HAPPY VALENTINES DAY!
Valentines day is a romantic occasion which calls for special meals and desserts. Quite a while back I saw a very unique idea for some ‘Madeleine’ cookies. It looked to me like it had valentines dessert written all over it. Before I get into the actual recipe, I thought it might be nice to share a little food history on this unofficial national cookie of France.
If you haven’t had the opportunity to try them yet, they are a little cake-like cookie, baked in a shell-shaped mold. The first recipe for the cookie in France with the name Madeleine, appeared around 1758. People began using metal molds to bake Madeleine’s during the 18th century, however, these molds and cookies did not receive commercial success until the 19th century, when culinary writers began mentioning them in cookbooks.
There are several legends that exist in regards to the creation of the Madeleine cookies. In one version, Madeleine was a young servant girl who had been requested to create a special treat for the deposed king of Poland who had sought refuge in France. In another version, a different Madeleine created the special cookies in the shape of a scallop to feed the pilgrims making their way to Saint Jacques burial site. The scallop shell was a sign of protection which has long been associated with St. Jacques of France.
Madeleine’s have always been associated with the little French town of Commercy, whose baker’s were said to have paid a very large sum for the recipe. Nuns in 18th century France frequently supported themselves and their schools by making and selling the particular sweets. Commercy once had a convent dedicated to St. Mary Magdelen. Historians believe that when all the convents and monasteries of France were abolished during the French Revolution, the nuns sold the recipe to the bakers.
In any case, no matter who created the first Madeleine, it was a great idea as their popularity has only increased over the centuries. Today, this unique tea cake/cookie is sold in bakeries and cafe shops around the world.
The original basic ingredients consisted of eggs, flour, butter and sugar. Over the years, Madeleine’s have been elevated into the realm of gourmet delights. It has become very common to customize the recipe to include nuts, lemon zest, chocolate, citrus juice and sprinkle them with powdered sugar.
For my valentine dessert, I’m making some very petite ‘shells’, filling them with sweetened cream cheese and decorated with ‘edible pearls’. They make such an elegant presentation for the occasion.