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What you should know about French cake, madeleine

Madeleine, also known as petite madeleine, is a traditional cake from France.

It is known for its distinctive shell-like shape. There are just four main ingredients in a basic madeleine recipe; eggs, sugar, flour and unsalted butter.

As for the flavouring, some recipes include ground almonds for the nutty taste or lemon zest for the lemony taste.

Even though the ingredients are simple, the different ratios, technique and process can result in different result.

If you love this small sponge cake, this is what you should know about madeleine:

1.The history of madeleine

Like many famous recipes out there, the origin story of madeleine is a subject of dispute.

Larousse Gastronomique is an encyclopedia of gastronomy which was published in Paris in 1938.

It states that the madeleine was invented by a pastry chef named Jean Avice who is known to be the master of choux pastry.

He used to work for Prince Talleyrand (1754-1838), a French clergyman and diplomat.

Reportedly, Avice invented the madeleine in the 19th century by baking small cakes in aspic molds.

Another origin story is contributed to 17th-century cardinal and rebel Paul de Gondi. He owned a castle in Commercy in northeastern France which is also known to be the origin place of madeleine.

Others believed the cake was named after its inventor. The most famous assumed inventor is Madeleine Paulmier. She is believed to be a cook for Stanislaus I, duke of Lorraine and the exiled King of Poland.

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The duke fell ill one day and asked his cook to make small cakes. Madeleine made them and when the duke asked for the name of the cake, she said she did not have a name for it yet. Hence, the duke decided to name it after the cook.

Legend has it that Stanislaus I’s son in-law, Louis XV loved it so much that him and his family introduced it his royal court in Versailles. It is believed that was when the cake became a hit among the French.

Lastly, some historians say that a convent of Catholic nuns in Commercy invented the recipe. They baked and sold them to support their abbey which was named Marie-Madeleine.

2.How to make the perfect madeleines

Many have come up with fool-proof recipes in making the perfect madeleines. The New York Times pointed out in their 2019 article that the key to obtaining a sublime sponge is patience and precision since madeleines are essentially spongecakes.

“It’s most important that none of the ingredients be cold; the eggs must be room temperature and the butter-honey mixture and the milk must be warm. The fact that the butter is stirred into the batter at the end is unusual but vital,” New York Times writes.

Meanwhile, The Guardian in 2015 went into great details on how to make the perfect madeleine.

For example, the traditional madeleines of Commercy are made with beurre noisette which is butter that has been browned to give it a nutty flavour.

Another tip is to brush pan with thin layer of soft butter then place the tin in the freezer for less than 20 minutes. This will avoid the case of sticking madeleines. Remember not to use any flour dusting. The additional flour will affect of your madeleines.

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It is advisable to give the batter a rest before baking. The resting time varies from minimum 30 minutes to overnight. The idea here is to thicken the batter and give the cakes their little ‘bumps’.

This step is similar with Malaysian cake, kuih penyaram. It is best to leave the batter for kuih penyaram overnight in the fridge in order to give its signature hat-like shape.

Do you know any more tips to make the perfect madelines? Photo by Pixabay.

3.Other cakes that are almost similar to madeleines

Speaking of Malaysian cakes, the most similar to madeleines found in the country is kuih bahulu, which is most commonly made in star shapes.

However, unlike madeleine, kuih bahulu does not contain butter.

In the meantime, madeleine shares some similarities with another French cake called financier.

It is small almond cake made with egg whites, flour and powdered sugar and flavoured with beurre noisette.

Originally made by the Visitandine order of nuns during the Middle Ages, the cake is light and moist with a crisp exterior. Thanks to its outer appearance which many described as egg-like, financier can be easily be stored in the pocket without being damaged.

Today, there are many variations of madeleines such as earl grey madeleines, orange and thyme madeleines as well as gingerbread madelelines.

Chocolate madelines. Photo by Pixabay.

If you are looking for traditional madeleine recipes, here are ones from Allrecipes, Entertaining with Beth and Sallys Baking Addiction.

Patricia Hului
Patricia Hului is a Kayan who wants to live in a world where you can eat whatever you want and not gain weight. She grew up in Bintulu, Sarawak and graduated from the University Malaysia Sabah with a degree in Marine Science. She worked for The Borneo Post SEEDS, which is now defunct. When she's not writing, you can find her in a studio taking belly dance classes, hiking up a hill or browsing through Pinterest. Follow her on Instagram at @patriciahului, Facebook at Patricia Hului at Kajomag.com or Twitter at @patriciahului.

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