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Madeleines


The infamous madeleine. A small scalloped cake (or is it a cookie? - more on that later) that is incredibly light and airy. A perfect delicate dessert to pair with your afternoon tea. 

 

Madeleines are a dessert that has been in the back burner of my mind for more than a decade. Why I never pulled the trigger on them, I can’t really say. Maybe because they are French, or because they are fancy, or because they are notoriously difficult to properly execute made them very intimidating to me. All of these reasons in the end meant they were a perfect contender for my second bake. After all this challenge is about facing my baking fears so here we go. 

 


I had my first madeleine when I was in Paris back in 2012. I was travelling with my parents and we ate our way across the city. I made it a personal goal to have at least one croissant a day which turns out is not a difficult thing to accomplish in France. Being a dessert eater overachiever I would then go on to try any and all other baked goods that I could get my hands on which included madeleines. Needless to say, it was a wonderful trip. One afternoon we weaved our way through streets and alleyways to find both Mora and E. Dehillerin, two kitchen supply stores that are what dreams are made of. At least my dreams. My parents were so patient for the hours I spent in those stores walking slowly up and down the aisles wide-eyed. This is where I purchased my one and only madeleine pan. When I got home from Paris I carefully placed it in my kitchen cupboard where it has been waiting patiently ever since. 

 


The origin of the Madeleine is unknown. Many sources attribute it to a servant named Madeleine Paulmier in Commercy, France who made the tea cake for a Duke’s dinner party one evening. So impressed with the dessert, the Duke christened them Madeleines and shipped them to his daughter in Versailles who happened to be the wife of Louis XV where they gained popularity. 

 

There continues to be debate whether this dessert is a cake or cookie. They are made with a Genoise sponge which uses whipped eggs to give it lift. Traditionally they have a distinctive hump on …. well … their backside.  There is also much debate on how to properly execute the dessert to give it the distinctive hump and pillowy like consistency. Some recipes use baking powder while others consider that sacrilege, some chill the pan while others use it at room temperature, some whip the batter while others specifically say not to incorporate air. It can be a bit mind numbing when you start down the rabbit hole of madeleine recipes. There are also many variations with adding desiccated almonds, citrus zest and even dipping the ends in chocolate. Whatever your preference, they are a wonderful airy sponge tea cake that is the perfect delicate addition to tea. 

 

I choose this recipe from David Lebovitz. It is not the first and certainly will not be the last time I rely on his expertise and reliably tested recipes. This recipe does use baking powder and lemon zest.  The recipe also incorporates a lemon glaze which I found gave them a layered flavour and I think helped keep them fresh tasting for three days after I made them. They turned out perfectly including the distinctive hump. I paired them with a black tea with a squeeze of lemon.  The combination was absolutely delicious. I would highly recommend. I am so happy my madeleine pan has finally achieved its purpose and I can say with confidence that it won't have to wait so long until it is back making another round of these delightful little cakes.

 


Lessons learned

Cleaning out the pan thoroughly is necessary between rounds of baking if like me, you only have one pan. 

Madeleines are definitely a cake. There is no question. A tiny cake, but a cake nonetheless. 

 

What I would try next time

Browning the butter for extra flavour.

Trying a variation on the traditional Madeleine such as with poppy seeds or dipped in chocolate.

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