Tasting a classic madeleine right as it comes out of the oven is an unforgettable experience. Learn how to successfully make them at home using clever tips and an easy recipe.
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Some desserts are simply unforgettable once you taste them within seconds of their coming out of the oven. There’s a special place in my heart for madeleines: French, shell-shaped, light-as-air tiny cakes. Madeleines are best eaten the day they’re baked, and if you’ve ever tasted one warm from the oven with an impeccably crunchy edge, I’m sure you know how life-changing such a small bite can be. Madeleines are the epitome of what makes French pastry-making so great: the art of turning simple ingredients into outstanding creations.
I love to make bite-size French treats of all kinds: I’m partial to financiers, because of how easy they are to make, and when I have a bit of time on my hands, I’m happy to whip up a batch of macarons. But the go-to, no-frills French treat I make when I want to impress is classic madeleines. I can’t count how many times I’ve made them—my madeleine pans have been used and washed so many times, I just don’t understand why they don’t look more beat-up than they do.
Classic madeleines are usually as simple as sponge cake can be. After a visit to Blé Sucré, a Paris pastry shop that makes the city’s best madeleines, according to David Lebovitz, Dorie Greenspan, and Clotilde Dusoulier, to name just a few, I discover a madeleine twist I became addicted to. Blé Sucré’s classic madeleines are brushed with an orange glaze—not on the shell side, but on the humpy side. I’d never seen that anywhere else: this sweet glaze showcases the plumpness of madeleines and adds a lovely crunch to the cake. After I tasted one of Blé Sucré’s madeleines, I went back in to buy a bag—and then I went back every day for the length of my stay in Paris. They were the freshest, lightest, most magical madeleines I had ever tasted.
This tasting experience sent me on a quest to re-create Blé Sucré’s classic madeleines at home. I’ve been testing and tweaking my recipe over the years, and I think my recipe for classic madeleines comes as close as ever to the dreamy treat I enjoyed in Paris many years ago. You can enjoy the classic madeleines as is, or brush them with the glaze. I like to add a bit of orange zest to the madeleine batter to underline the wonderful aroma from the glaze. I’ll also often switch it up and use lemon in both the madeleines and the glaze, too.
In this post, I’m not only sharing my recipe for classic madeleines but also all my tips to help you learn how to make perfect classic madeleines. You might have heard that madeleines are tricky to achieve, but don’t believe the hype. With a few tricks, you too will be able to make perfect, classic madeleines at home—and save an expensive trip to Paris in the process.
Madeleines are tiny cakes that are baked in a specialty mold that has shell-shaped cavities. This shape allows the cakes to bake to a super light and tender texture with irresistibly crisp edges. Madeleines look very elegant and they’re a staple in French bakeries. As fancy as they look, madeleines are easy to make at home: aside from a specialty pan, no other special equipment is required, and no advanced technique is needed to achieve perfect results.
The madeleine, a small sponge cake with a shell-like shape, is a classic French confection with a long history. Stories about its creation are conflicting, but the Larousse Gastronomique relates that the bite-sized cake was invented by a young farmer named Madeleine in the small town of Commercy, in the northeast of France. In 1755, the King of France discovered the farmer’s small shop and loved her cakes so much that he named them after her, and the recipe soon became a hit in Versailles and Paris.
Whether or not this is the real story, it certainly is akin to a fairy tale. A small and humble confection makes it to a king’s court? It suits the madeleine’s dainty appearance perfectly.
If you’re like me, you probably already have too many baking pans, and so you’re wondering if you really need to get a new pan just to make madeleines. Although a madeleine pan is the only pan that will produce shell-shaped cakes, you can also use a muffin pan to make delicious madeleines. To make madeleines in a muffin pan, generously grease and lightly flour all muffin cups, tapping off the excess. (You can also line the pan with parchment paper cups.) If you add only a small amount of batter to each cup, you will produce thin cakes with crisp edges that very closely mimic the texture of authentic madeleines. If you go the extra mile as indicated in the recipe—freeze your pan and refrigerate the batter—your round madeleines will even have that signature hump in the center of the cakes.
Madeleines have a pronounced hump on their back. This hump is the signature of a “perfect” classic madeleine. This hump has given madeleines a completely undeserved fussy reputation: it’s actually very easy to bake perfectly plump madeleines.
Madeleine humps are achieved by a temperature shock between a freezing cold pan and cold madeleine batter, and a very hot oven. While it might be tempting to skip the freezing and refrigerating delays to produce madeleines faster, you should know that haste will likely lead to madeleines that aren’t as fluffy, light, and high as they could be.
A note though: Flatter madeleines are perfectly delicious if they’re flatter, so please! Never, ever throw a batch of madeleines away if they don’t rise as much as you would like. Be patient. Your next batch will be perfect!
Although modern madeleines pans are sold as “nonstick,” the only way to ensure your madeleines will pop right out of their molds is to generously butter and lightly flour each cavity. To do so, use a pastry brush and very soft—not melted—butter to grease the cavities, then lightly sift flour over the pan. Tap the edges of the pan on your countertop to make sure the flour covers the butter evenly, then tap the pan upside down over your sink or a working surface to shake off excess flour.
For the fluffiest, humpiest madeleines, metal pans are best simply because they can become icy cold in the freezer, thus creating a more important temperature shock when you put the madeleines in the oven. This shock between the ice-cold pan and cold madeleine batter and the super-hot oven is what makes madeleines rise the highest. Silicon pans just can’t become cold enough to create the same effect.
If you have a silicone madeleine pan on hand, by all means, use it though! Although silicon is naturally nonstick, a delicate pastry such as classic madeleines could still stick to the pan and break when you try to unmold them. Always make sure to thoroughly butter and lightly flour a silicon pan before you use it. (See the previous question for additional tips.)
Madeleine are at their very best freshly baked. This is when the contrast between the super-light crumb and the crunchy edge is at its very best. In an ideal world, madeleines should be enjoyed within a couple of hours of coming out of the oven.
If you store madeleines in an airtight container, they will lose their delicate crispy edges. Day-old madeleines are still absolutely delicious, though. Their texture will remind you more of a mini cupcake, which is nothing to balk at.
The good news is that madeleine batter will keep refrigerated for up to three days, which means you can bake just as many madeleines as you need and enjoy them fresh over several days. A pretty dreamy proposition, if you ask me!
I’m sorry to repeat myself, but madeleines are at their very best when enjoyed freshly baked. Though madeleines can be kept in an airtight container for a couple of days and still be a delight, I definitely would not recommend freezing them. The freezing and thawing process will irreparably impact the texture and flavor of the delicate cake.
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