and saw my newest cookbook resting on the kitchen stand – Dorie Greenspan’s “Around My French Table.” Yes, Madeleine’s. Not a cake, not a cookie – but a perfect little beautiful bite just fancy enough to show off the lavender yet homey enough for an after school treat.

Now that I had an idea of how to use my ingredients, I did not have a recipe. In the cookbook there is a beautiful recipe for Madeleine’s, but they are a honey-spiced version.  I read the recipe and then went online and found a video of Dorie making Madeleine’s with Martha Stewart, although just lemon and no lavender. I watched and thought through the ingredients and how they would play gluten-free. The two things they seemed to be focused on were using the baking powder to create the classic bump. I liked this; baking powder is a trick I keep up my sleeve for gf baking. I prefer it to baking soda, if given the choice, because it reacts in the oven. I see it as one last act of defiance in the oven when your recipe is ready to succumb to the great collapse without the combative force of gluten. Next focus was on temperature, letting the dough chill both prior to spooning into the pan and then once in the pan before baking on a preheated tray. I liked this too. I am always looking for ways to eliminate moisture in my batters. Usually I focus on replacing ingredients or adjusting the balance of wet to dry, but I was curious what some time in the fridge would do and assumed, as with my pancake batter, the flour would do this trick for me via some absorption. Sometime during my research my daughter wandered out and asked what I was doing. I replied that I was making Madeleine’s, and asked if she wanted to help. She then asked why was I at the computer rather than the kitchen? Good question deserving a good response and I explained I was researching.  She wasn’t satisfied with my answer and said we should just cook and gave me a disapproving look regarding my approach. I started to explain that I had not made these before and wanted to give some thought to….but she had walked off and began pulling dishes out “come on mom, you’re a good cook, don’t worry!” I took one last glimpse over my notes, gave a quick thought to how I would infuse the lavender – into the butter of course, and joined my daughter in the now prepped kitchen.

She loves to gather the ingredients for me, loves to measure the flour and melt the butter. This recipe has a wonderful technique of rubbing the sugar with the lemon zest to release additional oils. She’s wonderful at all of this. Being the first time making these, I was a bit more slow and attentive to the recipe than usual and she soon found me and my approach a little tedious and was ready to move onto something with a bit more spontaneity – something that would better match the song she had in her head. She spotted the flowers and was delighted I had bought them and offered to arrange them in a vase. Off she went, snipping, shuffling, singing and mixing the perfect arrangement all while she got a bit deeper in thought until she looked at me and asked if she could make a recipe? Of course, what do you need? I’ve got it! And off she shuffled around the kitchen gathering a glass dish, note pad and continued her work. I got back to my recipe and worked, preheat and chilled until I was ready to produce my finished product. It was beautiful and equally delicious. A smooth floral note set of by the pop of citrus. So delicate yet richly enhanced by butter that you welcome the break for a sip of tea just to clear your palate and prepare for the next bite.

Yes, I proved a scientific study today – I do eat with my eyes and am influenced by the beauty around me. The flowers the sunshine, all those things that welcome new shapes and blooms and make me crave different ingredients and recipes. And thanks to Dorie for her detailed cookbook and inspiring approach to ingredients. But then I looked at what my daughter had made, yes, while I proved a scientific study, adjusted a recipe from a baking icon; my daughter went and invented a recipe for spring.

And it worked. We sat enjoying the treat I had baked basking in the sun she had conjured up and relished in our accomplishments. Scientific study number two for the day, whatever your approach to the kitchen, approach it with style – your style. Go ahead and let yourself be inspired by something, a color, a smell or a season and take time to celebrate inevitable success.

Below is a recipe for Lemon Lavender Madeleine’s. It is barely adjusted from Dorie Greenspan’s version and I would encourage you to watch her video – if for no other reason that her positive attitude is very infectious. I of course added the lavender….which I hope she would approve. I also added a bit of Meyer lemon icing. Why? Why not…

Lemon Lavender Madeleine’s

1 stick unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 teaspoon dried lavender – crushed slightly by hand or with mortar and pistol
2/3 cup Avec Baking GF all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon xanthan gum
¼ teaspoon sea salt
1/3 cup evaporated can sugar
Zest of one Meyer lemon
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 stick unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2 tablespoons milk

Directions: Place the butter and lavender in a small saucepan over medium heat and melt – swirling occasionally to prevent it from getting to hot and to help infuse the lavender. Remove from heat to let cool. Sift together your flour, xanthan gum, baking powder and salt and set aside. Place sugar and lemon zest in a bowl. Using your fingertips, rub the sugar and zest together until sugar is moist and fragrant. Transfer lemon and sugar to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a balloon whisk attachment. Add the eggs, one at a time, and turn mixer up to medium and continue until mixture is pale and slightly thickened –  2-3 minutes. Add the honey and vanilla and whisk until ingredients are well combined. Remove bowl from stand and gently fold in the reserved flour mixture in three additions. Once flour is incorporated, fold the butter into the mix in three additions as well then mix in the milk. The batter should be smooth and shiny. Place a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the batter and transfer to the refrigerator. Let batter chill for at least 3 hours or up to 2 days. When ready to bake, butter or spray your Madeleine pan with a cooking oil (I use coconut oil) and dust lightly with flour. Spoon batter into pan, spreading gently with an offset spatula then transfer back to the refrigerator for one hour. The dough will be fairly sticky. Spray the offset spatula with a little cooking spray to ensure the dough won’t stick to the spatula.  Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and place a baking sheet on the middle rack. Place Madeleine pan on preheated baking sheet and bake until golden brown and bumps spring back when touched, about 10-13 minutes. Remove from oven and immediately remove from pan by gently coaxing with a fork. Let cool on a wire rack and enjoy.