Most home cooks, at least in this country, have never baked madeleines. But there's no reason to be intimidated by the French tea cakes -- anyone with a mixer and the right pan can turn them out.
Consider one of various legends of the madeleine's origin: It involves a hurried cook filling aspic molds with batter; the small portions and pretty shapes meant they baked quickly and could be delivered right to the table without embellishment. The moral of the story: Madeleines may keep company with elaborate pastries, but their whole reason for being is to make life easy for the baker.
The tips here will take any guesswork out of your first batch, and the recipe can be adjusted for eight other flavors, including the likes of peanut butter and jasmine green tea. The French might not approve, but your taste buds will.
INTO THE GROOVE
A delicate, fluted shape is part of what defines these buttery cakes. You could use another pan, but then they really wouldn't be madeleines.
Brave New Madeleines
We'll always love the classic, but we couldn't resist experimenting with a range of flavors and bringing a little 21st-century variation to the madeleine.
Add 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder to flour mixture. Fold 8 ounces melted bittersweet chocolate into batter before baking. Dust baked madeleines with cocoa powder.
OLIVE OIL AND SEA SALT
Use only 1 1/2 sticks butter; add 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil to melted butter. Sprinkle a very small pinch of sea salt into buttered madeleine molds before piping in batter.
Omit honey. Reduce 1/2 cup pure maple syrup by half over medium-low heat, about 15 minutes; add to melted butter. For maple glaze, whisk together 1/2 cup pure maple syrup, 4 tablespoons melted unsalted butter, and 2 tablespoons confectioners' sugar. Let cool for at least 1 hour. Brush onto scalloped side of baked madeleines. (Makes enough for 1 batch.)
JASMINE GREEN TEA
Grind 1/4 cup best-quality jasmine green tea in a spice grinder until powdery; add to flour mixture.
BLACK AND WHITE
Transfer half the batter to a bowl. Stir 4 ounces melted bittersweet chocolate and 1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder into half the batter. Pipe chocolate batter into one half of each mold, then pipe vanilla batter into remaining half of mold.
Add 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg, and 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger to flour mixture. For cream cheese glaze, stir together 6 ounces room-temperature cream cheese and 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons confectioners' sugar until smooth. Stir in 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon whole milk. Dip scalloped side of each baked madeleine into glaze, and wipe excess off sides. Grate cinnamon sticks over glaze, dusting tops. (Makes enough for 1 batch.)
Use only 1 1/2 sticks butter, and add 1/4 cup natural peanut butter when melting butter. Sprinkle madeleines with 1/2 cup chopped peanuts before baking. Cut baked madeleines in half lengthwise through center, and sandwich each with strawberry jam.
Reduce 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice by half over medium heat, about 15 minutes; add to batter with 1/4 cup finely grated lemon zest (from 4 lemons) before adding flour mixture. For lemon glaze, whisk together 2 cups confectioners' sugar and 2 tablespoons finely grated lemon zest and 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (from 4 lemons). Dip scalloped side of each baked madeleine into glaze, and wipe excess off sides. (Makes enough for 1 batch.)
The batter is based on that of a genoise, a light and buttery European-style cake. These techniques will ensure a tender result.
Room-temperature eggs triple in volume when beaten; cold eggs don't. If you forget, submerge whole eggs in warm water for 10 minutes, then proceed.
RIBBON ME THIS
After about 10 minutes of beating, the eggs and sugar will be pale and fluffy-smooth. Watch for the "ribbon" stage. When the beater is raised, a thick ribbon will slowly fall back into the bowl.
ALL IN THE SIFT
Use a sieve to sift the flour, baking powder, and salt onto the batter, aerating the mixture to prevent lumps.
FOLD LIKE A PRO
Don't stir (which will deflate the batter). Instead, plunge a rubber spatula into the bowl's center. Cut through to the edge, lift, and turn batter over flour. Give bowl a quarter turn, and repeat until flour is incorporated.
SWEET AND RICH
Butter lends richness and is crucial for flavor. Honey keeps the little cakes moist and adds a delicate perfume. Fold in both with a light touch.
Before adding the batter, use a pastry brush to get softened butter into every crevice of the scallop shells. It will prevent sticking and help achieve a golden crust.
PIPE IT IN
A pastry bag will make the quickest, neatest work of filling the prepared molds three-quarters full. Two spoons will also work.
BAKE, THEN SHAKE
Turn the pan upside down and shake it, and the petite cakes will pop right out. A small offset spatula or paring knife will help along any that resist.
Nonstick madeleine pan, $24; Gobel Traditional Finish Madeleine Plaques pan, $16; both from williams-sonoma.com.