Making Madeleines

Proust and his seven thousand pages of lost memories aside, the madeleine first started to work for me when I was living in Montreal.  I’d tried to make these shell shaped lemon cakes a few times and achieved quite mediocre results.  I had a friend from France and when I showed her the elaborate steps I was going through to produce my product, she scoffed at me.  “Watch this,” she said, throwing all the ingredients in the bowl together, casually mixing them with a wooden spoon, and then putting them in the oven.  When she produced nearly perfect madeleines from this cavalier result, I was despondent.  I asked her what her secret was and she said: “It is because I am French!”

Not believing that this was all there could possibly be to making madeleines, I told this story to another French person I knew.  He shrugged and said: “Of course it is because she is French!”  Undaunted, I continued to work on my recipe, and now I have something workable for those of us who are not possessed of even one drop of Gallic blood.  Making the madeleine does involve some amount of work, but the payoff is great.  These spongy little lemon-infused delights will taste infinitely better out of your oven than they do out of those bulk bags at the supermarket.


Note, by special demand, I am actually going to include exact amounts in this recipe.

1 madeleine pan (see photo).  The pan is what makes the cake.  I suppose that originally madeleines were baked in real shells, but now you can buy the pan and it’s just easier.

madeleine - pan

2 large eggs, beaten

2/3 cup sugar

1 cup unbleached, all-purpose flour + 1 tablespoon flour for molds

4 ounces unsalted butter + 1 tablespoons for the molds

Pinch of salt

1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Grated or chopped lemon zest from 1/2 lemon

3 drops of lemon juice


Special notes.  For my recipe this time I used brown sugar, which gave me a slightly different consistency of cake, and less of the characteristic “bump” in the back of the cake.  Next time I will likely revert back to using a greater proportion of white sugar.  Also, my French friend used to use cognac instead of lemon juice.  I didn’t, but you could.  It makes for quite a pleasant boozy flavour.




Make sure everything is room temperature.  This will keep the butter from congealing in the mix.

This is strictly a wooden spoon and bowl recipe.  Don’t waste your time with a blender, because it is important to feel the results happening under your hand.  Pour 2/3 of your eggs into a bowl and mix in the flour until you have quite a stiff paste.  Let this sit for 10 minutes, and grate up the lemon zest and make sure everything else is handy.  Then take your butter and heat it on the stove until it is beginning to brown.

Pour the browned butter into a smaller steel bowl and place it (floating) inside a larger bowl of cold water.  Stir your browned butter over cold water, but don’t let it congeal.  Mix the 1 Tbsp. of flour and 1 Tbsp. of cooled brown butter in a small bowl and set it aside. This is to grease the molds later.  Beat the rest of your egg into the remaining butter then add it to the rest of the batter along with the lemon (zest and juice), salt, and vanilla.  Let this mixture sit in the fridge for an hour.

Meanwhile, take the flour/butter mix you set aside and grease the molds with it.  This will help the madeleines pop out easily.  They are soft when cooked and it is easy to damage the shell shape if one isn’t careful.  You can place this greased pan in the fridge to keep the butter cool.

Heat your oven to 375°F.  When you put the batter into the molds, make sure you leave it in a lump in the centre.  Don’t press it down.  In order to achieve the little bump in the back of the cake, it has to melt as a drop cookie would into its mold.  Bake for approx. 15 minutes, until a brown colour is achieved.  The bump should appear sometime in the last five minutes.  Remove the madeleines from the oven and cool them, bump side up, on a cooling rack.  When they are cool, dust them with icing sugar and enjoy.

I usually serve the madeleines in the French way, with a cup of tea for dipping, but they are delicious served in any way.

madeleines - plated

Written By:

Born and raised in the mysterious East (by which I mean Ontario and Quebec, not Asia), Adam migrated out to British Columbia in search of adventure and fortune. He had been at different times a scholar, a musician, a poet and a ...

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