I wanted to bake madeleines before I had ever tasted one. How can you resist those adorable little tea cakes, in all their shell-shaped glory?!
Unfortunately, baking madeleines requires a madeleine pan (OK, you could certainly bake them in muffin tins, but are they really madeleines without the shell shape?). Because there are so many other kitchen gadgets/accessories that can serve multiple purposes that I would love to add to my kitchen, I could never justify buying a pan whose sole purpose was for baking only ONE type of cake that would be baked maybe once a month. Well, until last weekend.
As soon as I had my very own madeleine pan in my possession, I was determined to find a good starting recipe. (The fact that I enthusiastically spent more time performing an exhaustive internet search on madeleine recipes than on any aspect of my own thesis project is just another reason why I am a horrible graduate student.) In my search, I learned a few things about madeleines, and also found some incredibly intriguing flavor combinations (here, here, and here, to name a few) to try next time!
Traditionally, madeleines are baked without any chemical leavening agents (i.e. baking powder); therefore they rely solely upon the incorporation of air into the batter to add volume to the resulting cake. Basically, the eggs get the crap whipped out of them. Or, perhaps more accurately, the air whipped into them. There are many recipes that also include baking powder, and most include a refridgeration step, from one hour to over night or over several days, that seems to aid the leavening process (especially for those recipes that do not include baking powder). Madeleines are characterized not only by the scalloped edges on one side, but also by a large hump on the other side, which demonstrates the amount of leavening achieved.
I chose this recipe to try first, mostly because I did not have time to make them until a weeknight after dinner, and I was eager to taste the final product before I went to bed. This recipe contains no baking powder or refridgeration step, and alas, my madeleines did not end up with humps. They were still amazingly tasty- crispy and crunchy on the outside and delicate and buttery on the inside. The next day, they became softer and denser, but still tasty with a cup of tea. I can’t wait to try more recipes!
makes 24-36 large madeleines
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter (6 ounces)
2 tablespoons softened unsalted butter (for greasing pan)
3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
4 large eggs
a pinch fine-grain sea salt
2/3 cups sugar
zest of one large lemon
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
a bit of extra flour for dusting baking pan
- Melt the butter in a small pot over medium heat until brown and gives off a deliciously nutty aroma (OMG the smell is just otherwordly and it makes me seriously consider drinking melted butter…), about 12-20 minutes. Strain using a paper towel over a mesh strainer into a bowl, and allow the butter to cool to room temperature. While waiting for the butter to cool, the rest of the madeleine batter can be prepared.
- Grease each madeleine mold in the pan with softened butter or cooking spray, and dust with flour. Tap out excess flour, all around the pan so that all the molds have been dusted.
- Put the eggs and salt in a bowl. Whip on high speed using an electric mixer until thick and frothy, the eggs should roughly double or triple in volume, about 3 minutes. Continuing to mix on high speed, slowly add the sugar in a steady stream and whip for an additional 2 minutes, or until the mixture is thick and ribbony.
- Add the lemon zest and vanilla, and fold in gently with a spatula until just mixed.
- Sift the flour on top of the egg batter, and gently fold in.
- Add the brown butter, fold in using the spatula. Only stirring enough to bring everything together.
- Spoon the batter into the molds, filling each to about 3/4 full.
- Bake madeleines for 12-14 minutes, or until the edges of the madeleines are golden brown. Remove from the oven and unmold immediately. Cool on wire racks and dust with powdered sugar.
* I baked the first dozen right after the batter was prepared. While the first dozen was baking, I covered the batter and let it sit in the fridge for about an hour and a half. Then I baked a second dozen, and this batch had tiny little humps. I have no idea what chemical processes are occurring in the bowl, but it seems like the cold plus resting time allows the cakes to rise a bit more.