Foolproof French Madeleines
These foolproof French Madeleines are the perfect tea-time treat.
Madeleines. Your tongue dances, tapping up, then down, then up again. Just saying the word brings a sweet taste to the mouth. I was first introduced to the French cake (or is it a cookie?) at a San Francisco specialty store. It came in one of those containers, by the dozen. And by the dozen, it left the container and settled into the jiggly blob that is my stomach.
I remember watching Madeline, (not Madeleine) a television series about a colorful little girl growing up in Paris. It was hard not to like the show, and each time I make a Madeleine, I can’t help think of the tiny little red-head character from Paris.
It took a while before I tried my next Madeleine, this time, at a popular French bakery (Charlotte) in Warsaw. I liked the slightly crunchy exterior that hid a fluffy, buttery sponge within. Madeleines are not complicated, neither in method nor in flavor. They are scented with lemon, vanilla and butter. They aren’t too sweet, nor are they too heavy. I like to think of Madeleines as a tea-time accompaniment somewhere between a cookie (in terms of size) and a cake (in terms of texture), a sweet treat that is so light, you can eat a whole plate without feeling lethargic like normal after a large helping of dessert.
When I tried to recreate a simple Madeleine recipe at home, I wasn’t able to attain the same texture that I had tried at the bakery, even though the recipes I tried yielded soft, spongey cakes. From then on, it became my mission to find to find the perfect Madeleine recipe. And find it I did.
I’ve adapted this recipe from the Le Cordon Bleu: Pâtisserie and Baking Foundations cookbook, a birthday gift from a friend. Because of the nature of the cookbook, many recipes are not easy- some recipes call for over a dozen eggs. This one on the other hand, easy. Minimal ingredients, minimal preparation.
What I also like about it is the inclusion of brown butter in the pâté or batter. I love brown butter. You know that. I’ve shown you how to make brown butter bourbon blondies, a brown butter peanut butter skillet cookie, a Guinness chocolate cake with brown butter cream cheese frosting, the list goes on.
Brown butter isn’t difficult to make, it simply involves taking melted butter a step further in the saucepan, until your result is a caramel-scented, copper-tinted, brown-speckled liquid. The extra three minutes are worth it, but yes, you can use just use melted butter instead.
In addition to brown butter, this pâté is scented with lemon zest, a traditional addition to this particular cake. The lemon is not overpowering in any way, it simply adds a touch of freshness in terms of scent and flavor. You can add more if you would like a lemon-flavored Madeleine. However, I find that the amount listed in the recipe is just right.
Now a Madeleine is known for its shell-like appearance. This is a result of a Madeleine pan. You can probably purchase one at most baking stores, but you can definitely purchase it online. Otherwise, just use a mini (or regular) muffin tray and make soft, buttery cupcakes instead!
A couple other things to note:
- To make these Madeleines light and fluffy, you will need to beat the egg and sugar mixture till light and fluffy (see details in recipe). Then, be careful not to overwork the flour or butter into the batter. Overworking the gluten will result in a tougher texture.
- Chilling the batter before baking results in that classic hump on the top, that Madeleines are known for.
- I’ve had issues with removing the Madeleines from the pan. The recipe recommends greasing the tray twice with butter. I tried and I’ll be doing this each time when making Madeleines. It makes them so easy and painless to remove.
- You will need to change the temperature of the oven six minutes after baking. Now this is the part I talked (talked? wrote?) about earlier- for that golden brown, slightly crunchy exterior, you need to begin with a higher temperature and then reduce it. It ensures that your cakes don’t burn.
- Madeleines are best eaten the day you bake them, like most baked goods. Wait a couple days and they will go from soft cakes to soft cookies (which isn’t a bad thing!). You can easily prepare the batter in advance and then bake them before serving.
Serve these with a dusting of icing sugar and a nice cup of tea or coffee, you won’t go wrong.
- 6 tbsp (85 g) unsalted butter
- 1 ¼ cup (180 g) flour
- 2 tsp baking powder
- ¼ tsp salt
- 1/2 tbsp lemon zest
- ¾ cup (125 g) granulated sugar
- 2 eggs
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- Extra butter and flour for greasing
- Icing sugar for dusting
- Place the butter in a medium saucepan over heat.
- Let the butter melt, bubble and foam until it begins to brown (beurre noisette) and gives off a nutty caramel-like aroma (about 5 minutes). You will need to swirl the pan every now and then to ensure even cooking. Do not worry when you see specks of dark brown and black in the butter- the milk solids tend to cook faster than the fat.
- Let the butter cool completely.
- In the meantime, stir together the flour, baking powder and salt, then set aside.
- In a bowl, beat together the lemon zest, sugar and eggs until the mixture turns a very light shade of yellow and doubles in volume. If you remove the beaters from the bowl, the mixture should fall in a continuous stream.
- Gently fold in the flour mixture.
- Next, fold in the vanilla extract and brown butter (do not scrape the saucepan- you don’t want to add all of the burnt milk solids to the madeleine batter).
- Cover the mixture and chill for a minimum of 1 hour or overnight. In the meantime, preheat the oven to 465 F or 240 C.
- Then prepare the Madeleine pan. Butter the Madeleine tray, then place the tray into the refrigerator for 5 minutes. When the first coating of butter has solidified, brush another layer of butter atop the Madeleine cups. Then, dust the tray with flour, ensuring that the cups are completely covered. While this process is a little lengthy, it is the best way to ensure ease when extracting the Madeleines from the pan. If you do not have a Madeleine tray, you can use a mini muffin pan.
- Scoop 2 tbsp sized mounds of the Madeleine mixture into each Madeleine cup.
- Place the tray into the oven for a total of 6 minutes, then reduce the temperature of the oven to 390 F (200 C) and continue cooking for 3-4 minutes or until the Madeleines are a golden brown color and form a bump on top. I like to bake the Madeleines till they are a deep golden color as I like a crispier exterior but you could bake them for a minute or so less.
- Un-mold the Madeleines from the tray as soon as you take them out of the oven.
- Serve warm, with a cup of tea and with a dusting of icing sugar.
- Madeleines taste best warm, within a day of making them- any longer and they will go from cakes to soft cookies (which are still delicious).