brThe aroma catches your attention when you first walk into Madeleines on Main Street. Perhaps the luscious smell is from the buttery, flaky croissants. Or maybe it’s the savory tortiere pork pies or gingerbread men during the holidays. The aroma may also be the tiny French cakes or the signature Madeleine cookies. Whatever the reason, the aroma is just a hint of the wonderful treats that await all who enter. The other clue is the glass case filled with beautiful creations.
From Iron worker to Pastry Chef
What makes these tasty treats even more amazing is that just a few years ago owner/baker Paul Brown was working on the high steel, not in the kitchen. After attending the University of New Hampshire, the Granite State native lived in Seattle, Washington, where he worked as an iron worker throughout the northwest region. He’s especially proud of his work on the Seattle Mariners baseball stadium. Working on the high steel has its perils. When asked about his transition from iron worker to pastry chef, he explains, “I had taken a couple of falls at work. Luckily I was there long enough to retire. I had been to culinary school on the west coast, so I came back here and hooked up with pastry chef Delphin Gomes.”
A Classic French Influence
Master Pastry Chef Delphin Gomes, who is now the pastry director at the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts, taught classic French pastry techniques in Marblehead, Massachusetts. Brown worked one-on-one with the chef, who took his skills “to a new level,” Brown says. Why the focus on French-style baking? Brown explains, “People don’t realize how healthy French baking is compared to the American style. Most of the pastries have two-thirds less sugar. And I use only unsalted butter. No lard. No shortening.” Brown opened Madeleines five years ago. He describes what he does as old-world cooking. Most days start at 3:45 am and he puts in up to 90 hours a week. He points out that baking takes time. “The croissants take three days to make. I can’t change that. If I try to make adjustments to shorten the time, they won’t come out the same.”
Pastries, Cakes, and More
Madeleines is perhaps best known for wedding cakes. Not the typical fare, these cakes are done in the French style: Each tier consists of four layers soaked in a flavored syrup to enhance the moistness, layered with flavorful filling, and encased in butter cream frosting. (The most popular is almond cake made with fresh-ground almonds, soaked in almond essence, and layered with raspberry filling.) Brown created more than 80 of the tiered confections last year and projects making more than 100 this year. The croissants, puff pastry, and brioche are made in the bakery. The baguettes and rolls for the sandwiches are made by The Bread Chef in Amherst, which allows Brown more time to focus on his pastries— éclairs, Napoleons, fresh fruit tarts, lemon tea cakes, mousse cups, mini cakes, and more. Cookies are also a popular item, especially the shop’s namesake Madeleines, a traditional cake-like cookie made in a shell shape. Other varieties include two types of linzer cookies, sables (a French butter cookie topped with sliced almonds and drizzled with dark chocolate), and diamonds (a Grand Marnier–flavored cookie dusted with sanding sugar—thus the name diamond—and dipped in 80-percent chocolate). Besides the pastries and cookies, Brown also makes two French-Canadian favorites—tortiere, a pork pie popular during the holidays, and Gorton, a seasoned ground pork spread for crackers or bread. Brown says, “People come down from Quebec just to buy it here.” For lunch, customers can enjoy sandwiches such as the classic French croquet monsieur (sliced ham, gouda, and fresh tomato); chicken, Brie, egg, and fresh tomato; or the chicken Dijon. A soup of the day is also available—country tomato, Parisian black bean, mulligatawny, cream of mushroom, or chicken jalapeno—as are a variety of quiches. Brown describes Madeleines as “a handmade bakery. It’s an adventure. You can’t be perfect everyday. The weather and humidity might keep the dough from proofing properly. But you have your people who come back over and over and appreciate what you have to offer. I like that.”br
The bakery’s signature cookie recipe from owner Paul Brown.
br(Makes about 40 cookies)br
- 10 oz butter
- 14 oz sugar
- 8 eggs
- 1 lb all-purpose flour
- 1 T bsp baking powder
- L emon or vanilla flavor, to taste
- 4 oz milk
br1. Melt butter and set aside. Paddle the sugar and eggs in a mixer. Sift the flour and baking powder together and add to the sugar and eggs. Add the flavoring. When fully mixed, add the milk and butter.
2. Let the mixture rest for 30 minutes. Put the batter into Madeleine molds and bake at 350° for about 20 minutes, or until golden brown and solid to the touch. (Brown says, “Bake until you really like it, until it smells right and the texture’s right. Time is nothing. When you set a timer, you’ve forgotten the product. Then you burn it more often.”)