Jump To Section
The History of the Madeleine in French Literature
Marcel Proust immortalized them in his appropriately titled novel In Search of Lost Time—tasting one of the tiny cakes brought back a rush of memories from his childhood, virtually transporting him to his past life.
For Proust, it was the taste of the warm cake—not the mere sight of it—that triggered his sense memory, and he was the first writer to capture this ethereal relationship among taste, time, and memory.
Why Madeleines Are Best Eaten Fresh
Time is an essential ingredient in Chef Dominique’s madeleines. For him, a madeleine eaten immediately after it comes out of the oven, still piping hot, is the only way it should be appreciated. As such, he only makes them fresh to order in his bakeries (reassuring impatient customers that the time it takes the little cakes to bake is the same as the wait for a latte).
When you bite into a fresh madeleine, he explains, that last puff of steam escapes and it’s as if “it’s taking its last breath.” Madeleines that are cooled have lost their magic. Thus, it is imperative to make and serve the madeleines in quick succession.
The Classic Madeleine Shape
The small hump that appears on top of the madeleines is called the “pearl.” This hump is characteristic of madeleine, in much the same way a crease on the top of a loaf or poundcake is iconic.
This hump is achieved through two variables.
- First, the baking powder in the batter gives rise to the center of the madeleine when the heat of the oven hits the pan.
- Second, the shape of the mini madeleine pan itself promotes doming on top of the cake, since it sits on a non-level, convex surface.
The Two-Step Madeleine-Making Process
Chef Dominique’s recipe makes the process seamless and easy.
First, you make the batter and allow it to rest for 12 hours, or overnight, so the baking powder in the batter has time to relax, which will in turn give the cake its characteristic light, spongy texture and not that of a dense, crumbly cake.
Secondly, because the batter only takes 4 minutes to bake, you can prep the mold, pipe the batter, and bake the madeleines in the same amount of time it takes to clear the dishes at the table and ready your guests for a delightful dessert.
The Secret Ingredient to Making Perfect Madeleines
When making the batter for madeleine cookies, it is important to have all your ingredients be at room temperature so they will combine more easily.
The most important of these ingredients are the eggs. Eggs are magical emulsifiers, or binders, that marry fat and liquid into a smooth mixture. If you’ve ever made mayo, you’ve seen how they bind the oil and lemon juice together to create a smooth sauce that won’t break. When you’re beating eggs into butter and sugar for a cake batter, this is another type of emulsion, binding the butter (fat) with the sugar (a liquid when heated).
For eggs to do their best job at binding, they need to be at room temperature. Madeleine batter is made by mixing the eggs into the dry ingredients first (as opposed to mixing them into the liquid ingredients), so eggs will have a difficult time absorbing the flour if they are too cold. Cold eggs also have the possibility of re-solidifying the butter once it’s mixed into the dough, which would break the emulsion and result in a curdled, greasy dough.
Chef Dominique’s Mini Madeleine Recipe
- 115g (8 tbsp) unsalted butter (84% butterfat) 15g (1 tbsp) dark brown sugar
- 15g (2 tsp) honey
- 100g (1⁄2 cup) granulated sugar
- 1g (1⁄2 tsp) kosher salt
- 120g (1 cup) all-purpose flour, sifted 4g (1⁄2 tsp) baking powder
- 150g (3 each) large eggs, at room temperature
- 1⁄2 lemon grated lemon zest
- 1⁄2 orange grated orange zest
- As needed nonstick cooking spray
- As needed confectioners’ sugar (for serving)
- Microplane (for grating zests)
- Uncut piping bag
- Nonstick mini madeleine pan Small sieve
Day 1: Make Batter
In a medium pot, melt the butter, brown sugar, and honey over low heat. Stir gently with a heatproof spatula to ensure nothing burns. Keep the melted butter and sugar mixture warm over very low heat, or reheat if necessary.
In a large bowl, combine the granulated sugar, salt, flour, and baking powder and mix well with a whisk. Form a well in the center of the dry ingredients and add the eggs one by one, whisking to incorporate each into the egg mixture before adding the next.
Tip: Use room temperature eggs to avoid cooling down the batter. If the batter is too cold, the butter may congeal when you add it.
When the eggs are fully incorporated and the batter is smooth, slowly whisk in the melted butter mixture. Whisk in the lemon and orange zests. The batter will still be runny and similar in consistency to cake batter. Cover with plastic wrap pressed directly onto the surface of the batter, to prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate overnight to rest.
Tip: Many recipes containing baking powder do well to rest overnight. This helps with rising, which is especially important for the madeleine—a pastry that puffs up in the center when it bakes.
Day 2: Pipe, Bake, and Serve
Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat oven to 375°F (190°C) for conventional or 350°F (175°C) for convection.
Tip: In general for baking pastries, set your oven to convection if the option is available. This allows the heat to flow more evenly. It’s an ideal setting because it helps pastries bake evenly on all sides.
Using a rubber spatula, place 2 large scoops of batter in a piping bag so that it is one-third full. Push the batter down toward the tip of the bag.
Cut an opening about 1⁄2 inch (1.25 cm) straight across the tip of the bag.
Hold the nonstick cooking spray about 4 inches (10 cm) away from a nonstick mini madeleine pan and spray evenly in all the cavities.
Holding the piping bag at a 90-degree angle about 1⁄2 inch (1.25 cm) above the pan, pipe the madeleine batter into the cavities so that it fills each about three-quarters of the way to the top.
Place a rimmed sheet pan upside down on the oven rack then place the mold on top and bake the madeleines for about 2 to 21⁄2 minutes on the center rack. When you see the batter puff up in the center, rotate the mold 180 degrees.
Bake for 2 to 21⁄2 minutes more, until the sides of the madeleines are golden blonde and the center has set.
Tip: Baking the madeleines on an upside down sheet pan lifts the mold off the oven rack, so that the more intense heat in the bars of the rack does not transfer to the cakes in an uneven fashion. This also allows the heat of the oven to circulate around the mold more evenly, thus baking the madeleines more efficiently.
Unmold immediately. Bang the corner or sides of the madeleine pan against your work surface so that the fresh madeleines drop out.
Tip: If you find that the madeleines stick to the mold, for the next batch, try spraying a bit more cooking spray. Keeping the mold clean and washing it thoroughly with a soft sponge after use will also prevent the madeleines from sticking.
Using a small sieve, sprinkle confectioners’ sugar evenly over the fresh-baked madeleines. Eat immediately (do not wait for more than even a few minutes!).
Madeleines are good only when freshly baked. Do not attempt to store them. However, you can keep the batter in a closed airtight container, with plastic wrap pressed onto the surface, in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.