Perhaps you’ve heard of France’s incredibly popular scallop-shaped tea cake known as a madeleine. This buttery cake’s uniqueness is mostly in its shape. But, as with a lot of foods in France, there is a charming history to this fat-bellied little tea cake.
Stanislas Leczinski, king of Poland, used to have a second home in the town of Commercy in Lorraine, a region in the east of France. One day, in 1755, he received as guests the great Voltaire and Madame du Châtelet, who both had a sweet tooth. For this occasion he requested from his cook, a woman called Madeleine Paulmier, to create a new treat in their honor. She presented to the king’s guests small cakes with fat bellies. They were declared to be excellent because among other reasons of their delicate bergamot orange flavour.
It is said that King Stanislas appreciated them so much that he sent a parcel full of them to the king of France, Louis XV, in Versailles. The cake became so popular and so successful that it was decided to call it “The Cake of the Queen”, but the queen preferred to call it Madeleine, after the cook who created them.
The madeleine was then immortalised by Marcel Proust in his autobiographical book, Á la recherche du temps perdu (Remembrance of Things Past), where a taste of the cake plunges the narrator back into his childhood. He wrote: “She sent out for one of those short, plump little cakes called ‘petites madeleines’, which look as though they had been moulded in the fluted scallop of a pilgrim’s shell… An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses…”
And this is why the name of a modest cook of a noble house became famous forever.
I’ve developed a recipe that works well for me. There are loads of Madeleine recipes out there, so I recommend you give some of them a try before settling on the right one for you. I add a smidgen of honey to mine – it makes them just a little moister so that they last at least till the next day. Not that they ever do, though! Have a look at my recipe below.
makes about 36
- 100 g butter, melted
- 15 ml honey
- 125 g castor sugar
- 125 g self-raising flour
- 3 eggs
- 1 egg yolk
- 2.5 ml vanilla extract
- Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius and prepare Madeleine tins with non-stick spray.
- Cream the eggs, egg yolk and castor sugar together until thick and pale then sieve the self-raising flour over the creamed mixture.
- Gently fold the flour in.
- Add the melted butter, honey and vanilla extract. Mix well.
- Spoon the mixture into the prepared Madeleine tins and bake for about 10 -12 minutes until fully risen and golden.
- Remove from the oven and allow to cool for a few minutes before turning the Madeleines out onto a cooling rack.
- Enjoy the Madeleines warm or at room temperature.
- Store them in a sealed container for up to one day.
You can also flavour the Madeleines with citrus zest, rosewater, rum, hazelnut oil, almond oil or omit the honey and just add vanilla. Like I’ve mentioned before, Madeleines are best enjoyed on the day they were baked and shouldn’t really be kept. So bake ’em, brew a pot of tea while they cool and then tuck in!