A combination of having a little sister called Madeleine, and our family holidays almost always being in Northern France meant that the holiday souvenirs we inevitably brought back to school were madeleines. We would traipse back to school with packets of supermarket madeleine cakes, unavailable in the UK and so positively exotic in 1994. Slightly compromised from spending two days in a hot car and ferry, those madeleines retained the strange bounce peculiar to European bagged longlife cakes, and a strangely synthetic lemony aroma. They would be gone in moments. Each year we’d bring back more than the previous, and each year, they would disappear instantly.
So, of course, madeleines always make me think of going back to school, of seeing friends after an interminable, muggy summer, of the excitement of new beginnings, new prospects, new pencil case.
This time, my break has been shorter. I’m back at school this week, after what feels like an extremely brief respite before we launch into blown sugar, six hour practicals and, finally, finals. But it feels right that I not only make madeleines in anticipation of my return, but that they are broadly based on those we made in college during my first term. Although the ingredients sound like they’re trying to subscribe to current trends – burnt butter? Tick. Honey? Tick. Lots of salt in something sweet? Of course – these are actually very traditional. Brown butter is normally used in proper madeleines, and honey too – although I’ve upped the honey content and been more liberal with the salt.
These are such lovely cakes, to eat and to make. The batter is simple, and can be made up to a day in advance so, if you wish, you can serve them warm, and certainly fresh. This recipe should give you proud little bumps in the middle of your cake. If you don’t have a madeleine tray, you can make these in cupcake or small yorkshire pudding trays, and still produce completely gorgeous and compulsive little cakes.
Madeleines, when not coming in big supermarket bags, are best eaten on the same day, ideally not long out of the oven, when still crisp at the edges and meltingly soft in the middle.
It goes like this:
Honey and Brown Butter Madeleines
Makes: 18 madeleines
Takes: 10 minutes, plus chilling
Bakes: 10-12 minutes
75g caster sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
90g soft flour, plus extra for greasing
125g salted butter
1. First, brown your butter. Place about 125g butter in a small pan and allow to melt. When completely melted, pour off 25g into a small heat proof container: you’ll use this for your madeleine moulds. Continue to cook the rest of the butter until it has foamed up and subsided, and is dark brown. Give the butter a good a stir, picking up all the sediment on the bottom of the pan, and set aside to cool a little. The butter needs to be liquid but not hot.
2. Sieve the flour, baking powder and salt into a bowl.
3. Place the eggs and sugar in another bowl and whisk until increased in volume, pale and foamy.
4. Add the dry ingredients in one go and fold in briskly.
5. Add the honey to the melted butter, and fold into the mixture. Clingfilm the bowl and chill the mixture for at least an hour.
6. Meanwhile, prepare your moulds. Paint the melted butter thoroughly inside each mould. Sprinkle plain flour inside each divot, and shuffle until coated with flour. Tap out any excess, and refrigerate.
7. When the batter has chilled and rested, preheat your oven to 160°C, and put your first batch into your madeleine tray. You can spoon this in although, honestly, I find it easier with a small piping bag; either way, you want to fill them about 2/3 full.
8. Bake for around ten minutes until the madeleine is puffed and proud – hopefully with a little bump! – And springs back when gently pressed with a finger.
9. Leave to cool for 5-10 minutes, then turn the madeleines out onto a cooling rack: be sure not to place them bump-side down. Wash and repaint and flour moulds, and bake your second batch in the same way.