Why It Works
- Chilling the batter helps the ingredients hydrate, yielding tender madeleines with large humps.
- Baking the madeleines briefly at a higher oven temperature encourages an initial rise, leading to taller humps.
My mom has a soft spot for packaged baked goods. Growing up, a trip to the grocery store wasn’t complete without picking up a box of Entenmann’s chocolate chip cookies or Little Bites fudge brownies. These days, her kitchen counter is still littered with sweets, from Costco rugelach to Stop & Shop muffins. It was during one of my trips home that I came across individually wrapped madeleines from Costco.
Although its true origins remain unclear to this day, these petite, shell-shaped cakes are associated with the town of Commercy, located in the Lorraine region in northeastern France, and have been immortalized in Marcel Proust’s novel In Search of Lost Time, in which Proust recounts a childhood memory of dipping a madeleine in his tea.
Curious, I bit into one and found that the fluted cake was a poor replica of the real thing, with an off-putting, squishy texture and a lackluster flavor to boot. Freshly baked madeleines, still warm from the oven, should have whisper thin, crisp exteriors, light-yet-buttery centers, and that signature bump (often called “the hump”) sitting proudly on top. When paired with a cup of tea, you have the solid makings of a late afternoon snack.
Madeleines are extremely versatile―the batter can be flavored with nuts, cocoa powder, warm spices, citrus zest, herbs, and extracts. Once baked, they can be glazed, filled, or served up plain. For my recipe, I kept it simple, relying on the sugar and butter to provide the flavor and aroma of the madeleines. If you have it, I recommend using quality butter, like a European-style one, for a richer flavor. You can also play around with adding fresh lemon or orange zest and vanilla or almond extract for another layer of flavor.
You may notice that these cakes come together rather differently than other recipes you’ll find online. Since madeleines are a form of sponge cake, they rely on the power of eggs and a little baking powder to rise. I ran side-by-side tests, making madeleines following the more traditional genoise cake method―whipping eggs and sugar into a stable foam, then folding in the dry ingredients, followed by melted butter―and a unconventional method I picked up from a New York Times recipe that calls for whisking the dry ingredients together, including the sugar, followed by the eggs and butter. I discovered that the results were nearly identical, but I preferred the latter method, which I call for below, since it involves less work and doesn’t require a stand mixer. The batter goes into the refrigerator to chill for four hours, which helps hydrate the ingredients and lets the flavors meld.
To bake the madeleines, I grease a 12-cup nonstick madeleine pan with melted butter (you can also use cooking spray), then use a 1-tablespoon cookie scoop to portion out the batter. It takes a bit of trial and error to make sure each cup is filled with just the right amount, since overfilling the cup—even by a smidge—diminishes the hump. If you want to be precise, you can also use a scale when dividing up the batter, which I like to do to ensure the most success.
The madeleines first go in the oven at a higher temperature of 425°F to encourage an initial rise, which I’ve found contributes to larger humps, before reducing the temperature to 400°F for the rest of the bake. After I pull them from the oven, I immediately turn them out of the pan onto a wire rack to cool, since letting them cool even slightly in the pan increases stickage. (If any of the madeleines refuse to budge, use a small offset spatula to help slide them out.) The magic of a freshly baked madeleine can be especially fleeting, so you won’t want to wait too long before helping yourself to one (or three!) next to a cup of tea—in the style of Proust, of course.
- 2.6 ounces all-purpose flour (1/2 cup plus 1 1/2 tablespoons; 75g)
- 2.6 ounces granulated sugar (1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons; 75g)
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon Diamond Crystal kosher salt; for table salt, use half as much by volume
- 2 large eggs (3.5 ounces; 100g), well beaten
- 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract, optional (see note)
- 2.6 ounces unsalted butter (about 5 tablespoons; 75g), melted and slightly cooled, plus extra for greasing
In a medium bowl, thoroughly whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt, about 30 seconds. Add eggs and vanilla extract, if using, and whisk until a thick batter forms, about 30 seconds. Add butter and whisk until fully incorporated and batter is smooth and slightly shiny, about 1 minute. Cover bowl with plastic wrap (or transfer to an airtight container) and refrigerate for at least 4 hours and up to 2 days.
Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat oven to 425°F (220°C). Set a 12-cup nonstick madeleine pan inside a rimmed baking sheet. Using a pastry brush, grease madeleine pan with melted butter. Using a 1-tablespoon cookie scoop or measuring spoon, add 20g (slightly more than 1 tablespoon) of batter into the center of each cup. The batter will spread as it bakes.
Bake madeleines for 3 minutes then reduce oven temperature to 400°F (205°C). Continue to bake until madeleines are domed in the center and golden brown around the edges, about 8 minutes.
Remove madeleines from oven and immediately invert the hot pan over a wire rack, gently rapping the pan to release the madeleines. (Letting the madeleines cool even slightly in the pan will make it difficult to remove them from the pan.) Flip madeleines over so that the shell pattern is on the bottom and let cool slightly. Serve warm or at room temperature.
12-cup nonstick madeleine pan, 1-tablespoon cookie scoop or measuring spoon, digital scale, wire rack
You can flavor the madeleines with almond extract and/or 1 to 2 teaspoons freshly grated lemon or orange zest.
Make-Ahead and Storage
The batter can be prepared ahead of time and refrigerated for up to 2 days.
Madeleines are best enjoyed on the same day they’re baked.