In Marcel Proust's novel, In Search of Lost Time, the narrator describes his encounter with short, plump little cakes, otherwise known as madeleines, in this way:
"... a shudder ran through my whole body, and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary changes that were taking place…at once the vicissitudes of life had become indifferent to me, its disasters innocuous, its brevity illusory…"
I had a similar experience with my first madeleine cookie in high school. My aunt had a coffee shop back in the day and she would always bring back leftover cakes, cookies and croissants for us. Needless to say, our kitchen was always stocked with baked goods (this probably explains my sweet tooth) and I would always eat them as snacks while doing my homework. One day, these unassuming plump little cakes must have been accidentally placed in the bag of leftovers and made their way to our house. The scalloped edges should have clued me in, but those details were lost on me back then. Upon my first bite, time seemed to stand still and the geometric equations that I tried so hard to ingrain in my head dissipated as quickly as the buttery crumbs dissolved on my tongue. Madeleine cookies are one of life's great pleasures or in my case, the best distractions from geometry equations. Proust and I are definitely in agreement there.
Most people start their baking collection with a cookie sheet or cake pans. My first purchase was a madeleine pan. Believe me, if I could line my walls with these shell-shaped madeleine pans I would. I've tried various recipes in the past, but I took a brief hiatus from baking and I lost track of the recipes I had used. So this time around, I decided to try a different one all together. I am a fan of David Lebovitz, and he lives in France, so I thought he would surely lead me in the right direction.
I have to say, these were more labor intensive than I remembered making in the past, but they produce beautiful madeleine cookies and they were well worth the effort.
makes 24 cookies
Adapted from The Sweet Life In Paris by David Lebovitz
3 large eggs, at room temperature
2/3 cup granulated sugar
rounded 1/8 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder (optional)
zest of one small lemon
9 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled to room temperature, plus additional melted butter for preparing the molds
3/4 cup powdered sugar
1 tablespoon freshly-squeezed lemon juice
2 tablespoons water
Brush the indentations of a madeleine mold with melted butter. Dust with flour, tap off any excess, and place in the fridge or freezer.
In the bowl of a standing electric mixer, whip the eggs, granulated sugar, and salt for 5 minutes until frothy and thickened.
It'll expand quite a bit.
Spoon the flour and baking powder, if using, into a sifter or mesh strainer.
Use a spatula to fold in the flour as you sift it over the batter. (Rest the bowl on a damp towel to help steady it for you.)
Add the lemon zest to the cooled butter, then dribble the butter into the batter, a few spoonfuls at a time, while simultaneously folding to incorporate the butter. Fold just until all the butter is incorporated.
Cover the bowl and refrigerate for at least 1 hour. (Batter can be chilled for up to 12 hours.)
To bake the madeleines, preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Plop enough batter in the center of each indentation with enough batter. Aim to fill the mold 3/4ths of the way and you'll be OK. Resist the urge to spread it. It will rise and fill the indentation as it bakes.
Bake for 8-9 minutes or until the cakes just feel set. If you use baking powder, they may take another minute or so to bake since the batter will rise higher. They’re done when the cakes feel just set if you poke them with your finger. Avoid over baking them. David Lebovitz prefers to bake these in the upper-third of this oven, so the tops get slightly-browned.
While the cakes are baking, make a glaze in a small mixing bowl by stirring together the powdered sugar, lemon juice, and water until smooth. You can eat these plain if you'd like and forgo the glaze. I think it tastes great with the glaze and it adds a nice sheen to the cookie.
Remove the pan from the oven and tilt the madeleines out onto a cooling rack.
Here's what they look like on the other side.
The moment they’re cool enough to handle, dip each cake in the glaze, turning them over to make sure both sides are coated and scrape off any excess with a dull knife. (I only did one side because I didn't want it to be too sweet. I thought it was perfect for my taste, but try both and see what you prefer).
After dipping, rest each one back on the cooking rack, scalloped side up, until the cakes are cool and the glaze has firmed up.
Storage: Glazed madeleines are best left uncovered, or not tightly-wrapped; they’re best eaten the day they’re made. They can be kept in a container for up to three days after baking, if necessary. If you want to freeze them, remember to freeze them without the glaze.