Originally posted August 6, 2015. Revised and updated July 28, 2016.
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There’s nothing that epitomizes European home baking like the French madeleine cookie. Although they may have a fancy name, they are super simple to make.
“No sooner had the warm liquid mixed with the crumbs touched my palate than a shudder ran through me and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary thing that was happening to me… And suddenly the memory revealed itself. The taste was that of the little piece of madeleine which … my aunt Léonie used to give me… The sight of the little madeleine had recalled nothing to my mind before I tasted it. And all from my cup of tea.”
– Marcel Proust, In Search of Lost Time
Believe it or not, the 20th century French writer and critic Marcel Proust was indeed speaking about the fine sponge cookies (or “biscuits” for our European-based readers) to which he dedicated several pages of his famous novel.
While dipping a madeleine into his tea, Proust’s childhood memories overwhelmed him, and inspired him to compose a passage about his love for this type of cookie.
Flavors, odors, and sounds are linked with memory and can arouse very specific emotions. I’m sure all of you share similar memories associated with a particular food, drink, or smell.
Food is a basic human need, and it often serves as catalyst for thoughts and memories. Perhaps this beautiful madeleine recipe will someday make you remember a wonderful time as well.
The shell-shaped biscuits have their origin in France. It is said that they got their name in the 18th century and were named after a female cook at the court of the Duke of Lorraine in Commercy.
Perhaps it’s because of their shape, but I always think of madeleines as the aristocrats of cookies. They look elegant and refined, and due to the sponge mixture of the batter, they won’t crumble when you take a nibble.
Most importantly, they are quite easy to make!
Madeleines require only a handful of ingredients, and preparation is quick and easy.
The most important thing to have on hand is a suitable mold.
At first, I was hesitant to purchase one of these.
I was in a bit of a quandary as to whether it was really worth it to get an extra piece of bakeware for making one specific type of baked good.
Like many European kitchens, the space in my baking and cooking abode is limited, and all the equipment needs to have its own adequate storage space.
But at the end of the day, my wish to make these wonderful-looking (and tasting) treats at home was stronger than my perceived lack of space to keep another pan around the house.
Bellemain 12-Cup Nonstick Madeleine Pan available on Amazon
I use a heavy-duty nonstick madeleine panlike the one pictured above and my experience with this product has been very positive.
The biscuits bake with a nice color, and they are easy to unmold. The pan can be cleaned quickly so it’s ready for the next batch.
Of course, if you prefer a material other than carbon steel, you could choose a silicone mold.
If you decide to “go whole hog” with these particular cookies, why not seek out a little added inspiration at the same time? This wonderful book will not only looks great on your shelf or provide some enticing eye candy on your coffee table, but it’s also an incredibly useful cookbook.
It offers a great variety of sweet and savory, classic and modern madeleine recipes. Once you’ve mastered mine, give a few of these a try!
Despite all of the available spruced up versions that various recipe writers have come up with, the plain variety is still one of my favorites. I love enjoying these cookies with a hot drink.
Or, have a whole afternoon of fancy confections, and add another treat to your baking list: such as these elaborately edible candied jelly squares, perfect for just a bit of sweetness with tea time.
So, what to do you think? Time to get yourself a new baking pan? Sometimes nothing could be better than a short stack of freshly baked cookies.
Give this recipe a try, and don’t forget to let me know how it turns out in the comments!
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Photos by Nina-Kristin Isensee, © Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Additional writing and editing contributed by Allison Sidhu.
About Nina-Kristin Isensee
Nina lives in Iserlohn, Germany and holds an MA in Art History (Medieval and Renaissance Studies). She is currently working as a freelance writer in various fields. She enjoys travel, photography, cooking, and baking. Nina tries to cook from scratch every day when she has the time and enjoys trying out new spices and ingredients, as well as surprising her family with new cake creations.