I have a slight obsession with France. I attribute the start of this to a childhood surrounded by historical fiction, a mother who encouraged exploration and a fanciful imagination.
Although I didn’t visit the country until a few years ago, I’ve always been a huge admirer of the culture.
If there is one gift the pandemic has given me, it is time. Time to discover new passions. Time to dig deeper into things that interest me. (Like all things French.)
If you have never heard of or tasted the madeleine, you are in for a treat. The madeleine is synonymous with France, as much as its wine, baguettes and cheese. These small treats have been favored by kings and peasants since the 17th century and were firmly cemented into French hearts and culture by the French philosopher Proust in the early 1920s.
“One could almost call the madeleine France’s national cookie” – Patricia Wells, New York Times
The madeleine, like most things French, is shrouded in a bit of mystery. Its origin is largely unknown but most believe it originated in the French town of Commercy in Lorraine in the 1700s. It is rumored that after the Duke of Lorraine’s pastry chef abruptly quit and a young girl named Madeleine stood in and created the only thing she knew how – a recipe for small cakes her grandmother used to make.
They were a smashing success.
It is believed that King Louis XV discovered madeleines on a visit to Lorraine and was instantly smitten. He gave them to his wife, Marie, who in turn, introduced them to the French court. And the rest, as they say, is history.
I personally discovered madeleines in Paris while wondering through the 6th arrondissement (near the Jardin du Luxembourg). We were famished from a full day of exploring and stopped in a cafe for a quick snack.
Fast forward to present day where a podcast detailing the history of madeleines inspired me to give it a go for myself. A French pastry that even I could recreate in my own kitchen? Say no more!
Making your first batch of madeleines
Yes, even a beginner can bake the perfect madeleine.
I’m living proof.
Although a classic French pastry, madeleines are relatively simple in nature. The basic ingredients are eggs, flour, sugar, and butter. (Leave it to the French to take everyday ingredients to a new level.) Because of their simple base, madeleines lend themselves well to flavor experimentation. Traditionally you will find them with vanilla and lemon flavor but there are many other recipe variations that you can try.
As far as special items go, the only item you will really need is a madeleine pan which I ordered off of Amazon for $15. So easy!
Although each madeleine recipe is different, I encourage you pay close attention to refrigeration times. With madeleines, the chilling of the batter is key and actually helps them rise up in the oven creating the “hump” that all they are known for.
I recommend the following recipes for beginners:
- Sally’s Baking Addiction | Classic Madeleines
- The Candid Appetite | Brown Butter Orange Madeleines
- What Charlotte Baked | Chocolate Orange French Madeleines
I created my first batch using the Sally’s Baking Addiction recipe and it turned out perfect and stress-free!
- Madeleines were made famous by Marcel Proust (1871-1922) in his autobiographical novel Remembrance of Things Past.
- Madeleines are often eaten hot in the French markets with a coffee in the morning, or at the 4pm goûter, the French equivalent of the British afternoon tea.
- Madeleines are always associated with the little French town of Commercy, whose bakers sold the little cakes packed in oval boxes as a specialty in the area.
Have you ever tried baking madeleines for yourself? I’m always looking for new recipe variations!