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How to make classic French madeleines
Madeleines are the little French butter cakes that most (non-French) people think of more as a cookie. These are not for the inexperienced cook — they are a little tricky and need a fair amount of confidence to turn out just right.
That said, I’ve tried to cover all the small details in this recipe so even if you’re a fairly new cook, you can certainly still give these a try.
I’m offering the classic lemon-scented madeleines here, but they do come in many flavors. Chocolate, rose, vanilla, lavender and orange are all popular versions. Some people add mini chocolate chips or a glaze, but I prefer them simple and straightforward.
Madeleines require a fair amount of patience and careful following of instructions. In the end, though, you are rewarded with a truly unique little cake, browned and crispy on the outside and spongy and soft on the inside.
In this classic recipe, you would normally brown the butter slightly to add nuttiness. But browning butter just right can be challenging as it can quickly turn from nutty to burnt. If you’re not confident with this skill, simply melt the butter and skip the browning part. Your madeleines will still be delicious.
The following recipe is loosely based on one from Julia Child. Like many madeleine recipes, it takes a slightly unusual approach in that you mix the flour, sugar and eggs first and add the melted butter last. (In most baking, the butter is usually creamed with the sugar, then the eggs are added and the flour stirred in last.)
The batter also needs to rest in the refrigerator for at least an hour to chill and hydrate the four. You can leave it for longer than that — even overnight.
Another barrier for making madeleines is that you need the scallop shell pans to bake them in, which is something newer cooks don’t usually have around. It’s worth it to check around with friends and family
to see if someone has the pans to borrow. You can also pick them up at garage sales and they are available online.
Try to get two as most recipes will make two dozen, and it’s a drag to have to wash and rebutter the pans between baking sessions.
It also really helps to have a pastry brush to coat the
pans with the butter and flour mixture.
Many recipes say that the colder the dough is kept, the more likely it is that the madeleine will form the classic “bump” on the back. I experimented with freezing one baking tray and not freezing the other, and found that the madeleines baked on the unfrozen
tray had a significantly smaller bump.
So, if that feature is important to you, be sure to freeze the pans and then get the filled pans in the oven right away. You can even go so far as to freeze the already filled pans for about 10 minutes before placing immediately in the oven.
Classic French madeleines
Makes: 24 madeleines
1 stick plus 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
⅔ cup granulated sugar
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour, divided
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon lemon zest
Powdered sugar (optional)
1. Melt the butter in a small saucepan. If you feel you can get it slightly toasty brown, go ahead and do so by leaving it to bubble in the pan until it smells toasty and starts to color. Just remember the butter will turn very quickly from toasty to burnt, and that it will continue to color after it is off the heat unless you pour it into a new container. Spoon 3 tablespoons of the butter into a small bowl or cup and set aside. Let the rest of the butter cool slightly.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk together 1 cup of flour and ⅔ cup of sugar and set aside. In another medium bowl, whisk the 2 eggs with vanilla, salt, lemon juice and lemon zest until the eggs are frothy.
3. Add the eggs to the flour. Using a spatula, stir until just combined. Add the remaining 1 stick melted butter and continue to stir. It may take a minute for the butter to blend into the mixture but do not over mix.
4. Cover the bowl with a plate (or plastic wrap) and place in the refrigerator to rest at least 1 hour and up to overnight.
5. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon flour to the 3 tablespoons reserved butter and stir to combine. Using a pastry brush, brush the interiors of the shells with the butter-flour mixture so that they are well coated. Place the pans in the freezer for at least an hour.
6. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Remove the batter from the refrigerator and one pan from the freezer. Fill each well in the madeleine pan with 1 tablespoon of the batter. Remove the other pan and fill in the same way.
7. Place both pans on a baking sheet for easy handling and place in the oven. Check after 8 minutes and rotate plans. Check again 5 minutes later. The madeleines should be browning around the edges and puffed up a little in the middle. Using your forefinger, press lightly on the center hump; when the madeleines are finished baking, it should spring back at your touch.
8. Remove the madeleines from the oven and let cool for 2 minutes. Using a fork, gently loosen the madeleines from their molds and then tip the whole pan out onto a cooling rack or tea towel. Once cool, dust lightly with powdered sugar and serve. If you are freezing or storing the madeleines, do not dust with the sugar until you are about to serve.