Madeleines are classic, small French sponge cakes, with vibrant golden colour, characteristic hump and shell-like shape acquired from being baked in shell-shaped pans. Different legends are linked to Madeleine origins (some have Polish, some have Irish and other have Spanish links!). What’s for sure is that these classic little French cakes became popular already in 18th century, were further commercialised in 19th century and up to these days remain a popular sweet treat enjoyed by many.
In this post we are sharing with you what has worked for us (and what did not) and why it’s worth to cover few extra steps to get the desired texture and shape. At the end of the post you can find recipes for Classic Madeleines and Vanilla Brown Butter Madeleines with Vanilla Brown Sugar Glaze.
There are just 4 main ingredients in Madeleine recipe: eggs, sugar, flour, unsalted butter. Over the years many different flavour combinations have been tested.
All in all - it’s a simple recipe yet it’s fascinating to see how ratios, process and technique can yield completely different outcomes. Maybe this is why so many people are still searching for perfect classic Madeleine recipe. We are not saying we are done with this topic - but we are few steps closer. For now we are happy with the outcome of numerous batches baked and our findings.
The notes below explain why certain things need to happen to ensure a good bake.
The pan gives Madeleine its characteristic shape. We use cast iron or non-stick pan for Madeleine baking. The heat circulation is different in these pans (than for example in silicon moulds). In this bake, it will give your Madeleines lovely vibrant golden colour and crisp edges. The pan is also more sturdy and firm - one of the crucial steps in this recipe is short freezing of the pan with batter in it! The firmer the pan the better.
How to prepare your pan (avoid sticking)
The trick here is fairly simple. Brush pan with thin layer of soft butter (you can use cake brush to get all the edges and to remove any excess batter). Then place the tin in the freezer (for as long as you wish, but not less than 20 minutes). This, together with short freezing of the pan just before baking will fix once and for all any issues you might have had with sticking Madeleines. Don’t use any flour for dusting. Additional flour will impact the taste but also will cause more bubbles to appear on the shelled surface of your Madeleines. Baking spray - will leave this up to you - we have used two baking sprays so far and both gave an aftertaste to baked goods. Brushed and frozen pan, short freezing of pan with batter, then placing cold pan/batter in hot oven (200C) will sort the issue of sticking.
What is the desired texture?
If you have been lucky to find original, good Madeleine you know that it’s much more than a simple tea cake. The cake reaches a beautiful balance between light sponge cake and buttery density of pound cakes. The extra hump aerates the texture. The cake is not powdery - it’s buttery but light.
Our favourite versions are always scented with orange or lemon and vanilla. In our Madeleine recipes we focus on main carriers of flavour:
- butter - from melted butter, through to clarified butter, ghee, all the way up to brown butter. You can play around with the flavour manipulating the butter flavour. The further you go, the more nutty and rich flavour you will get. We will share one recipe using standard melted butter and one using brown butter. What you need to be aware of is that the final volume of melted/clarified/ghee/brown butter is rally important. This is usually not included in recipes (and it’s a pity). Why it matters? Butters differ from brand to brand. You may get butter with the same amount of fat but different water content, proteins etc - during melting or browning it will break differently yielding different results (try comparing 82% fat non-salted Kerry Gold with 82% non-salted Connacht, and then with 84% Jersey Cream butter, 82% Danish butter, 82% Polish butter or American - all will result in different outcome!). So - measure the final yield. We will include a reference of the final yield in recipes too.
- zest - used to achieve vibrant colour and citrusy taste. In our recipes to release zesty flavour we are preparing lemon (or any citrusy fruit) and vanilla sugar. Simple trick of rubbing sugar with vanilla and zest unlocks the flavour.
- moisture - preferred option is to keep moisture intact (as little liquid as possible) in this simple recipe. Hence, we are calling for the use of vanilla seeds. If you want to flavour the cake use condensed flavourings - like orange blossom water or rose water (adding 1/5 tsp already contributes to the flavour without impacting the texture), max 1-2 tsps lemon/orange juice.
- vanilla - again - to keep the moisture intact but also to get the most of vanilla flavour we recommend using juicy and plump vanilla pods. Seeds are used for sugar mixture, leftover pods are adding vanilla flavour to the butter. Place pods in hot butter to release as much flavour as you can.
- flour - sift flour twice as in the recipe - to aerate the volume. You can manipulate the flavour by adding spices of your choice.
Fluffy egg base
- to get off on the right foot start with good quality eggs. In this recipe use eggs at room temperature - this will help to aerate the batter. Mix eggs slowly at start for 1-2 minutes (to break proteins and to prep for fast action thereafter). Then add sugar slowly - 1 Tbsp at a time (like in preparation of meringue - 30 seconds in-between each addition). It will take some 5 minutes to incorporate the sugar fully, working at high speed. Use caster sugar. You want to achieve here fluffy base and dissolve sugar as much as you can (torch blow to warm up the bottom of the bowl works too).
Gently fold in the rest of ingredients
- now ditch the mixer and with a spatula fold in the flour (in two or three turns - sift flour again when adding). As a last step add melted butter. Fold in butter thoroughly - it will require some gentle stirring. Make sure there is no butter residue at the bottom of the bowl (we have been there!), or in-between the layers of batter. If not mixed thoroughly the butter will solidify when refrigerated and impact the overall texture.
Baking powder - yay or nay (the hump and texture)
Traditional Madeleine recipes are not using any baking powder (or soda). The 1910 book by M. Ochopowicz used none. Julia Child’s recipe does not use it either, David Lebovitz leaves it up to you. Many recipes are using raising agents though. So we decided to test it. Recipes with baking powder did impact the desired texture and taste. They yielded more powdery texture and moderate hump. We have found that using 1/2 tsp baking powder offset by 1/8 tsp baking soda has the same impact as using 1 and 1/2 tsp baking powder - but without the powdery texture. This was a little step forward. If you are not willing to ditch raising agents in this recipe we would recommend that mix. However, if you follow the steps, the raising agents will not be needed. So, we are leaning towards David Lebovitz view - it's your choice!
