Perfect, dainty madeleines are just the thing when you know you're craving something sweet but can't decide between a cookie or a slice of cake. They are a classic, refined butter sponge cake—perfect for tea time (don't forget to dunk), or as an accompaniment to ice cream or fruit when served at dessert. They've long been popular in the fancy set of restaurants that serve petit fours post-dessert, and they've received a well-deserved revival at pastry chef Dominique Ansel's namesake bakery in New York City where they bake them to order, so the cakes may be enjoyed fresh from the oven.
The delicate, buttery crumb of a madeleine demands careful mixing and resting before the cakes can be baked. To make the batter, the eggs are beaten with sugar for several minutes until they become very smooth and light in color. Next, flour and melted butter are carefully folded into the egg mixture, with a touch of baking powder for leavening. It is crucial that the batter be chilled for a length of time to allow the flour to hydrate without being over-mixed. There are many variations on the standard recipe for madeleine, and they may be flavored with the addition of zests, spices, vanilla beans, extracts, cocoa powder, or ground nuts.
When making madeleines:
- Fold the flour and butter in carefully, to avoid developing gluten.
- Grease the madeleine molds well with butter, then dust the buttered molds with either flour or sugar so that the cakes will easily release after baking.
- Be sure to give the batter time to rest and chill in the fridge.
- Mounding on the back of the cakes is normal and completely expected—don't panic if your madeleines have little humps on their backs
Click through the slideshow for a step-by-step tutorial and best practices for making madeleines. Then try making some yourself using this recipe for Vanilla Bean Madeleines (which can easily be adapted for other flavors), based on an original by Dorie Greenspan.