Sweet Science of Madeleines

madeline cookie

I was fortunate enough to try my first madeleine while visiting France and loved the delicious little cookie/cakes from the start. They have an understated sweetness and delicate charm. But, like most French patisserie, they are deceptively difficult to make (looking at you macarons) and technique is critical. After watching contestants of the Great British Baking show struggle, I decided to give them a try myself.

What are Madeleines?

Madeleines are a classic French pastry relatively simple in nature. The basic ingredients are eggs, flour, sugar, and butter. Because of their simple ingredients, they lend themselves well to flavor experimentation.  Traditionally, they are served with vanilla and lemon. The crumb is light and airy, soft and delicate. There is much debate over whether this treat is cookie or cake. To me, it seems more cake-like; you be the judge! I chose to create a cinnamon-ginger spiced cake for my first batch.

madeleine-cookie-french

They are also known for their signature shape; seashells with a bumpy surface on one side and a signature hump on the other. The French often eat them with tea or coffee, and they are an important part of French culture.

Who invented the madeleine?

The sweet treat is often attributed to Commercy in Lorraine, France. Legend has it that in the 1700s, the bakers of the region paid handsomely for the recipe and developed the treat into the signature dessert of the area. However, others aren’t so sure. Marcel Proust is credited with renewing popularity of the madeleine in more modern times, after publishing an autobiography that referenced his childhood memories of the treat. Whatever the origin, I highly recommend getting your hands on some.

madeleine seashells
Madelines are smooth on the outside and scalloped on the inside

The science behind the technique

Baking madeleines all comes down to technique. Now, if you’re not a baker this may seem intimidating, but don’t worry. By understanding the science of your food, you can ensure you use the proper techniques to achieve the results you’re looking for! Madeleines rely on air, gentle folding, and chilled dough.

Warm your ingredients!

The temperature of ingredients is an important factor when baking. The eggs need to be at room temperature to allow the proteins to more easily denature and foam, or emulsify air in the batter. This ensures enough air is trapped to increase the volume of the batter and eventually leaven the product. Warm eggs also ensure the fat, in this case butter, does not become “shocked” and clump.

In this case, we want to completely melt the butter, but then allow it to cool to room temperature so it’s not too hot. Melting the butter ensures it is fully incorporated and allows the fat to coat the gluten strands so they do not form a network that is too strong. This helps deliver a nice, soft crumb. It also provides added flavor.

Whip it: Air

whipped eggs

Because this particular style of madeleines does not contain any leavening agents, it will require whipped air in order to rise. This is known as a genoise, or sponge cake, and is common in European-style baking. (Some recipes may also contain baking powder to aid in leavening). The first step is to whip the egg whites with sugar until they are very thick and light yellow in color. This actually took considerably longer than expected, even in my KitchenAid stand mixer. I recommend about 8-9 minutes on medium-high speed.

Did you know? Most of the traditional dessert recipes we are accustomed to in America are based on a process called ‘creaming.’ This is achieved by whipping air into softened butter and sugar. Chemical leaveners such as baking powder and baking soda are often required. The sponge cake method uses beaten eggs + sugar and melted butter as the base of its recipe.

Slow and steady: Fold

Our friend gluten comes into play once again here. We want a light and airy crumb, so we don’t want to develop too much gluten in this recipe. As you can see, this protein is very important in any baked good!

folding batter

After beating the eggs and sugar, the flour and butter should be folded into the batter, GENTLY. You don’t want to ruin all the hard work you’ve just put into whipping air into your eggs! You also want to avoid developing a strong gluten network.

Chill it out, then bake it hot: Temperature

Before baking, the dough must chill in order to allow the flour to fully hydrate since it was so carefully folded. As the starch hydrates, it also helps to relax the dough by disrupting the gluten networks. Chilling also creates a larger temperature difference between the dough and the air in the oven, which helps the batter rise.

Baking temperature is also crucial. If the temperature is too high, the outside will burn while the inside is under-cooked. If the temperature is too low, the cakes will not rise and may not cook through to the center.

Help, they’ve got humps!

madeleine humps

Don’t worry, the elusive hump is the signature characteristic of well-baked madeleines. Because the batter is chilled prior to baking, the temperature difference between the oven and the batter creates a burst of steam that results in a hump.

Try it for yourself!

I hope you’ve learned a little science behind the important techniques of baking. Give this recipe a try and let me know how it goes! I would love to hear from you. Full Recipe

Note: I prefer to measure in grams when baking because it is more precise (and uses less dishes!)

Cinnamon-Ginger Spiced Madeleines

AuthorDanielle BauerDifficultyIntermediate

Adapted through blending recipes from King Arthur Flour and Sally's Baking Addiction. Each of these sites are an amazing resource, and I highly recommend! 

french madeleine pastry

Yields18 Servings
Prep Time15 minsCook Time14 minsTotal Time1 hr 15 mins

 142 g (10 tbsp) Unsalted Butter
 131 g (2/3 cup) Sugar
 3 Large eggs at room temperature
 3 g (1/2 tsp) Salt
 14 g (1 tbsp) Vanilla Extract
 120 g (1 cup) All-Purpose Flour, sifted
 2 g (1 tsp) Cinnamon
 1 g (1/2 tsp) Ground ginger
 0.50 g (1/4 tsp) Nutmeg

1

Completely melt the butter and allow to cool to room temperature, about 15 minutes. Allow the eggs to come to room temperature by placing a bowl of warm (not hot) water for about 15 minutes.

