Madelines are a French sponge cookie, sometimes likened to small “genoises.” They have a distinctive shape which is traditional for them, which comes from being baked in a special pan to make them look like seashells.
They are made from eggs, butter, sugar, flour, and a flavouring such as lemon zest.
To make them, the eggs are whipped, and then the sugar is added gradually till a soft peak stage is reached. The flour is then folded in gradually, then melted and cooled butter is drizzled in a small amount at a time, and folded in.
The batter is then poured into the moulds of the special pans, and the cookies are baked for about 10 minutes, until golden brown. When done, they are often dusted with icing sugar or desiccated coconut.
The Madeline pans can be made of stainless steel, non-stick metal or silicone. The pans have small, shallow oval, cockleshell-shell shaped moulds in them, usually 12 or more per pan.
Sometimes savoury Madelines are made, such as olive Madelines, or sage and polenta Madelines, but they are still called Madelines if they are made in the special pan to give them the distinctive Madeline shape.
If your pan isn’t a non-stick one, brush first the moulds in it with melted butter and dust with flour lightly. Only fill each mould about two-thirds full of batter.
Some like to date the recipe for Madelines back to the Middle Ages, but given that they would almost sure have had to use honey or other heavy sweeteners instead of refined white sugar, it’s difficult to know how much the sponge would rise.
Madelines as we now know them may have first been popularized by the French food writer Alexandre Balthazar Grimod de la Reynière (1758-1837), though the events happened around their creation happened three years before he was born.
Stanislas Leszczynski (1677-1766) was King of Poland from 1704–1709. He became Duke of Lorraine in 1735. He had many estates through Lorraine, acquiring another one in Commercy in 1744. One day in Commercy in 1755, his pastry chef quit in a huff when they were getting ready to serve guests. A maid named Madeline Paulmier, who worked for a Madame Perrotin de Barmond, offered to rustle up a dessert and did so, making these cookies.
Stanislas loved the cookies loved not only because they saved the day, but also in their own right. He sent the recipe to his daughter, Marie Leszczynska (1703 to 1768.) His daughter just happened to be the Queen of France; she had married Louis XV of France (born 1710; died 1774) on 15 August 1725. Marie popularized the cookies at the French court.
Madelaine the maid never claimed to have invented them; she said it was her grandmother’s recipe.
In the 1800s, they were popularized amongst the literati by the writing of Marcel Proust, who famously referred to them, writing:
“…un de ces gâteaux courts et dodus appelés Petites Madeleines qui semblent avoir été moulés dans la valve rainurée d’une coquille de Saint-Jacques. Et bientôt, machinalement, accablé par la morne journée et la perspective d’un triste lendemain, je portai à mes lèvres une cuillerée du thé où j’avais laissé s’amollir un morceau de madeleine. Mais à l’instant même où la gorgée mêlée des miettes du gâteau toucha mon palais, je tressaillis, attentif à ce qui se passait d’extraordinaire en moi. Un plaisir délicieux m’avait envahi, isolé, sans la notion de sa cause.”“…one of those short, plump little cakes called ‘petites madeleines’, which look as though they had been moulded in the fluted coquille de Saint-Jacques (ed: a pilgrim’s scallop shell.) And soon, mechanically, weary after a dreary day with the prospect of a depressing day the next, I raised to my lips a spoonful of tea in which I had let a piece of the madelaine soak. But in the same moment that the mouthful, mixed with the cake crumbs, touched my palate, I shuddered, attentive to something extraordinary happening inside me. A delicious pleasure had invaded me, isolated me, without me knowing what was causing it.”
In French, the special pans are called “plaques pour madeleines” or “plaques de cuisson pour Madelines.”
Levin, Edmund. The Way the Cookie Crumbles: How much did Proust know about madeleines? Slate Magazine. 11 May 2005. Retrieved 17 March 2006 from: http://www.slate.com/id/2118443/