In my guide today, I'm teaching you How To Make Classic French Madeleines. These quintessentially French, petit, bite-sized sponge cakes are sweet, buttery and utterly delicious. I share all my tips and tricks, step by step directions and process images so that you can make these delicacies at home too.
Having travelled to France plenty of times, whether it was visiting my French Grandmother, holidaying as a uni student, or sharing my heritage with my children, French bakes will always hold a special place in my heart. Ranging from more technically advanced eclairs to simple home cooking such as French Toast or Yogurt Loaf Cake, there is something to please us all.
Madeleines have always won me over as simple sponge batter is turned into a thing of beauty by baking it in a specific shell mold. And it transforms these shell-shaped cookie cakes into an iconic French Pastry.
Today's Madeleine recipe is taking you back to basics where the hero ingredients of browned butter and vanilla bean result in a sweet, nutty aromatic Madeleine that is classic yet simple and refined.
What are Madeleines and where do they come from??
First things first though, what are they exactly and where do they come from?
What are they? As mentioned above, they are light, gorgeously tender mini butter cakes that are baked in a specific shell-shaped mold. They are perfect in shape with a signature domed 'hump, and texture with a soft, moist interior and an exterior that is just crisp on the edges.
But a word of warning. Being so small in size, they lose their moisture quickly so it's not suggested to make them ahead of time. They are best eaten fresh out of the oven!
Due to their small size, many call them cookies (predominantly in America) but others believe them to be small cakes. I guess you can call them what you want, but in my mind, they are cakes, not cookies!
Where are they from? Madeleines originate from a Northeastern region of France called Lorraine. How they came to be is a little murky but one legend has it is that they were baked and served in the 19th Century to an exiled Polish Prince who loved them so much that he named them after the baker and creator, Madeleine Paulmier.
From there, the popularity of these small cakes spread far and wide throughout France, making them the much-loved delicacy that they are today.
Why you'll love this recipe
- Uses basic ingredients. All the ingredients are basic pantry or fridge staples. Nothing out of the ordinary which means you can decide to make these at short notice!
- Amazing Texture. When eaten at their best, when warm out of the oven, the genoise sponge is light, tender and moist. Absolute perfection.
- The taste is unbelievable. Browning the butter beforehand elevates these madeleines triple-fold. When teamed with the vanilla, the flavour imparted by these two simple ingredients is sweet, well rounded and utterly scrumptious!
The ingredients used couldn't be any simpler. Below are a couple of notes to help you maximise the flavour of the Madeleines. Some flavour the batter with lemon or orange zest.
I have chosen not to as I want the browned butter and vanilla to shine through. If you'd like a subtle citrus addition then run the zest into the sugar to release the oils and then continue on with the recipe as normal.
Butter - Aim for the best quality butter that you can afford - it's such a major part of the ingredients that quality matters. Go for European butter if you can as the water content is much lower. As we're adding salt, later on, I prefer unsalted butter.
Vanilla Bean Paste - I loved the intense flavour and multitude of vanilla beans that vanilla bean paste provides. You can substitute it for the vanilla pods scraped from a vanilla bean or vanilla extract. Steer clear of vanilla essence though as this is a 'fake' flavour and won't impart nearly as much flavour.
Eggs - The recipe calls for two large eggs. They must be at room temperature for them to whip sufficiently at the start. Pop the eggs in a bowl of warm water for ten minutes if you do forget to bring them to room temperature.
What equipment do I need to make Madeleines?
To get the signature shell shape, you definitely need a specific Madeleine pan. They generally come in two shapes, an oval small shell shape and a round, deeper shell shape.
The most commonly available and used pan is the regular Madeleine Pan with an oval shell shape. This style of pan also comes in varying sizes, from extra mini to larger shells You can see in the image above that the black pan and silver pans are very different in size.
They most likely come with 12 depressions in the mould so I recommend purchasing two pans as the recipe makes 24 Madeleines. It can be a little annoying to have to wash, re-butter and chill the pan in the middle of baking the full quantity. Having two pans at your disposal makes the process easier.
