Oh, the stories about the Madeleines! There are so many accounts about the origin of these little cookies that everyone must be confused by now. The only thing we know for sure is that they have always been associated with the French town of Commercy.
The story goes that the nuns of the convent of St. Mary Magdalen (St. Madeleine) made and and sold the cookies to support themselves and their school. After the French revolution, the monasteries were closed, and the nuns supposedly sold the recipe to the bakers of the town for a large amount of money.
Not surprisingly, the “Larousse Gastronomique” favors the version that claims a master pastry chef named Jean Avice, working with Prince Tallyrand, invented them by baking these little cakes in aspic molds.
Another less credible story alleges that they were invented by a young girl by the name of Madeleine, who worked as a servant for Stanislas Leszczynsky, the deposed king of Poland exiled to Lorraine. When his daughter Marie married Louis XV, the Madeleines, as King Stanislas named them, became very popular in Versailles.
Whatever the true story is, they were made famous by Marcel Proust, who wrote about them in his autobiographical novel À la recherche du temps perdu, (translated “Remembrance of Things Past”). He left the novel unfinished, and his brothers published the book upon his death in 1923.
Madeleines are not Madeleines without their distinctive shape, ridged on one side like an elongated shell. Madeleines are soft and moist after having just been baked, not too sweet, and perfect when sipping some coffee or a cup of tea.
makes about 24
3 large eggs
pinch of salt
3/4 cup (150 g) sugar
grated rind of 2 oranges
1 1/2 teaspoon orange flower water
1 1/2 cup (210 g) flour
12 tablespoons (165 g) unsalted butter, melted
powdered sugar for finishing (optional)
2 large Madeleine pans, (12 madeleines each pan)
Preheat oven to 375 F (190 C). Beat the eggs and a pinch of salt together until frothy.
Whisk in the sugar . . . .
. . . . orange rind . . . .
. . . . and orange flower water.
Whisk to combine.
Sift in the flour a little at the time.
Whisk gently but thoroughly. . . .
. . . . until fully combined.
Add the melted butter.
Mix until a fluid compound is obtained.
Butter and dust the madeleine molds with flour. Scoop the mixture in each of the cavities. Make sure they are only about two thirds full.
Bake for about 15 to 20 minutes, or until a light golden color. Do not overcook.
Un-mould immediately and optionally sprinkle with powdered sugar.
Watch the madeleines closely. Don’t let them get too much color: They tend to burn very easily, especially on the edges where they are thinner.