In Search of The Perfect Madeleine

by kitchenarian on March 6, 2011

To me, the ultimate french cookie is the madeleine. A petite sponge cake baked in its own special pan, the madeleine is a traditional small cake from the French town of Commercy in northeastern France.

The legend of the madeleine is one that the french don’t necessarily agree upon as there are several different versions. One version tells of a girl name Madeleine who made them for Stanislaw Lezczynski, Duke of Lorraine, who loved these treats so much that he gave some to his daughter, Marie, the wife of Louis XV. From there, its popularity grew.

Most french give Marcel Proust (1871-1922) credit for making the madeleine famous when he wrote about it in his autobiographical novel, À la Recherche du Temps Perdu, when translated means Remembrance of Things Past. He actually died before the book was finished, but his brothers published the book in 1923. Proust wrote:

“She sent for one of those squat plump little cakes called petites madeleines, which look as though they had been molded in the fluted valve of a scallop shell … I raised to my lips a spoonful of the tea in which I had soaked a morsel of the cake. No sooner had the warm liquid mixed with the crumbs touched my palate than a shudder ran through me and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary thing that was happening to me. An exquisite pleasure invaded my senses …”

I have always wanted to make these french cookies. Is it because of all those years in high school and college studying the french culture and language? I’m not sure; maybe it is because for years I helped customers buy their pan with high hopes of creating the perfect madeleine. From all the commotion made over this sweet treat, I somehow knew that the cookies would require a bit of technique, if not, everyone would be making them. The pans are available in metal, non-stick and silicone versions. When I recently purchased my madeleine pan, I chose the traditional metal pan; it just seemed the french thing to do.

When doing a bit of research, I discovered that there are a few variations on the recipe with one version using ground almonds and another version using lemon zest. For my first madeleine attempt, I used a Williams-Sonoma recipe from one of their series books entitled Cookies.  I thought this was a good recipe. I was disappointed that I didn’t get the definition from the pan that I wanted. Was it the recipe or was it me?  The edges of my cookies got brown, but when I took them out of the oven, they did not have the golden bottom that I was looking for. The recipe’s directions said to butter and flour the pan. Maybe I had too much butter and flour. (Is it possible to ever have too much butter?)

This was not quite the madeleine I had hoped and dreamed about. Don’t get me wrong, it was good. It just wasn’t perfect…and so my search continues.

Ingredients:

1 ¼ cups cake flour
¼ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
2 large eggs, plus 2 egg yolks at room temperature
¾ cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Lemon zest from half a lemon
½ cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Brush a standard 12 mold madeleine pan with butter and lightly dust with flour. Sift the flour, baking powder and salt together in a bowl; set aside. In a large bowl, with a mixer on medium speed, beat the eggs, and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla and lemon zest. Using a rubber spatula, fold the flour mixture into the egg mixture until blended. Add the butter until well combined.

Drop the batter into the madeleine molds until about three-fourths full. Bake approximately 15 minutes until golden brown and springy to the touch. When done, immediately invert the pan onto a wire rack. You may need a knife or fork to gently pry the cookies from the pan. Let the cookies cool. Makes 2 dozen madeleines.

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{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Sprinzette @ Ginger and Almonds March 6, 2011 at 11:40 am

Personally, I think these French bites are a little overrated, but I did experiment with a stem ginger variety, which you might like. Your photos are rather lovely!

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Liz March 6, 2011 at 11:56 am

I’m am so glad you are on this quest…my only madeleine attempt resulted in cookies that dried out within hours…so will be waiting till you find the perfect recipe 🙂

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fooddreamer March 6, 2011 at 3:29 pm

I am not that big a madeleine fan, they just don’t seem that interesting to me. But I am curious to watch you on your journey to find the perfect recipe. When you do, maybe I will give them a go!

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snippets of thyme March 6, 2011 at 5:05 pm

Wow! I just bought this pan when I was at my first Williams Sonoma cooking class. I made them a few days ago and will post an article in the next couple of days. We’re working in similar circles. I only ate one of mine because I sent them off with to my son’s Odyssey competition and brought the rest as a weekend host gift. The ONE was yummy but I’ll definitely have to make more with my new pan.
My daughter’s name is Madeleine so I always wanted to make these for her. She loves them.

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Kate @ Diethood.com March 6, 2011 at 5:14 pm

I’ve only made these once, and I made them with almond meal… they were really good, but they didn’t have that perfect look…and I think that’s what you were after, too.
But I feel that as long as they taste good, who cares what they look like! 🙂

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Anna's Table March 6, 2011 at 6:47 pm

I too finally gave in and bought my first madeleine pan. Although the recipe has such simple ingredients the shape more than makes up for it. They’re so pretty and elegant. Lovely for dipping in coffee.

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yummychunklet March 6, 2011 at 8:02 pm

I have yet to try these, but I know at some point it will be the assignment for French Fridays with Dorie. Although this wasn’t the “one” recipe you were looking for, kudos to you for trying it!

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Happy When Not Hungry March 6, 2011 at 8:38 pm

So impressed with your madeleines! I’ve never tried to make them, but I love to eat them. Yours look beautiful!

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Jamie March 8, 2011 at 12:22 am

I am also on a perfect madeleine search and will mark this recipe down. I like eating these little cake-like treats with a mug of coffee better than cookies, I think. I now have two madeleine pans and I need to get baking!

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Erin @ Making Memories March 8, 2011 at 12:27 pm

Best cookies ever! Yours sound like they are delicious!!!

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Kathy March 12, 2011 at 7:47 pm

I have been making Madeleines for years and sometimes they come out perfect and sometimes I think I put a bit too much flour on the pan. The recipe I started with is from Martha Stewart. It’s actually very good. I think your Madeleine’s look beautiful!

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