You can also find large shell Madeleine Pans. They have beautiful large spherical shell moulds (as shown in the image above) and each mould holds double the amount of filling. Instead of the 24 small Madeleines, you bake up 12 larger ones. The bonus of this is that you only need to buy one pan.
A couple of years ago I bought one of these pans and I absolutely love it. I made my Triple Chocolate Madeleines in this shape and have fallen head over heels in love with it – a wise investment for sure, I know that this pan will serve me well!
Note: whichever pan you decide on- even if it says it's non-stick, make sure to prep the pan correctly with the melted butter and dusting of flour. This helps give the classic Madeleines their crispy edges.
Even though there aren't loads of ingredients in this Madeleines recipe, it's how we use them that is key to the success of these magical cakes.
Rather than creaming the sugar and butter together, which is the regular way of making sponge batter, the eggs and sugar are whisked until light and airy. The melted butter is then folded in delicately thus creating a light and airy sponge.
Why brown the butter first? Flavour. Pure and simple. By spending five extra minutes of hands-on time to do this step, the flavour shoots through the roof. It's so worth it! It imparts a super nutty, aromatic taste (yes, this is one of those times something can taste and smell nutty all at the same time!).
Don't know how to brown butter? Don't worry - I have a couple of images to show you the various steps involved and explain each stage or checkout my comprehensive Brown Butter Guide.
*Be sure to see the recipe card below for the full ingredients list & instructions!*
Brown the butter
1. Brown the butter. Turn normal melted butter into a thing of nutty goodness in one simple step. Add the butter to a saucepan set over medium heat and allow the butter to melt. Once melted, the butter will start to foam and bubble (Image 1) and this is the point that the milk solids have separated from the fats and they'll start to caramelise on the base of the saucepan. Watch the yellow butter turn golden and then brown.
Once the butter is browned, take the pan off the stove and pour it into a bowl. The butter can go from brown to burnt quite quickly, so keep an eye on it. The foam will subside in the bowl so don't worry about that. Set the butter aside to come to room temperature- not to the point where it solidifies. We still want it melted...just not hot! (Image 2)
NOTE: Take out a teaspoon of the butter and place it in a small bowl - it is going to be used to brush the pans with later on.
TIP: Brown Butter Bits
When you pour the brown butter into the bowl from the saucepan, make sure to scrape out the brown bits from the base of the pan. These bits hold all the flavour and are vital to the overall taste of the madeleines. The nutty smell from brown butter is intoxicating to say the least!
Make the Madeleines Batter
2. Whip the eggs and sugar. To create a light and airy genoise sponge - the eggs and sugar need to be whipped until pale and airy. When you pull the whisk out of the mixture, it needs to leave a ribbon of mixture falling down. (Image 3)
Add the flavouring at this point - in this recipe. We are adding in vanilla bean paste as the predominant flavouring alongside the brown butter. Add it into the mixture and give it a quick mix until combined. (Image 4)
3. Sift dry ingredients into the batter. Sift the flour, baking powder and salt directly over the top of the whipped eggs into the bowl (Image 5). (I'm all about shortcuts and sifting the dry ingredients into separate bowls feels like dirtying another bowl for no reason!!)
Mix on low speed until just combined.
4. Pour in the melted butter. By now the browned butter should be at room temperature. Pour it into the batter making sure to scrape in any brown bits that have sunken to the bowl, and fold the butter into the batter (Image 6 & 7).
The batter needs to rest and chill in the refrigerator. Cover it tightly with plastic wrap and pop it in the fridge. Now you can chill it for a minimum of 2 hours, but ideally, it rests overnight. The flavours intensify, the gluten relaxes and it makes for the best chance to obtain that hump!
Fill the Madeleines pan and bake.
5. Prepare the Madeleine pans. To make sure that the Madeleines batter doesn't stick to the pans when they bake, brush with the teaspoon of brown butter set aside earlier. Make sure to brush all the scallop designs and the edges of each scallop. Then flour lightly and tap out any excess. (Image 9 & 10) Pop the pans into the fridge and preheat the oven to 200C (360F).
