Yesterday was one of my favorite artist’s birthdays – Sandro Botticelli would have been 571 years old! These madeleines remind me of one of his most famous paintings, The Birth of Venus, circa 1486. Botticelli was a large-scale mythological painter, and for this work, he borrowed the subject from Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Here we see Venus, just born as a full grown adult, floating slowly toward the seashore (thanks to the blowing of Zephyr, god of the west winds and Aura, a wind nymph). She stands on a giant seashell, which I can’t help but see as the ultimate madeleine. A goddess waits for Venus on the right side, ready to clothe her, drawing reference to Eve.
Venus has a very elongated torso, squat legs and unrealistic proportions. She stands in a contrapposto pose that wouldn’t be possible in real life – by putting all the weight on her left leg she would surely lose her balance and topple over the side of the shell! She stands in a modest pose that suggests that she is kind of trying to be modest (but not really). In fact, the nudity shown here is a major turning point in art at the time. The Christian church was just starting to accept that depictions of nudity in art could transcend original sin, and this is one of the first nudes in history that the church did not associate with sin.
The painting was commissioned by the ruling Medici family, who credited themselves with bringing art and culture to Florence. It has a highly finished quality, and exemplifies the expensive taste of the Medicis. The painting itself is a tribute to classic literature and the wealthy patron family.
These madeleines are picture perfect and really easy to make. They are simple pastries, but highly flavorful; the brown butter bits add another dimension to the buttery taste, and you know me, I can’t pass up an opportunity to use Meyer lemons this time of year! The key to madeleines is keeping the dough chilled, and keeping the pan chilled as well until these go in the oven. I usually store my madeleine pan in the freezer the day before I intend to make them, and take it out just when I’m ready to grease it. If you forget to freeze your pan before hand, don’t worry – the hump might just be a little smaller.
Brown Butter Meyer Lemon Madeleines
¾ cup all-purpose flour + 1 tablespoon
1 teaspoon baking powder
pinch of salt
2 eggs, room temperature
1/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon honey
zest of one Meyer lemon
7 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
powdered sugar, for topping
In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
Over medium heat, brown the butter. While it cools, mix together the eggs, sugars, honey and lemon zest in a large bowl until combined. Whisk in the dry ingredients and then the browned butter and transfer the batter to a resealable plastic bag. Let chill in the refrigerator for at least an hour before baking.
Preheat the oven to 350°F Mix together 1 tablespoon of flour and 1 tablespoon of melted butter in a small bowl. Brush all over the madeleine pan. Cut the tip of the plastic bag and gently pipe into each mold, filling about two-thirds full. Bake for about 10 minutes, until the tops of each madeleine are golden.
Let cool in pan for 5 minutes, and then gently tap on the counter to release the pastries. Dust with powdered sugar while still hot and eat while warm!
Recipe adapted from Daniel Boulud, makes 12
Featured art: Sandro Botticelli, Birth of Venus, c. 1482-1485, tempera on canvas