Gallery: Sweet Technique: How to Make Madeleines

Dainty bites of cake
Dainty bites of cake

Madeleines are classic, French butter sponge cakes baked in the shape of seashells. They are most often flavored with subtle notes of lemon zest or vanilla, but variations on the recipe can incorporate bold spices, cocoa, or ground nuts. Click through the slideshow to learn how to make this tea time staple.

Releasing flavor
Releasing flavor

Madeleines are of few ingredients, so maximizing flavor is important. Dorie Greenspan has a wonderful trick: rubbing zest and granulated sugar together before mixing to fully release all of the zest's oils for great flavor. Here I am doing the same with the seeds scraped from a vanilla bean.

Beat the eggs and sugar
Beat the eggs and sugar

Madeleines are in the sponge cake family. Like many other sponge cakes, the mixing method calls for the sugar and eggs to be beaten together for several minutes, until the eggs are a very light yellow and much of the sugar has dissolved. When combining sugar and eggs, take care not to let the mixture stand. If eggs and sugar are allowed to sit without being vigorously mixed, the sugar will pull the water out of the eggs, causing them to "burn" and small, hard chunks to form.

Carefully fold in flour, then butter
Carefully fold in flour, then butter

The tender, buttery crumb of a madeleine is the result of careful mixing. Once the sugar and eggs have been mixed, the flour and baking powder are gently folded into the mixture by hand. It gets folded to avoid over-mixing, which will make the madeleines tough. Once the flour is mostly incorporated, follow suit with the melted butter, and fold until the batter is smooth and even.

Cover and chill
Cover and chill

Transfer the batter to a container that can be sealed with an airtight lid. Press plastic wrap against the surface of the batter, then seal with a lid. Chill in the fridge for at least 2 hours and up to 2 days. This chilling will allow the gluten to relax and the flour to fully hydrate.

Grease the pan
Grease the pan

Apply a good amount of melted butter to the madeleine molds. You may use your hands, a paper towel, or a pastry brush.

Flour or sugar the greased pans
Flour or sugar the greased pans

Sprinkle a little flour or sugar into the cavities, and tilt the pan around to evenly coat the molds with a thin layer of flour or granulated sugar (both will help prevent sticking, the granulated sugar will help create a bit of a caramelized, crisp outer crust). Invert the pan and bang out any excess. Chill the mold for at least 15 minutes.

Filling the molds
Filling the molds

Using a teaspoon, portion the batter into the molds. The amount will vary based on the size of the mold, but aim to fill it almost to the top. Spread it evenly along the bottom of the mold, but don't be too concerned with distribution—the heat from the oven will do a lot of that work for you.

Bake and watch carefully
Bake and watch carefully

Madeleines get a short bake in a relatively hot oven. Watch them carefully. They will be fully baked when you press the top and it springs back, and from that point you may want to bake them a bit more or not, depending on the level of caramelization you desire. The French prefer almost no color at all, but I like mine a bit more well done to bring out some caramel flavor.

Unmold carefully
Unmold carefully

Remove the madeleines from the oven and allow them to sit for one minute in the pan. Then rap the pan against the counter to loosen the madeleines, and use a knife to gently nudge any stubborn cakes from their molds.

Cooling and storage
Cooling and storage

Allow the madeleines to cool for five additional minutes before serving (if you'd like to serve them warm), or allow them to cool completely and place them in an airtight container to store.

20120301-195206-madelines-610x458-2.jpg
20120301-195206-madelines-610x458-2.jpg