Fill pans, chill and bake. Once the oven has come to temperature, remove the batter from the fridge and give it a quick stir. Spoon the batter into the deepest part of each scallop in the cold madeleine pan. Don't level it off or pat it down (the heat of the oven will do this.) (Image 11 & 12)
TIP: Two ways to fill the pans
The first way is to fill with a spoon. I find one level tablespoon to be the perfect amount.
The second way is to fill a piping bag with the batter, snip the end off and pipe the batter into the shell depressions.
Just make sure not to fill them more than ⅔'s full otherwise the batter will spill out of the depression and you'll have oddly shaped Madeleines.
Bake. As soon as the pans go into the oven, turn the oven temperature down to 180C (350F) and bake for 8 to 10 minutes. Everyone's oven runs differently so keep an eye on them. My oven has a hot spot, so I tend to rotate the pans at the 6-minute mark. They are done when lightly browned around the edges, the middle puffed up and springs back when gently pressed.
6. Turn out onto the wire rack. Once baked, set the Madeleine pan onto a wire rack for two minutes to cool slightly, then tap the pan to dislodge the Madeleines. This usually does the trick to release them. If you find they need a helping hand, then run a butter knife around the edge and this will pop them right out.
How to serve Madeleines
Vanilla Madeleines are without a doubt at their best when served warm, basically as soon as you can handle them without burning your fingers! Dust them with a little flourish of powdered icing sugar for a little sweetness.
- Brown Butter Madeleines with Espresso Glaze: The coffee glaze pairs absolutely perfectly with brown butter. Decorated with chopped walnuts only adds to the nutty flavour.
- Lemon Poppy Seed Madeleines: Filled with lemon zest and juice for tang and flavour, the madeleines are bright and cheery in flavour. With the added crunch from the poppy seeds, they are a dreamy flavour for Winter.
- Classic Orange Madeleines: Many recipes include orange or lemon zest in their basic Madeleines recipe. I haven't today but adding orange zest and juice creates a beautifully flavoured sponge. Glazed in a sweet orange glaze makes this sublime.
- Raspberry Madeleines: For my next foray into Madeleines- I'll create a raspberry version. Add a fresh raspberry to the batter and then dip in a raspberry glaze- delish!
- Weigh your flour. Use digital scales for an accurate measurement. Too much flour will lead to a dry sponge.
- Slowly pour in the melted butter. Adding the melted butter too quickly into the whipped eggs will cause them to deflate.
- Refrigerate the madeleine pan. Doing this helps the madeleines rise in the oven.
- Don’t overbake the sponge. If you do, you’ll end up with dry little rocks!
Frequently asked questions
If you're unable to get your hands on a Madeleine pan then you can at a pinch use a cupcake pan. Ensure that you go through the same process of preparing the pan by greasing each mould well, dusting them with flour and refrigerating.
I have never tried baking them in a cupcake tin so I cannot guarantee the signature hump, but if the lack of a Madeleine pan is what is stopping you from trying these out, I say GO for it. The taste will be identical! Let me know how you go if you do.
Along with the signature shell shape, another identifying factor of a well made Madeleine is the Madeleine ‘hump’. It's that raised mound on top of the Madeleines when you remove them from the oven. When you see this, don’t think you have done anything wrong. Usually, we don’t like seeing strange mounds on our bakes. This time, pat yourself on the back, you’ve made them perfectly.
The science behind it: The pan and batter are both super cold after their refrigeration period. When they hit the hot oven, this creates thermal shock due to the extreme difference in temperatures and the steam created in the batter from the heat ‘poofs’ up the sponge causing it to rise. Then, due to the shape of the mould being so shallow, the batter on the outside of the Madeleines sets in place whilst this rise occurs in the centre. They bake so quickly so the rise stays as is up until you remove them from the oven.
