Tuesday, 5 January 2010
Once again, Bourdain takes the blame.
‘England’s best hope for salvation...a warrior, pioneer, philosopher and fearless proponent for what’s good, and what’s always been good, about English cooking.’
High praise indeed.
This is his summation of Fergus Henderson as it appears in the ultimate food lover’s bible, A Cook’s Tour – the one book I wish I could have written. Forget Dostoyevsky. Move along Melville. Step aside Shakespeare. Let me travel, eat then write it up in shotgun gonzo style. Yes please.
Understandably, the monochrome delight that is Nose to Tail Eating, Henderson’s manifesto/cookbook, soon found its way into my collection swiftly followed by its successor, Beyond Nose to Tail – a similar affair but with an extended section on baking.
Those books were read and re-read. Not just the recipes but the snippets of gastro-philosophy that pepper them. The words and oddly exotic lists of ingredients pored over, mused upon and eventually cooked and eaten. The exotic ceased to be so and all that remained was The Tasty.
Bourdain’s gushing made sense.
Considering my affinity for his work, it took a surprisingly long time to actually eat at Henderson’s London restaurant, St. John. A last minute reservation meant we would eat late but we would eat and I would sample those dishes whose names were familiar but flavours alien.
Cue roasted bone marrow with parsley and caper salad. Langoustines with rich mayonnaise. Smoked eel and bacon. And thick slices of beef topside with boiled carrots.
I felt like an art lover finally laying eyes on a favourite painting previously seen only in reproduction.
The desire for something sweet was tempered by achingly full bellies. There was no room for Eccles cakes or doughnuts. There was barely room for a digestif. But a request to take away some sweet treats was met with a smile. Five minutes later we left, clutching a still warm paper bag, emblazoned with the outline of a pig, containing the famed Eccles cakes as well as half a dozen Madeleines.
They were eaten for breakfast.
St. John Madeleines
The Madeleine tray I bought the GF for Christmas (‘a bowling ball for Homer’, I think she referred to it as) is the most specific item of kitchen kit we own. It has a single, solitary use. But, oh, what a use.
There may be countless Madeleine recipes out there but for a first attempt there was only one to go for. It was deliriously easy and came together with such pleasure that I doubt we will turn elsewhere. Watching the small blobs of mixture spread, rise then bulge up into such a recognisable shapes was most satisfying.
They are also near ethereally light with a slightly malted flavour that comes from the caramelised honey, almost reminiscent of Horlicks.
Melt 70g of unsalted butter with a generous tablespoon of runny honey then simmer until the sugars caramelise (it didn’t seem to matter that it split).
Whisk together a large egg with 55g of caster sugar and a tablespoon of soft brown sugar until a trail can be left on the surface of the mixture. Sift in 70g of self raising flour then fold in along with the butter/honey mixture. Leave in the fridge for a couple of hours.
Grease the Madeleine moulds with butter and flour, tip out any excess then pop a spoonful of the mixture into each one. It won’t look like enough. It is. Honest.
Bake at 200 degrees C for about 10 minutes, marvel at how big they’ve got, delight at the fact they look just like Madeleines then enjoy with cups of tea. If you have any left, they still taste great the following day.
*Would you look at that – a whole piece about Madeleines and not a single mention of Proust. Oh, bollocks.