These are my first madeleines, but will not be my last. Until I read through Barbara Feldman Morse’s book aptly named, Madeleines, I didn’t know how special these classic French cookies are.
What is a Madeleine anyway? She tells you right in the beginning of the book, “small shell-shaped cakes made of flour, eggs sugar and butter, baked in shell shaped molds.
There are many varying stories as to the origin of the unofficial cookie of France that is more popular than the macaron (and a lot easier to make).
The Impossible to Know History of the Madeleine
After researching the origins of the madeleine, I became even more intrigued. No one will really ever know how it all began, but this very simple confection has been kept alive for hundreds of years.
One famed story gives the credit to Madeleine Paulmier in the late 18th century. Sometimes she is referred to as maid and sometimes a pastry chef who worked for the Duke of Lorriane. Supposedly the recipe came from Madeleine’s grandmother and according to legend, first recognized by Louis XV of France in 1755. His wife, Marie, spread the news and created their popularity. However, you might also read that she first served this cookie to the King of Poland.
Another legend claims madeleines got their start baked into little aspic pans from a French pastry chef. And, yet, there is another story seated in the town of Commercy where nuns sold their recipe to bakers when the convent, St. Mary Magdelene, burned down. The nuns would wrap the cookies oval boxes and sell them to the town.
Fast forward to the mid 1900’s, and the madeleine gained popularity in Marcel Proust’s novel “Remembrance of Things Past), where he gives a very sensual description of dipping his cookie into tea.
Proust continued: ”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 though me and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary thing that had happened to me. An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses.”
I wanted my own senses invaded and I I started with the French classic, flavored with vanilla and lemon zest, the very cookie he speaks of.
They taste like little lemon pound cake cookies, perfectly balanced and not too sweet, just sweetly pretty, as all madeleines are, and a cross between a cookie and a cake, which we usually call teacakes. However, to be a madeleine , you must look like a madeleine.
The book, Madeleines, describes itself as “elegant French tea cakes to bake and share, but I think it’s much more than that, as the recipes are quite diverse. In fact, there are as many ways to make madeleines as there are stories about it.
While there are some you might want to sip tea with such as the Rosewater Madeleines, you will want to get out the milk for the Rocky Road Madeleines or the Chocolate Chip Madeleines, the wine for the Gruyere and Rosemary Madeleines, and the champagne for the Brie Stuffed Madeleine Puffs. If you want total indulgence, there are plenty of serious dessert madeleines but your heart will stop at Nightcap Madeleines with Affogato.
This book is brave in it’s array of recipes veering away from typical teacakes, and will give you the courage to create your own. This is a worthy book to invest in, because it’s not the same old cookie and the appetizer savory madeleines recipes will bring some sophistication to your next party. Don’t forget the madeleine pan. I’m recommending non-stick.
So tell me have you ever baked your own madeleines. Would you go sweet or savory madeleine recipe?
I’m actually developing a pimento cheese madeleine recipe. After all, Southern girls love everything French.
- 8 tablespoons unsalted butter plus more for pans
- 1 cup all purpose flour
- ½ teaspoon baking powder
- 3 large eggs
- ⅔ cups granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract
- 1½ teaspoons freshly grated lemon zest
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
- Coat madeleine pans with butter or baking spray. I used non-stick pan and baking spray.
- Melt butter and allow to cool to room temperature.
- Beat eggs and sugar together until light and fluffy, 3-5 minutes.
- Add vanilla and lemon zest and beat for another minute.
- Fill molds with batter until almost full. Use teaspoon or 1½ diameter scoop.
- Batter will be thick, so distribute evenly.
- Bake for 10-12 minutes.
- Cool for a few minutes and then invert and remove.
- These are great served warm, but can be served at room temperature.
- Cover with a cloth if serving that day.
- You can also freeze.
More Tea Cake and Cookies from Spinach Tiger