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Madeleines: Two Varieties of a French Classic 

click to enlarge Madeleines - ANDY BRUMBAUGH
  • ANDY BRUMBAUGH
  • Madeleines

When my mother, sister and I traveled to southwestern France last summer for a family wedding, we ate some of the best food of our lives. One traditional French dessert that I was eager to try was the madeleine, a bite-sized, buttery, scallop-shaped sponge cake. However, we couldn't find them in the small town of Aurignac, where we were staying, or the bigger city of Toulouse, where the wedding took place.

A boulanger finally told me that, in fact, madeleines were only available during back-to-school time. In my research, I have not found anything to back up this claim — and maybe it was just a regional peculiarity — but they certainly were not readily available in July. We finally resorted to buying pre-packaged madeleines at the grocery store. They were fine, but not exactly what I was hoping for.

Because it is back-to-school time here, I decided it was the perfect opportunity to bake madeleines of my own. To get the scalloped shape, you'll need a madeleine pan, which comes in full-sized and mini varieties. I recommend a nonstick one. You'll find them at any good kitchen store or online, often for less than $20. In my recipe research, I discovered a few tips which make the baking process more or less foolproof.

First, be sure to cream the eggs and sugar well, until the mixture gets really thick and creamy. Second, to get the classic hump on the back of the madeleine, chill the batter for at least an hour. Resting the batter helps to fully hydrate the flour, which, in turn, helps the cakes rise. Third, chilling the pan in the freezer for a few minutes before adding the batter and baking makes the humps even more likely to appear.

You must be very gentle with the batter after the eggs and sugar are creamed, so that it stays aerated. I used a spatula to fold in the remaining ingredients, rather than a stand mixer. Instead of just pouring the melted butter into the batter and mixing it in, whisk a bit of the egg-sugar-flour mixture gently into the butter first, almost like tempering eggs for a sauce. This way, the butter mixture blends more easily into the batter, without the need for heavy mixing.

It is also important to butter the pan. If you do not have a nonstick pan, you must butter and flour the pan. You might make the most beautiful madeleines in existence, but if the molds are not properly prepared, you will end up with beautiful madeleines stuck in a pan.

These cakes do not keep particularly well, though I have found that freezing them in a tightly sealed container is a decent way to make them last. Pack them frozen in your kids' lunchboxes and they'll be ready to enjoy by lunchtime!

I made two kinds: traditional vanilla-lemon and a Vermont-inspired maple spice. When it comes to flavor, let your imagination run free. I have seen chocolate, lavender-honey, almond and hazelnut madeleines. I have even seen more ambitious bakers pipe a filling like lemon curd right into the hump of the madeleine! Glaze them, like I did, or simply dust them with confectioners' sugar. However you prepare them, they are best consumed with a cup of coffee or tea, dreaming of France.

Ingredients

Vanilla-Lemon Madeleines (makes 30)

  • 6 tablespoons butter
  • 3 eggs
  • ⅔ cup sugar
  • zest of one lemon
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the vanilla-lemon glaze:

  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 4 tablespoons confectioners' sugar
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract

Maple Spice Madeleines (makes 30)

  • 6 tablespoons butter
  • 3 eggs
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar (to mix with the butter, do not cream with the eggs)
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • ⅛ teaspoon ground cardamom
  • ¼ teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon maple extract (optional)

For the maple glaze:

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • ¼ cup maple syrup
  • 1 tablespoon confectioners' sugar

Directions

  1. Melt butter and let cool.
  2. In a stand mixer with a whisk attachment, whip together eggs and sugar until thick, creamy and light yellow — about 5-8 minutes on medium-high speed.
  3. Mix together dry ingredients in a separate bowl. Sift the dry ingredients into the creamed eggs and sugar, and use a spatula to gently fold together until all of the flour is incorporated.
  4. Take a little of the batter and gently whisk it into the melted butter and extract — or butter, brown sugar and maple extract in the case of the maple spice madeleines. Pour this mixture into the batter and fold gently with a spatula until it forms a smooth batter. Chill for at least an hour, and up to 3 days.
  5. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Prepare the madeleine pan by brushing with melted butter (and dusting with flour, if your pan isn't nonstick). Chill the pan in the freezer for at least 5 minutes.
  6. Spoon 1 tablespoon of batter into each mold. Do not overfill, and don't spread the batter out; it will spread on its own.
  7. Bake for 10 minutes, or until light golden brown. Turn the madeleines out onto a cooling rack, and butter, flour and chill the pan again for the next batch. Repeat until all of the batter is used.

To glaze:

  1. Mix together glaze ingredients. (Use more or less confectioners' sugar depending on your preferred consistency.) Dip the scalloped edge of each madeleine into the glaze and dust with more confectioners' sugar, as desired.
  2. Serve immediately, or freeze in a tightly sealed container once completely cooled.

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