Monday, January 24, 2011

Magnificent Madeleines

One of my favorite cookies is the Madeleine. At once simple, yet elegant, they are understated perfection. I made them yesterday afternoon because I had a hankering for something cake-like and light and lemony. These fit the bill.

Traditionally molded in a pan with shell-shaped indentations for the batter, Madeleines are perhaps most famous for their association with involuntary memory in the Marcel Proust novel In Search of Lost Time, in which the narrator experiences an awakening upon tasting a madeleine dipped in tea:
"She sent out for one of those short, plump little cakes called petites madeleines, which look as though they had been moulded in the fluted scallop of a pilgrim's shell. And soon, mechanically, weary after a dull day with the prospect of a depressing morrow, 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, and the crumbs with it, touched my palate than a shudder ran through my whole body, and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary changes that were taking place…at once the vicissitudes of life had become indifferent to me, its disasters innocuous, its brevity illusory…"
The Madeleine consists of common baking ingredients you likely have in your kitchen right now. I mean, what are most desserts made out of anyway but the usual eggs, sugar, flour, butter? Basically a Genoise cake batter, or French sponge cake, the Madeleine was traditionally eaten at afternoon tea. The basic recipe is just the above 4 basic ingredients, plus vanilla. But flavorings can also be added for a little twist. Lemon zest or orange zest are great additions and my favorite. I've also seen a French recipe that called for rose water but I don't care for anything rose-flavored and because I am a lemon-lover, that's my favorite version. It is not a lemon cookie; it has only the slightest hint of it, just enough to perk it up.

Though I've never been a fan of buying specialized baking pans meant for a specific purpose, this is the one formed pan I have purchased, and it has been well used. You can find Madeleine pans in any good cooking store such as Williams-Sonoma or Crate & Barrel, at Target, or online at if you don't want to leave the house.
I hope you'll make these sometime. They are a lovely addition to any afternoon tea with friends or family, or while sitting in front of the television watching cooking shows......!!! The best thing about the Madeleine is that it is so simple to make. They are best eaten fresh, the same day they are made, when the outside has a little crust and the inside is moist and cake-like. YUM!


Melt 1/4 lb. (1 stick) butter, allow to cool.

Combine in a mixer:
3 eggs
2/3 cup sugar
then add:
1 tsp. vanilla extract
Mix on medium speed for 3 minutes until light and fluffy.

Meanwhile, sift the dry ingredients together in a separate bowl:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup cornstarch (or 1 1/4 cup cake flour in lieu of the above 2 items)
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt

Add the melted butter to the egg mixture first, then add the dry ingredients, all the while keeping mixer on low. When everything's incorporated, turn off mixer and stir in flavoring (1/3 cup shredded coconut or 1 tsp. lemon or orange zest, or 1/2 tsp. cinnamon).

If you're using a non-stick madeleine pan like I have, just brush pan with melted butter. If you have a regular pan, brush with butter, then dust with flour. Non-stick pan: bake 10 minutes. Regular pan, bake 10-12 minutes at 375F.

Makes about 24 cookies. Best eaten same day.

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