Madeleines are a very special cake for me as they were a crucial taste of my childhood.
My grandparents walked to the coffee shop every single morning, taking time to enjoy the walk, and it was always their exercise, with a nice place to rest and sip coffee when they arrived, and then calmly stroll back home.
I would visit usually on the weekend, with my sister, and it was always a special time. Sometimes we also went on Wednesdays, after a half day at school.
I’ve always thought of how special that routine was for them, to dedicate that time each day of their retirement to something they liked, a nice walk, and a cup of coffee.
There are a few tricks I have learned over time about making madeleines. It’s not hard to make a good madeleine, but it is definitely much harder to make a great madeleine, a classic, in density and aroma.
A good madeleine should have 3 strong characteristics:
- Dense Texture: Density is important in making sure it is able to withstand being carried, bouncing in a bag around others, and to withstand a slight bounce as you push on it. The density also allows for a stronger release of aroma as you chew it, despite characteristic #2.
- Melting: When you bite into a madeleine the cake should melt instantly without pressure, as would a good egg-yolk sponge cake.
- Aroma: Zesty of lemon without the acidic flavor of juice, and vanilla without overwhelming the quiet lemon zest. You should taste the butter flavor as much as you taste the vanilla and lemon, it is a calm cake, shy and mild.
A look into how the structure in madeleines are created:
FAT: This recipe uses three sources of fat to create the cake. Here is what each one does
- Egg Yolk: The fat in the egg yolk (lecithin) serves to soften the madeleines texture and keep them soft to the touch/ springy
- Butter: The main source of fat, butter, creates the majority of the structure binding to the proteins in the gluten strands and creating a moist dense crumb.
- Oil: The spoonful of oil in the recipe insures that the madeleine retains its soft structure when placed in cold temperature. Without it, the butter in the batter would harden once baked if put in a cold place to conserve. This allows you to keep a supple cookie, even in cold weather, or in the refrigerator.
I use regular all purpose flour and use careful folding technique instead of beating/whipping in the recipe to be sure to create only soft simple strands of gluten. If mixed too long or too hard, the gluten will develop too much, resulting in a cookie that is the texture of a muffin instead of a soft sponge.
To fold batter, use a spatula and practice a semi circle motion by pulling the batter from the bottom of the bowl upwards moving towards the other side of the bowl. Repeat gently until all the flour is incorporated.
- Egg whites: Used to create a supple crumb and melting texture when eaten. This is created when the eggs are whipped with the sugar to create a doubled texture mixture that incorporated the air into the batter, causing the proteins in the eggs to stretch and denature.
- Baking Powder: Used to increase the volume and soften the texture of the sponge.
Both the eggs and the milk add the moisture to the batter to create a soft texture. This moisture is easily dried out though, leading the cakes to dry out easily. This is why madeleines are best eaten during the first day after baking. As the moisture evaporates, the madeleines become drier and crumblier, a good use for dipping in coffee.
What gives the madeleines that round bump on top?
The classic look of the tall round bump on top of the madeleine is created by a simple reaction called a thermic shock.
To create that thermic shock you need the combination of two things:
- A really cold batter and pan
- A hot oven
When the cold batter hits the hot oven, it causes it to rise right away at the densest spot. That spot on a madeleine is right in the middle due to the shape of the shell mold. It rises upward and forms a crust as it rises, forcing the rise to continue upwards instead of out.
Classic French Madeleines
- 125 g all purpose flour
- 3 large eggs
- 140 g sugar
- 135 g unsalted butter melted, cooled
- 50 g full fat milk
- 1 tbsp baking powder
- 2 zest of lemons
- 1 tsp vanilla powder, or extract
- 1 tbsp canola/vegetable oil
- Mix the eggs and sugar and whip until light and creamed, about 2 minutes. The volume should be doubled, and very airy and pale.
- Sift in the flour and baking powder, and fold into the egg and sugar mixture
- Fold in the oil
- Add the milk, zest and vanilla, and gently fold
- Add the melted butter in thirds, folding to incorporate
- Cover the mixing bowl with plastic wrap, and refrigerate at least 12 hours, up to 24hrs.
- Add the cold batter to a pipping bag
- Butter the madeleine molds and sift flour atop to prevent from sticking
- Pipe the batter into the madeleine mold, filling 80% of the way
- Place the filled mold in the freezer for 30 minutes
- Preheat the oven to 180c/350f
- Bake for 10-12 minutes until golden brown
- Remove from the mold while warm and lay on the side to cool to prevent the bump from deflate