One of the most glorious treats you can offer guests is the humble madeleine. Okay, maybe humble is the wrong word to use, as these generally beloved little cakes are not the easiest thing to make. However, they really aren’t all that difficult either (compared to something uber-fancy like an entremet), provided you have a stand mixer to do the majority of heavy lifting. There are a variety of ways to flavor French madeleines but I opt for a simple lemon flavor when making mine.
Is A Madeleine A Cake Or A Cookie?
So a popular question that is always asked when discussing madeleines is “Are these delicious little treats a cake or a cookie?” And the truth is that traditional French madeleines are cakes. Now I’m not trying to ruffle any feathers here, but just looking at the recipe tells you everything you need to know. Fancy appearance aside, these cakes are just a simple genoise, or French butter cake recipe.
Compare these lemon madeleines to soft lemon cookies and you’ll see how one is cake and one is cookie.
How To Make French Lemon Madeleines
The one necessary tool you’ll need to make madeleines is a madeleine baking tray. Now, traditionally these are cast or formed metal, which is great for making deep ridges on the surface. However the negative with those is that oftentimes the little cakes like to get stuck. As removing them whole is quite important to the presentation of this recipe, I opt for a silicone madeleine tray.
First beat two large room temperature eggs with 100 grams of sugar. White granulated sugar works just fine. I prefer to use my stand mixer, but you can use an electric hand mixer as well. Either way it will take you about 10 minutes of whisking on high speed to get the right consistency. You are looking for a pale yellow color and ribbons falling from the whisk as you take it out. Right before you turn off the mixer add in about a teaspoon of lemon zest (I use two because I really love the lemon flavor).
While the stand mixer is doing its thing you can prepare the other ingredients. You’ll need 100 grams of butter, melted, and 100 grams of flour, sifted. To the flour whisk in a third of a teaspoon of baking powder and a pinch of salt. If you are a traditional French madeleine historian you may know that baking powder is not in the earliest recipes, but I do find it makes these cakes even more light and airy. If you’re a F·R·I·E·N·D·S fan you may recognize the following conversation:
Ross: Did Rachel tell you we hired a male nanny?– Ross, The One With The Male Nanny (tvquot.es)
Monica: Yeah, I think that’s great.
Ross: Did she tell you he plays the recorder, recites poetry and bakes madeleines?
Monica: Oh. How are they?
Ross: Lighter than air, but that’s not the point.
After the eggs reach the desired color and consistency, carefully add your flour. Use a rubber spatula to slowly fold it in, trying to be gentle so we don’t lose too many air bubbles. Once the flour is in, pour in the melted butter and fold that in as well until the mixture is just homogeneous.
Place the batter into a bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Place the bowl into the fridge for 20 minutes to firm up the batter. You do want to be careful not to leave the batter in the fridge too long or the butter will re-solidify and the cakes won’t bake properly. I find 20 minutes in my fridge to be perfect, but you may need to adjust for your own device (that just means you get to bake and eat more delicious madeleines)!
A few minutes before pulling the batter from the fridge, preheat your oven to 175 Celsius or 350 Fahrenheit. You will notice that after the batter has had time to tighten up, it’s almost like a spongy mousse. This is perfect because it means the cakes will still be extremely light.
Use a tablespoon or two of melted butter and brush your madeleine pan thoroughly. If you like your madeleines to have nice crisp edges like I do then use a healthy amount of butter, otherwise just do a very light brushing so they do not stick.
Add about a tablespoon of batter to the molds. As you can see in the picture above my “about a tablespoon” varies wildly. It’s not too big of a deal, if you did it right you’ll just end up with a huge hump.
Speaking of humps, it is the second signature of a proper cake other than the scallop shell appearance of the front. As these French lemon madeleines bake they will rise and rise until a hump forms in the center. This is good and something you should want to happen. Bake your madeleines in the oven for around 12 minutes, or a little less if you don’t like crisp edges.
After pulling these lemon madeleines from the oven let them rest in the pan on the counter for about a minute, then pop them out or invert your pan onto a wire rack to cool. However, this cooling step is really optional as I find madeleines to be the best right out of the oven when they are nice and hot. Just give them a dusting of powdered sugar and go to town like the animal you are.
French Lemon Madeleines
- 1 Madeleine Baking Tray metal or silicone
- 1 stand mixer optional, but makes everything a whole lot easier
- 2 large Eggs room temperature
- 100 grams White Sugar
- 100 grams Butter melted, plus more for brushing
- 100 grams Flour sifted
- 1/3 tsp Baking Powder
- 1 pinch Salt
- Powdered Sugar aka confectioner's sugar, for dusting
- In the bowl of the stand mixer with the whisk attachment beat together the eggs and sugar until you get pale yellow ribbons, about 10 minutes.
- Fold in the flour, baking powder, and salt with a rubber spatula and then trickle in the melted butter. When everything is homogenous move the batter to a bowl and cover with plastic.
- Place madeleine batter in the fridge for 20 minutes to firm up. Preheat oven to 175F or 350C
- Brush your madeleine tray with more melted butter and add about a heaping tablespoon of chilled batter to the mold and pop the tray in the oven to bake for roughly 12 minutes, or until the hump pops and the edges look lightly browned.
- Remove from the mold and dust with powdered sugar before serving.