All you’ve ever wanted to know about madeleines…

What is a madeleine?

It’s is a delicious bite-sized sponge cake. They’re baked in special moulds that imprint a shell-like pattern to bottom of the cake while the other side shows a small mound.

In France they’re usually flavoured with vanilla and many people also add lemon zests.

 

Why are they called Madeleines?

Historians disagree on the origin of the name. It dates back to the 18th century in northeastern France. They could be named after Madeleine Paulmier who was a servant in the kitchen of the Duke of Lorraine or another lady named Madeleine who was making shell-shaped small cakes to give to the pilgrims travelling on the Way of St James (Camino de Santiago) around the same time.

Where can I buy madeleine pans?

You may find some in cookware and gourmet food stores (and even Walmart and Canadian Tire in Canada) but in some places they’re hard to come by.

Amazon offers a good selection of different types of pans like this one (9 madeleines) made of silicon or these ones or these (more sturdy) ones made of coated steel which we also used in the past. Madeleines baked in a metal mould tend to have the sides flatter and crispier and a sharper bump while the ones baked in a silicon mould will look rounder but the texture and taste of the middle part will be identical. It’s really a matter of taste.

Why do my madeleines stay flat?

Getting that nice bump is maybe the most challenging part of making perfect madeleines. In France a madeleine without a bump is not a madeleine. Some people like to eat the bump first, some save it for last (I’m one of those! Chipping away the sides of the madeleine until only the tender middle cakey part remains).

To be honest, the bump has nothing to do with the pan, rather with the baking temperature (or temperatureS should I say). These little cakes are the result of a series of chemical reactions and if you don’t follow the whole process, you won’t get perfect madeleines.

First, don’t skip the baking powder, that’s the rising agent. The rest time allows the molecules of the baking powder and the other ingredients to bond properly, it also leaves some time for the gluten of the flour to relax. Madeleines are rather dense little cakes, you don’t want too much elasticity or too much air in the dough that’s why you have to be careful not to overmix. Mix gently and just enough so that both the flour and the butter are fully blended into the mixture.

 

And just to prove my point that it’s not the mould, here’s a “madeleine” I made in a round shallow cake pan.

Still has a bump!

 

Do I have to add honey?

No you don’t. Back in France I didn’t add honey to my madeleines but I found that in Canada I can’t get a nice golden color without it. Plus, it brings a nice added flavour!

Making madeleines is not difficult but you must follow the instructions carefully. Click here to go to our recipe page and video.