Madeleines are a light and fluffy, bite-sized French treat, that are just as tasty as they are beautiful. Make this historical dessert right in the comfort of your own kitchen and transport yourself to a little French café!
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French Madeleines recipe
Many people have never even tried madeleines, let alone baked their own classic French madeleines. But when I was a kid they were a fun dessert that my mom made often.
In fact, this recipe is actually my mom’s recipe for les madeleines de commercy! I may be biased, but I genuinely think that it’s the best madeleine recipe out there. They are light and fluffy, perfectly sweet and not too difficult to make.
Now, every time I bite into one of these bite-sized sponge cakes it’s like a little flashback into my childhood. The nostalgia of these little treats is just so special! And their flavor is just perfect. The little touch of orange is absolutely delicious.
Even if you are not familiar with these shell-shaped treats, you can make this simple recipe. The method is not too difficult and, really, if you can make muffins, you can make madeleines!
So, next time you are hosting a brunch or tea party you can impress your guests with sophisticated sweets like these perfect madeleines and spiced rum balls. That presentation will be pretty impressive!
Why you’ll love this recipe
These beautiful and delicate sweet treats do not get enough attention. There are so many reasons to love classic madeleine cookies:
- Madeleines are the perfect elegant dessert to serve at baby showers, wedding showers, tea parties and other elegant events.
- This recipe makes cakes that are truly high quality. No need to pay high dollar for a pastry chef to make madeleines for your party. You can make them yourself!
- Gift these little cakes! Wrap them in a pretty pastry box and tie with a bow. A sweet and thoughtful gift for friends and family.
What are madeleines?
Madeleines are traditional French butter cakes made in shell-shaped molds. These little shell-shaped cakes originate from the town of Commercy in northeastern France.
There is debate as to where the name “madeleine” came from. Most people say they are named after Madeleine Paulmier, a young servant girl who made these cakes for the Duke of Lorraine in 1755.
Yet, others say that these tea cakes were made by a young girl during the pilgrimage to Saint Jacques de Compostela. Their signature shell shape symbolizes pilgrimage.
Today, they are often eaten hot in French markets with morning coffee or at the 4 p.m. goûter, the French version of British afternoon tea, according to Culture Trip.
Regardless, classic French madeleines have a long history and are now a beloved dish of many around the world. Whether you call them madeleine cookies or madeleine cakes, these little treats and their shell-like shape are charming and delicious!
Tools & equipment
However, if you do not have one and don’t have the chance to buy one, you could use a mini muffin pan. Just know that many purists (and French chefs) will say that you are not making an authentic French madeleines recipe if they don’t have the shell shape.
But I don’t think many of us have a French chef just hanging out in our kitchen, so grab whatever supplies you have and go for it!
You will also need measuring cups and measuring spoons, mixing bowls, mixing tools, an orange zester and a wire cooling rack. To beat the butter, sugar, and eggs, you’ll also need an electric mixer, stand mixer or whisk.
Have a fine-mesh strainer on hand if you want to dust the tops of the completed cakes with powdered sugar. (They’re the best this way!)
Here’s what you’ll need to make this recipe:
- granulated sugar
- all-purpose flour
- baking powder
- grated orange zest
- orange juice
- pinch salt
- powdered sugar, for dusting
Variations and Substitutions
Throughout the years, French chefs and pastry chefs have created a variety of different flavors that vary from the classic madeleine. Here are a few options:
Chocolate chip madeleines: Instead of orange juice and zest, use 1 teaspoon vanilla extract and 1 tablespoon milk. Fold in 6 ounces of mini chocolate chips.
Lemon madeleines: Use fresh lemon juice and lemon zest instead of orange.
Chocolate dipped madeleines: Dip the tips of each baked madeleine in melted chocolate or melted white chocolate. Decorate with sprinkles, nuts or or sanding sugar.
