Sunday, January 24, 2010

What's in a name?

My name is Magda but it could have easily been Rebecca. That's the name my mother wanted to give me when she first found out she was having a baby girl. She preferred though to honor her own mother by naming me after her. Magdalene.
Would my life be different had I been named Rebecca? No, not really, just my initials. Sure, our name is the first thing that defines us, that gives us an identity. "What's your name?" is one of the most common questions a person's being asked his whole life; from an old lady asking a cute little 5-year-old to ones future husband asking on the first encounter.

Having something named after you though is a completely different thing. In my mind, having food being named after you is an amazing thing. And so begins the story of a young, French 18th century peasant girl named Madeleine, or a French 19th century Cordon Bleu pastry chef named Madeleine, or... well, there are many theories regarding the origin of the name of these small cakes named madeleines.
Even though they're not named after me, I've always felt like I can share a bit of their glory because of my name (Magdalene is Madeleine in Greek).

I probably don't have to introduce these remarkable little sponge cakes to most of you. I bet you've eaten them at least once in your lives. But for those of you out there who haven't, let me be the one to familiarize you with them.
These wonderfully tasty sweets are incredibly light and fluffy, like a proper sponge cake should be, and when you effortlessly bite into them you can taste the rich butter and the delicate notes of lemon.

The recipe I adapted called for honey, so I had the chance to use one of the best in the world. Honey from the Greek island of Kefalonia, where I spent ten days of summer bliss last August. This honey is also known as Golden honey, which is wild thyme flavored honey. It really transformed the character of the madeleines, giving them a deeper and more luscious flavor but not making them overly sweet.

Madeleines are traditionally dipped into tea and then savored, but I'm not a tea person so I prefer having them on their own, plain or with a dusting of icing sugar, with homemade marmalade, or even with homemade strawberry syrup and a couple of scoops of vanilla ice cream.

Madeleines with Honey and Lemon
Adapted from Rick Stein's French Odyssey

The recipe for madeleines is very easy but you do need the right equipment for baking them. Their distinctive scallop shape can only be accomplished through the use of a mold/pan with shell- shaped depressions. You can find these molds at any decent cook shop or online stores, and they come in three types: silicone, non stick, or metal. I don't have a preference, but keep in mind that if you use the traditional metal pan, you have to generously butter and flour the molds so that the madeleines don't stick onto them. They tend to be very, very sticky.
There are two different sized molds for madeleines, small and large. I used a large one (cavity size 6.5 cm x 4.5 cm).

Yield: about 30 large madeleines

100 g sugar
3 medium-sized eggs
Zest of 1 large lemon, finely grated
100 g all-purpose flour, sifted, plus extra for dusting the molds
1 tsp baking powder
100 g butter, melted, plus 2 Tbsp butter, softened, for greasing the molds
1/8 tsp salt
1 Tbsp and 1 tsp good quality clear honey
Icing sugar (optional)

If you're using a metal pan/mold, brush the cavities with the 2 Tbsp of softened butter and then dust with flour, making sure to tap out the excess. You don't need to do this if you're using non stick or silicone molds.

Sift flour, baking powder and salt into a small bowl and set aside.
Place the 100 g of butter in a small saucepan and melt over medium heat. Once melted, remove from heat and let cool slightly.

Meanwhile preheat the oven to 190 degrees Celsius and start making the batter. Put the sugar and eggs into a large bowl and whisk with a hand-held electric mixer for about 3-5 minutes, until thick and mousse-like. Whisk in the lemon zest and then add the sifted flour, baking powder and salt, a little at a time, folding them in gently with a rubber spatula, until incorporated. Be careful not to deflate the mixture.

Whisk a little of the egg-flour mixture into the cooled, melted butter along with the honey and then pour everything back into the egg-flour mixture. Fold in carefully until everything is incorporated. Place the batter in the refrigerator for 15 minutes to thicken slightly.

Fill each cavity 3/4 full with the batter and bake for 10 minutes, on the middle rack of the oven, until golden and puffed up. If you're using the small madeleine mold then bake for 5-6 minutes. Take pan out of the oven and allow to cool, then remove madeleines carefully from the cavities.

Wash the mold and repeat process to bake the rest of the madeleines.

If you want to dust them with icing sugar, wait until they have cooled completely.

You can store madeleines in an airtight container, at room temperature, for 2-3 days.


  1. Our regular friday-night-restaurant here in HK serves tine madeleines with their coffee. Very yum. They sprinkle some icing sugar and lemon zest on top - which I LOVE.
    Recently they changed the recepe a little by adding orangeflowerwater to the batter - and however tasy that sounds - somehow that does not work.

    happy baking...!

  2. Your madeleines look gorgeous. I've always wanted to make them, just never gotten around to it. One of these days...

  3. Wonderful madeleines Magda... I will surely try them, since I always wanted to make them and never got the chance to... and your images do look very tempting too...
    I will send you the original cuban black pea soup at your email...

  4. Mickey, I've read recipes that call for orange flower water but never tried one. Maybe I will to see how it tastes, although like you I prefer the lemon flavor.

    Tracy, thank you. When you do try them let me know how they turn out.

    Eleni thank you so much. I will be cooking it soon!

  5. I love your madeleines and pictures. I wish I had something this delicious named after me, or me after it. My name means eglantine, so it's pretty nice to be named after a flower, but still not nearly as good as a madeleine.

    Have a great week!


  6. Thanks for visiting our blog! These look super tasty. Nice photos too!

  7. Madeleines also play a key role in Proust's In Search of Lost Time: in the first volume (near the beginning), the narrator dips a madeleine into tea and the memories of his life that had since eluded him come rushing back.

    Beautiful photos!

  8. Nisrine, thanks, have a great week!

    Chef Fresco, thank you, I'll be visiting again soon.

    Elizabeth, yes, it's such a wonderful book! I believe that's the actual reason why madeleines became so famous worldwide.

  9. Your Madeleines look delicious! Nice to find your blog!

  10. This sounds deja vu. I would swear I left a comment at this post. Your madeleines sound delicious and thanks for reminding them to me.

  11. Ah madeleines, like Proust's the episode of the madeleine. The photos looks really pretty- I am not a baker myself, but my mum in law makes these- I just bought a madeleine tray for her this winter. you have some lovely recipes here on your blog. best wishes, shayma

  12. I love madeleines and yours look fantastic! Beautiful photos Magda!