Madeleines have long eluded me.
I have spent a good portion of my baking life collecting various recipes and giving the promising ones a try every now and then, but my efforts were only ever rewarded with ho-hum results, pale and dense little pucks that stuck to the mold like nobody’s business and flatly refused to form a bump.
Granted, if my temperament as a baker was to latch on to such challenges and tweak and tweak tirelessly until I unlocked the secrets of this or that pastry, I would probably have solved this one some time ago. But the way I deal with baking hurdles is more along the lines of “try, fail, forget about it and move on; try again, fail again, move on again, etc.”
As they baked and I stared in through the oven door, hardly believing my eyes that the centers slowly rose to form the oh-so-elusive bumps, I heard a deep voice echoing through the kitchen, saying, “Your Quest Stops Here.”
This time, the nudge to try again came from my two-year-old, who developed his own brand of madeleine obsession, one that is more centered on the eating of said madeleines. We were going through packs from the organic store at a rapid clip, and at 3.50€ ($4.80) for ten, I thought I might as well bake them myself.
I decided to put my fate in the hands of Fabrice Le Bourdat, owner and pastry chef of Paris pâtisserie Blé Sucré, using the recipe for his signature madeleines — plump, golden, fist-sized, and lemon-glazed — as shared on video for the Fooding website*.
It’s a beautifully straightforward recipe that is easily (and best) made by hand — I first made the mistake of using my stand mixer, and let’s just say pouring in hot melted butter while the motor is running is not pretty — and it yields absurdly perfect madeleines: buttercup yellow, softly sticky bumps, lightly crisp edges, and fluffy, moist hearts.
As they baked and I stared in through the oven door, hardly believing my eyes that the centers rose slowly to form the oh-so-elusive bumps, I heard a deep voice echoing through the kitchen, saying, “Your Quest Stops Here.”
Looking at the recipe, I think the key elements that make it so astonishingly successful are these:
- Refrigerating the batter overnight and preheating the oven to high is what creates the temperature shock that causes the bump to form.
- Using a piping bag to fill the madeleine molds may sound fussy, but it is in fact immeasurably easier than using a spoon — the batter is pretty sticky — and it ensures the madeleines are neatly formed and evenly sized, which in turn makes them bake evenly.
- Carefully buttering and refrigerating the madeleine tray, then assertively banging the tray sideways on the counter right out of the oven prevents the madeleines from sticking — they pop right out! — and the moisture from building up on the madeleines’s underbelly as they cool.
A few parting comments and words of advice:
- Overfilling the molds will get you duck-billed madeleines (see picture below) that your toddler may recognize as such and specifically request (“Madeleine canard !”) but may not meet your own standards of aesthetics.
- I altered Le Bourdat’s recipe slightly, reducing the amount of sugar (from 300 to 250 grams), adding salt, using a mix of baking soda and baking powder, and adding lemon zest as a classic flavoring. Feel free to omit it, or substitute the zest of another citrus, or vanilla, or orange flower water.
- You can certainly dream up all kinds of wilder flavorings, but I encourage you to try these simple flavorings first, to experience the beauty of the plain madeleine. You can always eat them with alternating bites of dark chocolate.
- The madeleines sold at Blé Sucré are topped with a lemon glaze, which is quite lovely, but messier for little hands to deal with. Up to you.
- Watch your madeleines closely as they bake — especially your first batch — to determine the exact baking time that works for your own oven’s idiosyncrasies. Since madeleines are small, it can be a minute between perfect and overbaked.
Join the conversation!
Have you had success baking madeleines in the past? Or is this the nudge you needed to give it a go? Are you an advocate of plain madeleines, or are you just dying to add in chocolate chips and blueberries and bacon bits?
* Here’s my own grainy video baking my chocolate and zucchini cake for that same website.
Duck-billed madeleine: this is what happens when you overfill the molds.
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