Friday, April 30, 2010

'Milk Tea' Madeleines

by Hungry Rabbit

I grew up with two rituals of afternoon tea: the British-in-Hong-Kong-version and the local Chinese variation. Both fit snuggly with two of the main drivers of Hong Kong culture—food and gossip. Many hotels cater to the British tradition, serving up exquisite tasty morsels to cure late afternoon hunger, but most of us didn’t order the two- or three-tier mini-sandwiches and pastries. It was that cup of tea and the serene setting that supplied the calming comfort in the midst of the chaotic non-stop Hong Kong lifestyle. As we flocked to these places to catch up with friends, the bonus was a possible glimpse of local celebrities and movie stars sipping their Monkey Picked Oolong (the highest quality, youngest oolong tea that legend says was originally picked by monkeys trained by Buddist monks).

At the hotels, you get classic afternoon tea—a pot of black tea with milk and sugar on the side—but at the local Chinese restaurants, cafés, and especially at Dai Pai Dong (open-air food stalls) you get a different beverage. Hong Kong-style milk tea is made of a mix of several types of black tea (every establishment claims to have a secret formula), evaporated milk and sugar, the last of which customers add themselves. The tea maker uses a traditional sackcloth bag as a filter to provide a rich flavor and deep color. These filters resemble pantyhose, so this beverage is also known as Silk Stocking Milk Tea. The reason for the switch to evaporated milk from regular milk isn’t clear, but I suspect the use of the canned product came from the infrequent use of fresh milk in the Chinese diet. Evaporated milk also has a much longer shelf life that suits the hot tropical climate of Hong Kong.

Until the recent invasion of Starbucks, tea was always the choice of beverage. Of course in the summer, you can get iced milk tea to quench your thirst from the intense humidity and heat.

These days, sugary beverages are not my preference, but the thought of having a nice cup of tea in the afternoon still brings a sense of serenity. M loves his Indian Assam and Chinese Ti Kuan Yin (after Humphrey, the oolong master, from Ming Cha in Hong Kong gave us a lesson in tea selection). I adore Dragon Well. I thought it would be interesting to apply the Milk Tea concept in a baked good to accompany our choice of teas. Among the many individual cakes and pastries, madeleines have always been a favorite of mine. The basic recipe allows room for interpretation, but after many trays of madeleines, I still couldn’t get a strong tea flavor into the final product. The batter smelled and tasted fantastic, but once baked, only traces of the scent of tea remained.

Then, I made a discovery during grocery shopping in Chinatown. I came across a package of Instant Milk Tea mix (no sugar added). Since the tea and milk are in a dehydrated state, I thought I could just add it to the batter without additional liquid.

It turns out that the mix worked well enough, but I still wanted more milk tea flavor. Then I remembered that David Lebovitz had posted a Glazed Madeleine. I eagerly whipped up a batch of milk tea glaze and dipped in my madeleines. Success! You could also infuse tea and use dry milk powder to replicate the milk tea, but this Dai Pai Dong Instant Milk Tea powder can deliver a great result. As with Proust, my madeleines bring a taste memory of another time.

Milk Tea Madeleines
recipe by hungryrabbitnyc, 2010
make 24-28 madeleines

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
1-1/2 tablespoons milk-tea powder or 2 individual package of powder
1-1/4 cups (6.25 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
Pinch of table salt
3 large eggs, room temperature
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Milk-Tea Glaze
inspired by David Lebovitz

3/4 cups confectioner's sugar
3 tablespoons milk
1-1/2 tablespoons milk-tea powder or 2 individual package of powder

Prepare the batter:
1. Melt butter in small sauce pan, whisk in Milk-Tea Powder, it's OK if it's not entirely emulsified. Set aside to cool for 5 minutes.

2. Sift flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl. Set aside.

3. Beat eggs in bowl of stand mixer until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes on hight speed. Add sugar and vanilla and beat until a ribbon drops from beater, about 3 minutes.

4. Gently fold in flour mixture. Re-whisk melted butter and add to batter. Stir to combine.

5. Cover batter and refrigerate for at least 3 hours or up to 2 days.

Ready to bake:
1. Preheat oven to 375°F and set rack in the middle position.

2. Brush madeleine mold with melted butter and dust with flour. (alternately, use cooking spray) Set aside.

3. Spoon a generous tablespoon of batter into each indentation of the madeleine mold. Do not spread batter, it will fill the mold as they bake.

4. Bake for 8-10 minutes, till it set. Do not over bake or it will be dry.

5. While the madeleines are baking, make the glaze in a small bowl by whisking sugar, milk and milk-tea powder until smooth.

6. Remove from oven and turn madeleines onto cooling rack.

7. When madeleines are cool enough to handle, about 5 minutes, dip madeleines in the glaze and coat completely. Lift madeleines with a fork and let excess glaze drip back into bowl. Set madeleines on cooling rack, scalloped side up, until they are completely cooled and glaze has firmed up.

NOTES: Glazed madeleines can be store in container for 4 days. Unglazed madeleines can be store in freezer for up to 1 month.

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