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Madeleines (Shell-Shaped Sponges)

The invention of the madeleine is generally attributed to one of the great early pastry cooks, Avice, who was in the service of Prince Talleyrand. It has remained a popular part of the French culinary experience ever since, and has even been immortalized in literatiure–it was the action of biting into a madeleine which caused the hero of Proust's Remembrances of Things Past to remember . . . To be traditionally correct, the cakes should be baked in special moulds; they will, however, ¦ taste just as nice if cooked in ordinary muffin tins, even if the shapes aren't strictly 'shell'!

ingredients

36 cakes
125 g (4 oz) 8 Tbs Butter, melted plus 2 Tbs
Flour, sifted 125 g (4 oz) 1 cup plus 2 Tbs
125 g (4 oz) 1/2 cup Castor (superfine) sugar
4 Eggs
1/2 tsp Vanilla essence (extract)

method

1. Preheat the oven to fairly hot 200 °C (Gas Mark 6, 400°F).

2. Lightly grease 36 madeleine moulds with the 2 tablespoons of butter. Sprinkle the moulds with the 2 tablespoons of flour, tipping and rotating to distribute it evenly, and knocking out any excess.

3. Beat the sugar, eggs and vanilla together until the mixture is very thick. Very gradually, fold in the remaining flour. Add the remaining butter until it is thoroughly mixed.

4. Spoon the batter into the moulds until they are about three-quarters full. Put the moulds on a baking sheet and put the sheet into the oven.

5. Bake for 7 to 10 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the centres of the cakes comes out clean.

6. Remove from the oven and leave the cakes to cool in the moulds for 5 minutes before turning out on to a wire rack to cool completely. Serve cold.

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