Tuesday 29 August 2023

Fond memories of Madeleines



Rather like Jaffa cakes, experts have long discussed whether madeleines are a cake or a biscuit. Their sponge texture is quite soft and light but slightly dense, hence the debate. Baked using basic ingredients : sugar, eggs, butter, flour with baking powder, they can be flavoured with vanilla extract or lemon zest. Ground almonds may be substituted for some of the flour but my friend, Odile, says this is ‘pas comme il faut’ so who am to question the French on this? The madeleine tin is an essential piece of equipment since the moulds are in the shape of shells. The moulds give the madeleines their special shape and pattern with lines visible on each madeleine when baked.

How do you bake them?

Madeleines are very easy to bake – in fact you can’t go wrong. There is a multitude of recipes but they have similar instructions. Most suggest using melted butter but others follow a sort of creaming method where you soften the butter and add the rest of the ingredients. Some recipes don’t use milk. I’ve used a French family recipe here. This recipe makes 24 approximately (2 tins), depending on the size of the tin.

What you need

100g butter melted

100g caster sugar

2 eggs (beaten)

50g milk

Vanilla extract or

Zest of 1 lemon

100g plain flour

1 tsp baking powder


How to bake

Preheat the oven to 220C (200C Fan) or Gas Make 7. Beat the eggs and add the sugar, vanilla extract (or lemon zest) and some of the milk. Beat with a (electric) whisk over a bain-marie (in a bowl over a pan of warm water). Remove from the heat and continue to whisk. Add the rest of the milk and then stir in the flour and baking powder. Brush the madeleine tin with oil or a small amount of melted butter.   Place spoonsful of the mixture into the moulds – just fill half each individual mould. Bake for 10-12 minutes until they are well risen and firm. Leave to cool for 5 minutes then remove from the tin with a palette knife and put on a cooling rack.

To decorate

Icing sugar


White or dark chocolate

Apricot jam

For an easy decoration, sieve icing sugar across the madeleines or dip them in melted chocolate like ‘churros’. For a more elaborate version, brush the madeleines with apricot jam, heated ion a pan with 1 tbsp hot water, then trickle melted chocolate over the madeleines and leave until set.

These little cakes, forever etched in my memory from studying Proust at university, have their place as the most beguiling of small cakes. I love baking these with my grandchildren for goûter, to keep my fond memories of ‘madeleines’ alive. 

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