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My First Madeleines

I have a confession to make.  Before making them myself, the only madeleines I had ever tasted were from Starbucks.  No one had ever made them for me, I’d never had a special pan to make them myself, and somehow I managed to spend a weekend in Paris once without tasting either a madeleine or a macaron—sad, but true.

I’ve always been curious about madeleines.  I mean, is there really anything special about them other than their shape?  Obviously Proust thought so.  But what makes them so magical?  And the big question—are they cookies or tiny little cakes?  Well, curiosity got the better of me one day so I bought a little package of madeleines at Starbucks.  And even though I knew that what I tasted out of that little plastic package was probably not a great representation of the classic French cookie (or is it cake?), I fell madly in love with the madeleine.

So now I can tell you why madeleines are such a big deal:  butter.  Oh, and let’s not forget the lemon.  Have I ever mentioned that butter and lemon are pretty much my two favorite flavors?  Madeleines can also be flavored with orange, and I’m sure that orange-scented madeleines are wonderful, but it’s definitely the butter and lemon that sold me.  And if you ask me, they are miniature cakes, not cookies—little lemon butter cakes from heaven.

I knew I had to get my hands on some special equipment so that I could try making the little scalloped cakes myself, so I ordered a couple of madeleine pans from Amazon.  After they arrived, I let the gorgeous shiny things sit on the counter for a few weeks—promising myself daily that I would make madeleines soon—but eventually I tucked the pans away in a kitchen cabinet where I promptly forgot about them.  That was a few months ago.  Well, a new year is upon us and I’ve decided to start crossing some things off my baking to-do list.

There are tons of recipes floating around for madeleines, but I settled on one I remembered seeing at 101 Cookbooks a couple of years back.  Heidi’s photos always draw me in, and somehow I knew I could trust the recipe.  I followed the recipe to the letter, taking special care to thoroughly coat my madeleine pan with butter to ensure an easy release.

However, Heidi mentions in the recipe that although she uses butter and flour on her pans, the friend who taught her how to make madeleines uses cooking spray with flour.  Since I had two pans, I decided to experiment.  I thoroughly buttered and floured the first pan, but sprayed the second with Baker’s Joy—a nonstick baking spray that contains flour.  I knew in my heart that the buttered and floured pan would work better, but curiosity won out over gut instinct in this case.

Filling the pans with batter was a little intimidating.  I had read that the batter spreads in the oven, and not to overfill the molds, but I had a hard time judging whether they were 2/3 – 3/4 full (as the recipe instructed).  My method of transferring some of the batter to a measuring cup and trying to pour it into the mold didn’t work out so well for me.  Next time I’ll probably just spoon it in, or pipe it in using a bag.

But it turns out I had no reason to worry about whether they were filled properly.  The batter spread evenly and a beautiful batch of madeleines emerged from the oven.

The pan pictured above was the one that was buttered and floured, not coated in baking spray.  It turns out that there was a pretty big difference between the two.

The madeleines in the pan coated with Baker’s Joy (on the right) didn’t rise like their butter-coated siblings.  And though they all released from the pan without too much effort, the butter-coated ones were much easier to pop out.  All in all, the butter-coated madeleines had a better shape, better color, and released from the pan better than the other ones.  From now on, I will use nothing but butter to grease my madeleine pans and I suggest you do the same.

The little cakes are best eaten on the first day while the edges are still crisp, so I suggest inviting a few friends over the day you decide to make them.  But if you do have leftovers, they are perfectly fine the next day—especially dunked in your morning coffee.

If you’d like to try this recipe for buttery, lemon-scented madeleines, head over to 101 Cookbooks and let Heidi show you how.  I ended up with exactly 24 regular-sized madeleines using her recipe.

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