2

Beat eggs with the sugar and salt until they are thick and very light yellow, about 8-9 minutes on medium-high speed.

3

Stir in vanilla

4

Sift flour and spices, then incorporate flour mixture and butter. To fold, first, add a small portion of flour mixture to the egg. Then use a large spatula to dip underneath the batter and scoop up and over the flour, thus "folding" it in. Repeat this process, alternating small amounts of butter and flour, and turning the bowl slightly as you do so. Be gentle and take your time. Be sure not to stir or move the spatula too aggressively. The batter should look smooth and shiny.

5

Cover the batter and chill for 45-60 minutes, until thickened. After fully chilled, scoop 1 tbsp batter into the middle of each cake well.

6

Prepare the pan by brushing with small amount of melted butter and a light sprinkling of flour. Melted butter gives a delicious, caramelized surface and extra flavor. I found by preparing the pan early, less browning occurred from the butter. If you prefer, you can also use non-stick cooking spray for a lighter colored madeleine.

7

Bake at 375F for 12-13 minutes. The outside edges should be brown and crispy, with a light yellow interior. The cake should spring back when touched.

8

Allow to cool in the pan for a few minutes, before fully cooling on a cooling rack.

9

Decorate and enjoy! Serve hot and fresh.

Madeleines are traditionally dusted with powdered sugar, but they are also amazing dipped in chocolate. I chose a chocolate orange glaze to complement the cinnamon-ginger madeleines. You could also use white chocolate, nuts, fruit, or whatever strikes your fancy!

10

Store leftovers in an airtight container. Eat them within 1-2 days for best quality.

Ingredients

 142 g (10 tbsp) Unsalted Butter
 131 g (2/3 cup) Sugar
 3 Large eggs at room temperature
 3 g (1/2 tsp) Salt
 14 g (1 tbsp) Vanilla Extract
 120 g (1 cup) All-Purpose Flour, sifted
 2 g (1 tsp) Cinnamon
 1 g (1/2 tsp) Ground ginger
 0.50 g (1/4 tsp) Nutmeg

Directions

1

Completely melt the butter and allow to cool to room temperature, about 15 minutes. Allow the eggs to come to room temperature by placing a bowl of warm (not hot) water for about 15 minutes.

2

Beat eggs with the sugar and salt until they are thick and very light yellow, about 8-9 minutes on medium-high speed.

3

Stir in vanilla

4

Sift flour and spices, then incorporate flour mixture and butter. To fold, first, add a small portion of flour mixture to the egg. Then use a large spatula to dip underneath the batter and scoop up and over the flour, thus "folding" it in. Repeat this process, alternating small amounts of butter and flour, and turning the bowl slightly as you do so. Be gentle and take your time. Be sure not to stir or move the spatula too aggressively. The batter should look smooth and shiny.

5

Cover the batter and chill for 45-60 minutes, until thickened. After fully chilled, scoop 1 tbsp batter into the middle of each cake well.

6

Prepare the pan by brushing with small amount of melted butter and a light sprinkling of flour. Melted butter gives a delicious, caramelized surface and extra flavor. I found by preparing the pan early, less browning occurred from the butter. If you prefer, you can also use non-stick cooking spray for a lighter colored madeleine.

7

Bake at 375F for 12-13 minutes. The outside edges should be brown and crispy, with a light yellow interior. The cake should spring back when touched.

8

Allow to cool in the pan for a few minutes, before fully cooling on a cooling rack.

9

Decorate and enjoy! Serve hot and fresh.

Madeleines are traditionally dusted with powdered sugar, but they are also amazing dipped in chocolate. I chose a chocolate orange glaze to complement the cinnamon-ginger madeleines. You could also use white chocolate, nuts, fruit, or whatever strikes your fancy!

10

Store leftovers in an airtight container. Eat them within 1-2 days for best quality.

Cinnamon-Ginger Spiced Madeleines
madeleine crumb texture

Simple Chocolate Orange Glaze

AuthorDanielle BauerDifficultyBeginner

Adapted from Epicurious

Prep Time5 minsTotal Time5 mins

 ¾ cup Powdered Sugar
 2 tbsp Cocoa Powder
 2 tbsp Milk
 1 tsp Vanilla
 Squeeze of orange juice, to taste

1

Whisk or sift together the powdered sugar and cocoa powder

2

Slowly add milk and vanilla until fully combined. Stir until glaze is shiny and easy to pour

3

Add a squeeze of juice from a fresh orange, to taste. I recommend the juice of 1/2 an orange.

4

Dip your dessert in glaze and allow to set.

5

Refrigerate any leftover portions or use for dipping fruit!

Ingredients

 ¾ cup Powdered Sugar
 2 tbsp Cocoa Powder
 2 tbsp Milk
 1 tsp Vanilla
 Squeeze of orange juice, to taste

Directions

1

Whisk or sift together the powdered sugar and cocoa powder

2

Slowly add milk and vanilla until fully combined. Stir until glaze is shiny and easy to pour

3

Add a squeeze of juice from a fresh orange, to taste. I recommend the juice of 1/2 an orange.

4

Dip your dessert in glaze and allow to set.

5

Refrigerate any leftover portions or use for dipping fruit!

Simple Chocolate Orange Glaze

References

King Arthur Flour Recipe

Sally’s Baking Addiction Madeleine Recipe

Serious Eats Sweet Techniques

What’s Cooking America History of Madeleine Cakes

Yum!

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