From a very young age, one of Neven's favourite pastimes was to shadow his mother in the kitchen, watching her cook; his pastime soon became ...
50 g butter (diced, plus extra for greasing)
25 g plain flour (plus extra for dusting)
seeds scraped from ¼ vanilla pod
1 egg white (at room temperature)
0.5 tsp finely grated orange zest
50 g icing sugar (sifted)
25 g ground almonds
50 g toasted skinned hazelnuts (roughly chopped)
For these dainty, shell-shaped cakes you'll need a Madeleine tin with 4 x 4.5cm (1½ x 1¾in) holes, available form specialist cookware shops or by mail order. The cakes are best eaten on the day they are cooked but the raw mixture will keep in the fridge for a couple of weeks, so make them as you need them.
Lightly grease a 24-hole Madeleine tin with softened butter, then dust with flour, shaking off any excess. Place in the fridge for at least 2 hours to set.
Place the butter in a small saucepan, allow it to melt and then simmer for about 6-8 minutes until it is really dark brown, stirring occasionally and being careful of spitting (it will be the colour of a toasted nut, with lots of bits in it, but should not smell burnt). Remove from the heat and allow to cool.
Sift the flour into a large bowl. Add the vanilla seeds, egg white, orange zest, sifted icing sugar and ground almonds. Using an electric beater, beat the ingredients until well combined and smooth. Gradually add the brown, melted butter and slowly mix for 4-5 minutes until the mixture is smooth and thickened. Spoon the mixture into a piping bag fitted with a 2cm (3/4in) plain nozzle and chill the bag in the fridge for at least 2 hours until firm.
When ready to cook, preheat the over to 180ºC (350ºC/Gas 4). Pipe the mixture into the moulds, releasing it from the nozzle with a knife dipped in warm water and using the knife to spread the mixture a little in the tin. Don’t worry if the mixture doesn’t completely fill the moulds as it will spread when cooking. Sprinkle the hazelnuts on top.
Bake for 10-12 minutes until well risen, golden and springy to the touch. Remove from the oven and allow to rest in the tin from 2 minutes, then ease out of the tins with the tip of a knife and leave on a wire rack to cool slightly.
To serve, arrange on plates and enjoy with coffee or a cup of tea.