The hump, chilling and freezing:
Raising agents in many recipes are used to achieve that classic hump.
The hump aerates the Madeleine texture and is a promise of a good tasting, buttery cake. So - can this be achieved without raising agents and as per original recipes. Yes it can! This was probably most important point in our Madeleine journey. The chilling process (and all 2 of them) and batter handling are key to this recipe.
We recommend chilling prepared batter overnight. This will allow all ingredients to blend in, the flour will ‘dampen’, buttery texture will bind fluffy eggs and create aerated batter. We also noticed that there is a difference between 4 hrs chilling and 12 hrs chilling (longer chilled batter had bigger oven sprung). When ready to bake, take out from the fridge and give few stirs (you will get more consistent baked texture - 1-2 stirs will do, and don’t worry you are not going to impact fluffy texture as long as you don’t mix for too long). Let the batter rest uncovered for 10-15 minutes then fill cold tin (straight form the freezer) 2/3rd full.
Filling the tin and again the hump
Using piping bag for filling would be ideal. Putting pressure in one point only (like with macaroons) in this bake will ensure the hump will puff up in that place. Hence, piping bag suits. If you are using spoon - place batter in the same way you would do using piping bag - in the centre. Don’t spread the batter in the form.
Now - the crucial thing - place the form with the batter in the freezer for 7-10 minutes before baking. Make sure your oven is preheated to 200C (180C fan). You want to hit cold batter/tin with hot temperature. This is a crucial step - and makes for a beautiful oven spring. In the picture below you can see a comparison of Madeleine which was shortly cooled with the tin before baking (left) to the one which wasn't (right).
Madeleines are best enjoyed on day 1 and 2. Store baked Madeleines covered lightly with dry kitchen towel. The batter can be refrigerated for up to 48 hours. You can always split this batch and bake fresh Madeleines next morning. Baked cakes don’t freeze well. Serve plain, sprinkled with icing sugar, lemon icing, dipped in melted chocolate or brushed with our shiny brown sugar glaze.
Classic Madeleine Recipe
Yield: 18 madeleines
Time: 20min prep + overnight rest + 15min prep + 10min freezing + 10min baking
Tin: Madeleine pan
- 20g caster sugar (for lemon/vanilla sugar)
- 2 tsps lemon zest (zest from 2 medium lemons)
- 1 plump and juicy vanilla pod
- 150g unsalted butter, will yield 130g melted butter
- 140g all purpose flour, sifted twice
- 1/2 tsp baking powder (optional)
- 1/8 tsp (scant tsp) baking soda (optional)
- 3 large eggs (180g)
- 115g caster sugar
- 1/8 tsp salt
1. Prepare vanilla&lemon sugar: Remove vanilla seeds from the pod and using your finger tips rub together with 20g caster sugar and 2 tsps lemon zest. You want to release the aroma from both vanilla and zest. Cover and let rest.
2. Prepare vanilla butter: On low-medium heat melt butter and continue to cook for another 2 minutes without stirring. Take off the heat and place leftover vanilla pod in hot butter (you can press it with a spoon few times to release the aroma further). Cover with a lid and let rest.
3. Sift flour together with raising agents (if using - the recipe will work both ways - with and without).
4. Prepare fluffy base: Using handheld or stand mixer with whisk attachment beat 3 eggs on low speed for 1 minute. When fluffy, increase the speed to high and start adding 115g sugar - 1 Tablespoon at a time (every 30 seconds). You want to make sure the sugar is fully incorporated. This will take some 4-5 minutes. At the end add salt and mix on high speed for 30 seconds. The egg mixture should be firm, shiny and when rubbed between fingers you should not feel any sugar residue. Now in 3 turns add vanilla&lemon sugar mixing thoroughly between each addition (1 minute).
5. Combine: Sift flour to your fluffy base (from Step 4) - you want to do it in 2-3 turns, gently folding in using spatula. Remove vanilla pod from melted butter (squeeze all the butter and rest of vanilla seeds). Add melted butter in 2 turns to Madeleine batter. Make sure all the butter is fully incorporated (in the same time don’t over mix) and there is no residue at the bottom of the bowl or in-between batter layers. Cover the bowl tightly with cling film and refrigerate overnight. In a meantime brush the pan with a thin layer of soft butter and place in the freezer.
6. Bake: Preheat the oven to 200C (180C fan). When ready to bake take out the batter from the fridge, stir once or twice and let reset uncovered for 10-15 minutes. After that time place batter in the middle of each madeleine shape (in our form ideal quantity was 1 and 1/2 tsp; place by spoon or use piping bag). The batter should cover some 2/3rd of each shape. Don’t spread the batter (intentionally placing the batter in the middle and not spreading will contribute to hump creation and texture aeration). Place the tin with batter into the freezer for 10 minutes. When ready bake for 9-10 minutes until edges are golden and middle just about set. Remove from the oven and let rest in the tin for 5 minutes then gently remove each cake. Cool on the clean surface. After about 1 hour the texture will set into your well recognised Madeleine texture (cakes are fairly soft at start, then become light, buttery and spongy).
Here you can find recipe for a different version of this classic:
In this little process we have used book by M. Ochopowicz called Universal Cookbook from 1910 (our base ratios heavily rely on that recipe), Julia Child’s book The Way To Cook from 1989, David Lebovitz post on Madeleines, Dorie Greenspan book Baking Chez Moi from 2014.