Perhaps you’ve heard of France’s incredibly popular scallop-shaped tea cake known as a madeleine. This buttery, yellow cake and its uniqueness are mostly in its shape. But, as with a lot of foods in France, there is a charming history to go along with the eating, adding a level of delight and interest to each sweet bite.
The story behind this little cake is that Stanislas Leczinski, king of Poland, used to have a second home in the town of Commercy in Lorraine, a region in the east of France. One day, in 1755, he received as guests the great Voltaire and Madame du Chtelet, who both had a sweet tooth. So for this occasion he requested from his cook, a woman called Madeleine Paulmier, to create a new treat in their honor. She proposed to the kings guests small cakes with a fat belly. They were declared to be excellent because, among other reason, of their delicate bergamot orange flavour.
It is said that King Stanislas appreciated them so much that he sent a parcel full of them to the king of France, Louis XV, in Versailles. The cake became so popular and so successful that it was decided to call it The Cake of the Queen, but the queen preferred to call it Madeleine, from the name of the one who invented this today famous cake.
The madeleine was then immortalized by Marcel Proust in his autobiographical book, la recherche du temps perdu (Remembrance of Things Past), where a taste of the cake plunges the narrator back into his childhood. He wrote: “She sent out for one of those short, plump little cakes called ‘petites madeleines’, which look as though they had been moulded in the fluted scallop of a pilgrim’s shell… An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses….”. Since then, Proust’s madeleine has become a metaphor in France for anything that creates a vivid memory.
And this is why the name of a modest cook of a noble house became famous forever.
I can honestly say that every time I am baking these delightful little cakes, the aroma of browning butter that fills the kitchen excites just about everyone. And as soon as they come out of the oven we all stand in line to get our warm freshly baked treat straight from the tin! Why not try your hand at them yourself – they are quite simple to bake.
- 10 mlhoney
- 125gcastor sugar
- 25g self-raising flour
- 3 eggs
- 2.5ml vanilla extract
- Melt the butter and the honey together
- Whisk the eggs, yolk and sugar together until foamy and slightly thicker
- Sieve the self-raising flour into the mixture and gently mix together without leaving lumps
- Add the butter/honey mixture and mix until well incorporated, taking care not to over mix
- Spoon the mixture into the madeleine tins and bake at 190C for about 10 minutes until golden
- Remove from oven and let cool in tins
Tipsto keep in mind
Other flavours like lime, orange etc can be added with or without the honey
The honey can be omitted
The madeleines can burn easily, so keep a close eye on them while baking
The madeleine mixture can be baked in other shapes and sizes, like small cakes, cupcakes or large cakes