One of my favourite restaurants in the world is just here in London and has been for the past twenty years. St Johns of St Johns Road, just by the Smithfields Meat Market in the very heart of London. Famed for its traditional british food and its nose to tail style eating, there the most obscure bits of meat are served up as oh-so-very-tasty delicacies. The food is fabulous. The decor is simple, urban and trendy. And the waiters are inevitably both friendly and enthusiastic. But the best bit – and I accept that it is unconventional to take this point of view – is the puddings. Now, don’t get me wrong – I love thinly sliced, braised oxe heart with lightly whipped horseradish sauce or deep fried tripe with homemade ketchup as much as the next person – in fact, probably more than the next person. It makes for a sensational meal and my stomach rumbles longingly at the mere recollection of it. But the puddings at St Johns are just so very exquisite, that each and every time – no matter how much I resist the prospect – they steal the limelight from those meaty main courses. Toffee pudding like you’ve never tasted it before, ginger ice cream with just the right amount of fresh ginger, eccles cakes so rich and sweet that you would walk for miles just for a single bite, and queen of all puddings…madeleines, piping hot just out of the oven. Heavenly.
My obsession with freshly baked goods – and with these madeleines in particular – is such that, realistically, it was just a matter of time before I attempted to recreate this delicacy at home. Indeed I regret that it has taken me so long, as I was surprised by how easy these little sponges are to make. The trick it seems is to invest in a silicone madeleine tray – no need to grease it, no need to worry that the cakes might stick to the tin, and with mere tap of the hand you can pop them out while they’re still hot. To eat instantly. Once you have acquired the essential – and it really is essential – silicone baking tray everything else simply falls into place with joyful ease: the batter is straightforward to make, and is best made in advance so that it has a little time to sit in the fridge – all you need to do is dollop the mixture into the tray and place in the oven for fifteen minutes. Et voila`. Watch as these little cakes rise and rise and rise. They are so light and fluffy that each mouthful feels like biting into air. Air that tastes of creamy butter with a smidgen of honey. Utterly sublime.
I used the recipe from the St John cookbook. I made no changes because – frankly - it is so close to perfect that I couldn’t imagine any modification possibly improving upon it. Its simplicity and its delicacy are both inimitable and incomparable. However, I also made a zabaglione cream – a mixture of egg yolks, sugar and marsala beaten over heat until a warm, light and airy custard forms – to serve alongside my madeleines. This was a master touch. Warm madeleines dipped in warm zabaglione. Utterly sublime. Perfect for breakfast, tea or pudding. Perfect at any time of the day. So very more-ish. And so very tasty. I don’t think that I’ll ever eat anything else again.
To make madeleines…
Both a silicone madeleine tray and an electric (ideally freestanding) mixer are essential here. Once you have these, the rest is – quite literally – a piece of cake. Makes 18-24 small madeleines.
- 135g butter
- 2 tbsp runny honey
- 3 eggs
- 110g caster sugar
- 15g brown sugar
- 135g self-raising flour, sifted
Place the butter and the honey in a small saucepan and melt, leaving to simmer until golden brown. Remove from the heat and leave to cool. Whisk the eggs, and sugar together for 10 minutes or so until the mixture has tripled in volume and leaves a trail on the surface for a few seconds when the whisk is lifted. basically, the longer you whisk the eggs for, the lighter the madeleines will be. Fold the flour and melted butter through the egg mixture until you have a smooth batter and leave to rest in the fridge for 2-3 hours. When you are ready to eat the madeleines, preaheat the oven to 190 degreees. Place a desertspoon of batter into each mould and bake for 12-15 minutes until they have risen and are golden brown. To check if they are fully cooked, insert a metal skewer – if it comes out clean, then they are done.
To make zabaglione cream…
This couldn’t be simpler and is divine with most deserts.
- 6 egg yolks
- 150g caster sugar
- 150ml marsala
Combine the ingredients in a heatproof bowl, and place over a saucepan of boiling water. Whisk constantly over the heat until a custard begins to form. All done.