A delicate texture, a buttery-nutty flavour and a signature bumped top make the French Butter Madeleines an essential of French Baking.
Once in a while, going back to basics is essential. Especially in baking. Some people’s basics will be chocolate chip cookies, some others’ will be bran muffins or brownies. For me, it’s crepes and French butter madeleines.
The warm nutty smell of butter wrapping up the whole kitchen while baking madeleines always brings me back to my French childhood. And every bite taken into these small cushiony cakes always reminds me how much I love simple, unassuming, real French baking.
I have already shared a recipe of honeyed-up madeleines on this blog, but this recipe is the simplest and most classic one. Butter is truly the shining ingredient of this recipe. Again, back to basics.
For any French baking apprentice, this recipe is a must.
French Butter Madeleines originate from the Town of Commercy, in the Lorraine region of northeastern France.
It is said that these small shell-like shaped sponge cakes have been named “madeleines” after their creator, Madeleine Paulmier, who was a chef in the mid-18th century for Stanisław Leszczyński, the King of Poland, who was in exile in Commercy at the time (and whose son-in-law was Louis XV, the King of France). Louis XV loved the tiny pastries so much that he named them in honor of his father-in-law’s chef, Madeleine Paulmier. Soon enough, Queen Marie, Louis’s wife, introduced them to the royal court in Versailles and they became loved all over France.
It was Marcel Proust, a French writer (1871 – 1922), who contributed to the fame of the Madeleines. In his most famous novel, A La Recherche du Temps Perdu (In Search Of Lost Time), his narrator dunks a small Madeleine in a cup of blossom tea and gets instantly hit back with tender childhood memories. This so-called “episode of the Madeleine” has become a reference in French literature when speaking about involuntary reminiscence of the past.
Proust was so infatuated with the small treat that he described them as ‘a little shell of cake, so generously sensual beneath the piety of its stern pleating…’ (Have you ever heard a more poetic description of a cake?)
For this recipe, you need a madeleine pan like this one. It is a little investment worth making if you are into French baking. Madeleines come in so many variations, and truly, never fail to please.
What gives these French Butter Madeleines their distinctive taste is the melted butter gently folded in to the batter right at the very end (and not mixed in at the beginning like in most cake recipe). This makes sure the batter has a nice shiny finish and it gives a nutty-buttery texture to the madeleines.
It’s very important to pre-heat your oven with a large baking tray in it. When it’s time to insert the madeleine pan in the oven, place it right on top of the heated baking tray. This will create that initial shock of heat from underneath, which gives the madeleines their signature little bumped top.
2/3 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for molds
3 tablespoons almond flour (blanched or unblanched)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon fleur de sel or pinch of fine sea salt
1/3 cup sugar
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 tablespoon maple syrup (or honey)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and warm, plus unmelted for molds
2 tablespoons whole milk
In a medium bowl, whisk together all-purpose flour, almond flour, baking powder, and salt; set aside.
In a large mixing bowl, combine the sugar and the eggs and whisk until mixture is pale and thickens slightly, about 2 minutes.
Whisk in the maple syrups (or honey) and vanilla extract.
Gently fold in the dry ingredients in three additions – For each additions, fold in the ingredients until just incorporated.
Fold in the melted butter until fully incorporated. Then finally, stir in milk until you get a smooth and shiny batter.
Leave the batter in the bowl and cover it with plastic wrap, pressing the wrap against the surface of the batter (this will avoid the creation of a skin at the surface of the batter). Transfer to refrigerator and chill for at least 2 hours, ideally overnight.
Spoon the batter into madeleine pan (filling about 2/3 of each molds) and transfer back to refrigerator for 1 hour.
Place a large baking sheet in the middle rack of your oven, and preheat it to 400 degrees F.
Place madeleine pan on preheated baking sheet. Bake for 12 minutes, until the madeleines are golden and adorn big bumps.
Remove pan from oven and immediately bang the pan against your counter to easily remove the madeleines from molds. Let them cool on a wire rack.
Madeleines are truly best enjoyed the day of.