Firstly, you may not have whipped the eggs and sugar enough at the start. Secondly, you may have knocked out too much air when mixing in the flour or folding in the butter. Or lastly, you might have flattened out the batter when you filled the moulds. If this happens, then don’t worry, you haven’t ruined them – they will taste the same, just possibly a little denser. More reason to try them again!
To store: French Madeleines are best eaten the same day that they are made, ideally within a couple of hours. They are at their freshest and fluffiest and melt in your mouth this way.
It is possible to store them in an airtight container for 2-3 days at room temperature. A couple of seconds' blast in the microwave will warm the sponge and make it softer.
Yes, they can be frozen if need be. Wait for them to cool fully, wrap in baking paper and then place them in an airtight container and freeze for up to 1 month. To thaw, place in the refrigerator overnight, then allow to come to room temperature prior to glazing and serving.
I tested freezing these and found that the sponge does become a bit denser after it defrosts. A quick blast in the microwave for a couple of seconds warms them up which makes a difference. To be honest, Madeleines don’t last long enough to be frozen in my household. With three children they are gone overnight!
So there you have all the ins and outs needed to master these French Butter Cakes or French Cookies....whatever you like to call them, take one bite and you'll be transported to a Parisien Boulangerie! You'll understand exactly why Proust was such a fan!
More French recipes
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Classic French Madeleines Recipe
- Stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment or electric hand-held whisk
- 115 g unsalted butter
- 2 large eggs, room temperature
- 100 g caster sugar
- 1 tablespoon milk
- 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
- 110 g plain flour (all-purpose), plus extra for dusting
- ½ teaspoon baking powder
- ¼ teaspoon fine salt
- 8 g powdered icing sugar (confectioners’ sugar), for dusting (optional)
- Brown the butter. In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt your butter. Continue to heat until the butter foams up and the melted butter below turns golden and then to a golden brown colour and has a nutty fragrance. This takes about 4-5 minutes. Note, that the butter turns very quickly from golden to burnt. Remove from the heat, pour into a bowl, and cool to room temperature. Set aside 1 teaspoon worth of butter, this will be used to brush the pans with later on.
- Whip the eggs and sugar. In the bowl of an electric stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, place the eggs and sugar and beat on medium for 5 minutes until pale and thick. Add the flavouring. Decrease the speed to low and add the milk and vanilla bean paste and mix until combined.
- Sift dry ingredients into the batter. Sift into the bowl the flour, baking powder and salt and mix on low until a few flour streaks remain.
- Pour in the melted butter. Remove the bowl from the stand mixer and slowly pour in the melted butter. Make sure to scrape in all the brown bits that will have settled at the bottom of the butter bowl. Gently fold in the butter with the rubber spatula ensuring that you don't knock out all the air.Refrigerate Batter. Cover the batter with cling film and refrigerate for 2-3 hours or ideally overnight.
- Prepare the Madeleine pans. Using the brown butter that you set aside earlier, melt in the microwave if it has solidified. Grease all the molds of your Madeleine pans with a pastry brush. Lightly dust each mould with flour and tap out any excess. Place the pans in the refrigerator and pre-heat the oven to 200°C (360°F). Fill pans and bake. Once the oven is at temperature, remove the batter from the fridge and one Madeleine pan. Fill the deepest part of each well with 1 level tablespoon of batter. Do not level the batter out. Remove the other pan from the fridge and fill it in the same way. Place the Madeleine pans in the oven, immediately turn down the oven to 180°C (350°F) and bake for 10-12 minutes. Check after 6 minutes and rotate the pans. They are ready when the ‘humps’ have risen, and they‘re browned on the edges.
- Serve. Remove from the oven and allow to cool on a wire rack for a couple of minutes before removing them from the pans onto a serving plate. (Tip: give the pans a little jiggle, and they should pop out. If they stick, run a knife around the edges to loosen them.)Dust the Madeleine lightly with powdered icing sugar and serve immediately whilst still warm.
All recipes are developed and tested in Metric grams. I strongly recommend that you bake using digital scales for a more accurate result. I have provided a conversion to US customary in the recipe but please note that I haven’t tested using this method.