This DC Restaurant’s Cookies Are the Ultimate at-Home French Baking Test
A Michelin-starred chef shares his recipe for madeleines
Last summer, D.C. finally got to meet Jônt, a European tasting counter adjoining chef-owner Ryan Ratino’s Michelin-starred Bresca. Jônt now boasts two Michelin stars of its own, with the inspector applauding its “intimate, immersive experience, replete with surprises.”
Ratino is known for his modernist plays on European classics, specifically French dishes like soufflé, which he revisits at Jônt with matcha ice cream, or bordelaise sauce, which he pairs with wagyu beef at Bresca.
“I could probably write a book about all the reasons I love French cuisine,” says Ratino. “French food is not just about flavor and technique. French food is tradition, is engaging, and it plays a big role in the everyday life of people.”
Bresca’s menu and ambiance are inspired by the French bistronomy movement — a portemanteau of “bistro” and “gastronomy” that promises the hominess and comfort food feel of a bistro with the precision and technical sophistication of haute cuisine. For Ratino, Bresco is indeed meant to boast “a more vibrant, experimental and informal approach” than one usually finds in French tradition. And Ratino is delving even deeper into his philosophy at Jônt. Here, he explains, he is interested in taking diners on a voyage, highlighting “the journeys and the detours everyone and everything takes each day.”
It’s a welcome sensation in a time when travel remains complicated, and luckily, Ratino doesn’t need to go far from DC to get there. He takes full advantage of local dairy from a small farm in Virginia, and 85 percent of his produce is sourced within 150 miles from his 14th Street location.
“It is also the journey of the ingredients present in our dishes: their landscape and the people that cultivated them,” Ratino says of the philosophy behind the restaurant. “Jônt is a concept that melds together art with seasonality of ingredients and smart technique.”
The result is a space that elevates the idea of a truly excellent European midday meal, known to stretch for hours in France or Italy, with haute cuisine touches embellishing stalwart classics. The tasting menu, for example, may feature wood fire-cooked foie gras or Barbarie duck with sauce à la royale. It also introduces the Japanese touches that one sees these days at some of Paris’ top eateries: sea urchin from Hokkaido might be paired with custard and English peas, or Dungeness crab could appear alongside donabe rice and maitake mushrooms. And occasionally, Ratino lets the best ingredients speak for themselves: Cavaillon melon is paired simply with wild fennel and lemon verbena; Bell’s Valley Farm chicken is married with the French Jura’s famed oxidative vin jaune for a nutty, rich character.
Ratino’s technical prowess is nearly unparalleled, so it’s no surprise he gets the details right on basics, like his madeleine.
“I love everything that is a French classic, and madeleines fit the bill,” he says.
This comforting little cake is well-known in France as the pinnacle of nostalgia: Indeed, it was a bite of madeleine soaked in tea that inspired Marcel Proust’s wander through his memories in his autobiographical novel In Search of Lost Time. The literary moment is so embedded in the French cultural consciousness as to have spawned a colloquialism – ma madeleine de Proust – used to reference one’s most nostalgic food memories.
To get your madeleines just right, temperature is key. Really cold batter in a really hot oven will help get that perfect iconic madeleine hump, so feel free to chill your molds before portioning and baking. Ratino also relies on a bit of more modern leavener – baking powder – to help the madeleines rise to their full glory.
At Bresca, Ratino serves these pillowy cakes with clotted cream and fruit preserves: uncomplicated and delicious.
“Mastering baking madeleines can take a while – you really learn to be patient,” Ratino says. But it’s well worth the effort. “I always think simplicity can bring out the best elements of a dish – whether it is savory or sweet.” With quality ingredients, then, and a bit of patience, this simple combo of pantry staples unites to become something truly transcendent.
Ryan Ratino’s Jônt Madeleines
- 270 grams melted butter
- 2 tablespoons honey
- 6 large eggs
- 225 grams sugar
- 30 grams dark brown sugar
- 1 vanilla bean pod, split and scraped
- 270 grams AP flour
- 1½ teaspoons baking powder
Combine the melted butter and the honey; set aside.
In a stand mixer with the whisk attachment, combine the eggs, sugar, and dark brown sugar. Whip together on high for 10 minutes, or until tripled in volume. In small additions, add the flour and baking powder to the mixture. Make sure to turn the mixer on low-medium speed and to mix thoroughly until all the dry ingredients are incorporated homogeneously. Add the melted butter, honey, and scraped vanilla bean (not the whole pod) to the mixture, and mix for 1-2 minutes on medium speed until the mixture is homogeneous.
Transfer the batter into pastry bags. Pipe the batter into a well-greased madeleine baking mold, about two-thirds full. Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 3-5 minutes or until golden brown and cooked through. This can be tested with a cake tester to ensure it is fully cooked.
Toss in a small mixing bowl with granulated or powdered sugar and enjoy.
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