After my macaron manifesto in the spring, I thought I’d ease into autumn baking with simpler, but still quintessentially French, cookies—madeleines.
Unlike Proust, I have no childhood memories of madeleines, so this post will not swell into a seven-part novel. You’re welcome. If I recall correctly, I first encountered the shell-shaped cookies in an L.A. coffeehouse during the mid ’90s. A few years later, I had the pleasure of sampling some individually wrapped madeleines imported by a Parisian houseguest. By the time Starbucks started tempting me with three packs of these petite French cakes, I started thinking, “Perhaps plastic wrap isn’t an essential ingredient.” And also, “Why are these cookies so expensive?” Note: Yes, most of my baking experiments start with that question.
I eagerly bought a madeleine pan, then promptly stashed it amongst other never-used aspirational gadgets gathering dust in my cabinets (pie weights, crème brûlée torch, KitchenAid pasta attachment). Until one day I had a disappointing encounter with a decidedly spongy homemade madeleine at a potluck and decided to take matters into my own hands. I spent more time than I care to mention Googling phrases such as “dense Madeleines like Starbucks” or “dry Madeleines not spongy.” Eventually, I happened upon this post by hungry sofia with a recipe for Julia Child’s Madeleines de Commercy, which purported to be the heavier variety with the hump in the middle. Yes!
For most home bakers, this madeleine recipe will seem completely counterintuitive, but ultimately liberating. So unplug the KitchenAid, tie on an apron, dust off your wooden spoon and channel your inner Julia.
* Original recipe called for 3 drops of lemon juice, grated zest of half a lemon and ½ teaspoon of vanilla extract. But I live with someone who has a citrus allergy, thus the substitution.
** A lot of recipes claim that resting one’s batter in the fridge for an hour (or three according to David Lebovitz) is key to achieving the distinctive madeleine hump. As a completely unscientific experiment, I baked one batch immediately after mixing and one batch after a chilly, hour-long time out. To me, they looked and tasted exactly the same. So if you’re in a rush, plunge right ahead.
After my initial success with madeleines, I decided to branch out and try some flavor variations. So I snapped up a copy of Madeleines: Elegant Tea Cakes to Bake and Share, which makes great armchair reading with plenty of glamour cookie shots and an eclectic collection of quotes about food. I’ve only tried one recipe so far—dulce de leche madeleines—which were crisp and tasty right out of the oven, but sadly turned spongy by the time I presented them for dessert. The next day, I tried reviving them in the toaster oven, which I can’t recommend highly enough—crispy caramel perfection.
Some of the recipes in this gorgeous cookbook push the boundaries of what madeleine purists would deem acceptable—say, peanut butter and jelly madeleines—and some veer a little too far into breakfast territory. Lox, cream cheese and red onion madeleines, anyone? But I’ll definitely be trying madeleines au chocolat fresh from the oven. And pumpkin spice madeleines seem like the perfect way to welcome fall. Although the author neglected to include a recipe for cream cheese glaze, so I’ll have to wing it.
What’s your favorite madeleine memory? Do you think of madeleines as spongy cakes or crisp cookies? Got any tips for success or flavor suggestions? Please share!