Lemon madeleines are a classic French treat that are becoming more and more popular elsewhere, and for good reason. Somewhere between a mini cake and a cookie, they are sweet, gently crisp on the outside, light and delicious.
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Since we are celebrating Bastille day today with some French recipes, I couldn't help but go for one of my favorite little treats, madeleines. For someone who claims to not be a major French foodie, I've shared a decent number of French recipes.
I have a soft spot for things like croque monsieur, tapenade, blueberry clafoutis and pear frangipane tart. Then I've adapted some like my Nicoise-style French lentil salad. It was about time to add another favorite.
What are madeleines?
Strangely, apart from saying they are a French sweet treat, that can be a bit of a tricky question to answer. Some would argue they are a cookie, others a cake. Given their consistency, I'd say they are more like mini cakes.
What really distinguishes them is that they are made in a special mould that gives a distinct shell-like imprint on the one side.
They are one of those French patisserie items that on the face of it, don't have many ingredients. You would think they are easy. But they all too easily turn out not quite right.
I did a fair amount of digging, drew on the consistent tips (like some of those in Sally's Baking Addiction's recipe) and then experimented on some to come up with the below.
Top tips for light and crisp lemon madeleines
- Beat the egg and sugar a good few minutes. It might seem combined, but that's not what you are going for - you want it glossy and almost thick as it gets some air in it.
- Gently mix in the flour then the melted butter. You want to keep that bit of air in the mixture.
- Chill the mixture around an hour. This helps it firm up which in turn helps the rise.
- Chill the pan a few minutes for the same reason.
- Lightly butter the pan (or don't). If your mould/pan is nonstick, like mine, in all honesty I didn't find it made much of a difference. Only one that I didn't butter got stuck, but only just. The buttered ones may have had a slightly better crisp, but it was very slight. If you mould is not nonstick, definitely butter it.
- Don't spread the mixture in the mould. Just scoop some into the middle of the mould indents - it will spread as it cooks. If you spread it before, it's more likely to burn around the edges.
- Keep an eye as they bake. This is true for all baking - ovens vary, as do pans, which can all impact the timing.
I know that might seem a bit of a list, but honestly, if you follow the recipe closely and these tips, they should work out.
Do you need baking powder?
I believe traditionally you wouldn't, you rely on getting air in as you beat the egg and sugar, but many recipes have some in there. I tried some without baking powder, and others using a little, and definitely found with baking powder worked better.
In fairness, it's hard to say for sure whether the very light stir after chilling helped as well, but either way, the ones with the baking powder rose better and had a better color and texture.
When I was reading David Leibovitz' recipe, he suggested those with baking powder would take a minute longer, which made me doubt for a second that I'd confused which side was which, but there's no way those without baking powder would rise less.
You can see top left the nice 'hump' you are looking for, then below the side by side of those without and with baking powder. On the right is them turned over and you can see the difference in color. Of course it may not work out that way for everyone, but I found it interesting nonetheless.
Madeleines come in a few different flavors and now I have a mould (which are cheap to buy, by the way - I got this Nonstick Madeleine Pan(affiliate link)), I definitely want to experiment. But lemon madeleines are a classic flavor, that we loved and I'm sure you will too.
This is a small batch recipe for those like us who won't get through a bigger batch quickly. They are definitely best enjoyed shortly after they come out the oven, and this amount was perfect for us. Even with requests for more.
Like lemon baked goods? Try these!
- French lemon yogurt cake
- Lemon thyme focaccia
- Meyer lemon zucchini muffins
- Meyer lemon cookies (I know, Meyer lemon is technically different but you could make with lemon too).
Plus get more snack recipes, both sweet and savory, in the archives. And if you're interested in a trip to Paris to enjoy these at the source, see my tips in my Paris with kids post (not just relevant for kids!).
Tools to make these
See some of my favorite cooking tools and ingredients in the Caroline's Cooking Amazon store.
- 2 oz unsalted butter 55g
- ⅓ cup sugar 70g
- 1 egg
- ½ tbsp lemon zest
- ½ tbsp lemon juice
- ½ cup all purpose flour 70g
- ¼ tsp baking powder
- 1 pinch salt
- 1 tbsp butter approx, to brush pan
- Melt the butter either in a small pan or in the microwave in a small dish. Set aside to cool while you prepare the rest.
- Whisk together the sugar and egg until the mixture becomes paler and a little thick, a good few minutes. Whisk in the lemon zest and juice.
- Add the flour, baking powder and salt (making sure the baking powder and salt are spread out a bit rather than dumped in one spot). Fold them in (with a spatula is good) so they are well mixed but without over-mixing. Fold in the melted butter and once again, mix but don't over-mix.
- Cover the bowl and refrigerate for about an hour.
- Once you are almost ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350F/175C. Brush the madeleine pan lightly with melted butter.
- Take the mixture from the fridge and gently loosen it from the bowl but don't mix out any of the air. Spoon tablespoonfuls of the mixture into each mould of the pan, without spreading it out at all.
- Put the pan in the oven once it has reached temperature and bake for approximately 12 minutes until they are lightly browned and with a little hump in the middle.
- Allow to cool a minute before turning them (invert) onto a cooling rack, with the pattern side now up. Once they are largely cool, gently dust with powdered sugar (optional) and enjoy. Best enjoyed when right out the oven, gently warm, though they will keep a day or two but will lose their crisp edge.
See all the French recipes being shared to celebrate Bastille day:
- Culinary Adventures with Camilla: Tarte Flambée
- Jolene's Recipe Journal: Caramelized Baked Custards
- Karen's Kitchen Stories: Black Olive Fougasse
- The Redhead Baker: Mini Butter Croissants
- Amy's Cooking Adventures: Ratatouille Bake