Chocolate madeleines: Use 2 ounces four and 2 ounces of unsweetened cocoa powder. Use 1 teaspoon vanilla instead of orange zest and 1 tablespoon of cooled strong coffee.
I have not tested making these bite-sized sponge cakes with gluten free flour, but I know others have. Feel free to test it out and swap the all-purpose flour for a 1:1 gluten free flour.
How to make madeleines
Though these little cakes may look challenging to make, they are really quite simple! Follow these step-by-step photos and instructions and in no time you will make the most light and fluffy French butter cakes.
Begin by preheating the oven to 400°F (20°C) and grease two madeleine molds with a tablespoon of butter. I use my fingers for this to get in all of the grooves.
Then, mix together the flour, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl and set it aside.
Then beat together the butter and sugar in a large bowl until light and fluffy.
Once well combined, beat in the eggs one at a time until well incorporated.
Next, alternate adding the flour mixture and orange juice to the wet ingredients, mixing as you go.
Continue this process until all of the orange juice and dry ingredients are well combined with the butter and egg mixture.
Once well combined, then fold in the fresh orange zest.
Now that the madeleine batter is ready to go, use a cookie scoop or spoons to scoop it into the prepared shell-shaped mold. Fill each slot about ¾ full.
Bake the cakes in a preheated oven for 7-10 minutes until golden brown and they spring back to the touch. Each cake should have a fluffy texture on the inside and slightly crisp edges.
Turn out madeleines onto a wire rack and allow them to cool completely.
Once cooled, dust finished cakes with powdered sugar and serve immediately. If you have leftover madeleines, store in an airtight container or wrap individually in plastic wrap and store at room temperature for 1-2 days.
Tips & tricks
Here are some tips and tricks for making this recipe:
- If you have trouble keeping madeleines from sticking to a metal pan, make sure you still grease it well! You could also try using a silicone mold.
- To keep a very sponge-like batter, do not over-mix the ingredients and fold the orange zest in gently. This keeps lots of air in the batter and will make the end result extra light and fluffy.Having difficulty filling the madeleine mold? Scoop the batter into a piping bag and fill the scallop-shaped mould by piping the batter into each slot.
- Make these the day you plan to serve them for the most fresh and flavorful results.
What to serve with madeleines
So now that you’ve successfully accomplished baking this French madeleine recipe, you need to know what to serve it with.
These light and airy sponge cakes go wonderfully with a cup of hot tea or coffee. In fact, Starbucks actually sells madeleines, so you can recreate your favorite latte to drink with your little cakes.
My copycat recipes for brown sugar simple syrup and vanilla syrup will have you making the perfect Starbucks lattes in no time. If cold coffee is your thing, make some cold brew or an iced caramel macchiato.
For a more traditional madeleine, yes, the batter would be refrigerated overnight. However, these lovely little cakes bake perfectly fine without being refrigerated. So if you just can’t wait to bake this treat then skip refrigeration and go for it!
These bite-sized treats are technically little sponge cakes. But since they are the size of cookies, they are often referred to as such. Whatever you choose to call them, they are light and airy and have the most dreamy flavor!
More French Recipes
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- 1 tablespoon butter softened, for greasing the pan
- 8 tablespoons unsalted butter softened
- ¾ cup granulated sugar
- 2 eggs
- ½ cup flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon grated orange zest
- 1 tablespoon orange juice
- pinch salt
- powdered sugar for dusting
- Preheat oven to 400°F (20°C). Grease 2 dozen wells of madeleine molds with 1 tablespoon butter.
- In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking powder and salt.
- In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar.
- Beat in the eggs one at a time.
- Add the flour mixture, alternating with orange juice. Stir until smooth, then fold in the orange zest.
- Fill the shell molds with 3/4 tablespoon batter.
- Bake for 7-10 minutes, or until madeleines are golden brown and spring back when gently touched.
- Turn out madeleines onto a wire cooling rack. Let cool completely.
- Dust with powdered sugar before serving.
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