Spring is slowly arriving in Minneapolis! We had what -we hope- were the last two snowfalls of the season, and while snow in April might seem very unusual in other parts of the country, in Minnesota it is not atypical to have one last dusting of snow before spring is here to stay. In our garden, we have seen a few of the young crocuses sprout and bloom, and luckily, crocuses are as tough as they are beautiful, and the cold snap has left them unscathed. As we transition into the new season, this combination of snow and blooms inspired me to welcome the blooming season with a batch of vanilla madeleines dipped in the lovely pink hue of ruby chocolate and decorated with flower-shaped white sprinkles, an ode to the transition of seasons.
Have you ever seen madeleines? They are these cute shell-shaped miniature cakes, which can also pass for cookies. They are sold at many coffee shops, including Caribou and Starbucks, and can be found in many bakeries and the bakery section of grocery stores. Madeleines originated in northeastern France, and there are numerous legends as to how they were invented. Some people say the little cakes were named after Madeleine Paulmier, who was a cook for the Duke of Lorraine in the 18th Century. In 1755, King Louis XV, the son-in-law of the Duke of Lorraine tasted Madeleine’s creations for the first time and liked them so much that he introduced them to the royal court at Versailles soon after. Other stories link the cakes with a pilgrim named Madeleine who went on the Camino pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, Spain, and brought back the recipe to France after her travels. Regardless of their origin, the creation of madeleines is an important step in French pâtisserie because it points to the time when metal molds started being used in European baking. Later on, madeleines were popularized not just by French bakeries, like the notable Café Europe, but also by Marcel Proust, the renowned author who references them in his book Remembrance of Things Past.
My Mom taught me how to make madeleines when I lived in Houston, Texas, in the spring of 2015. She loves madeleines because these cute little sponge cakes are sweet, buttery, and simple. Like mother like daughter, that’s the reason I love them too! Last year, when she came back from her trip to Europe, she brought me back as a gift a madeleine pan, so I decided I would try out the recipe on my own. I thought that it would be a very difficult recipe to make, but luckily this is not the case! I think many of us mistakenly equate French baking with complicated recipes or difficult preparations. In this case, the shell-like shape comes from the cakes being baked in pans with shell-shaped depressions, so there is no labor-intensive process. The pan does all the work for you. The batter of the cake is pretty similar to a génoise cake, a building block of French pâtisserie. It gets most of its fat content from egg yolks, which are beaten with sugar and heated at the same time, often using a bain-marie or double bath. In this recipe, to keep things simple, the egg yolks and sugar are beaten without being heated, much like you would do when making a regular cake, so it is much easier and eliminates a step. It truly is like whipping up any other cake except you bake it in a different mold, and the result is quite lovely and makes for a wonderful addition to brunch or teatime. Another plus: the individual servings make it ideal for sharing with others or packing them as an individual gift, a must during these pandemic times. I hope you will try the recipe! You won’t be disappointed.
Vanilla Madeleines with Ruby Cacao Chocolate
Prep time: 20 min.
Chill time: 2 hours
Cook Time: 10-12 min.
Servings: Makes 24 cakes
- 12 tbsp unsalted butter
- 4 eggs
- 2 egg yolks
- ¾ cup minus 1 tbsp cane sugar
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 tsp vanilla powder
- 1½ cups all-purpose flour
- 1 tsp baking powder
- ½ tsp kosher salt
- 6 oz. ruby cacao chocolate
- white sprinkles (optional)
- Place the butter in a small saucepan and melt on low heat. Set aside and allow to cool completely.
- Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
- In a large bowl, or in the bowl of a stand mixer with whisk attachment, beat the eggs and egg yolks until they take on a pale lemon color.
- Slowly add the sugar, sprinkling it gradually into the mix, and continue to beat on medium high for about 3 or 4 minutes, until the mixture is thick and pale in color, the consistency of a light mousse.
- Stir in the vanilla extract and vanilla powder.
- Using a spatula, gently fold the flour mixture into the egg mixture.
- Add the melted butter in two additions. Continue beating until the butter is fully incorporated.
- Transfer the batter to an airtight container and refrigerate for at least 2 hours. (If you’re making ahead, you can also refrigerate them overnight to bake the next day.)
- Preheat the oven to 375°F. Meanwhile, butter and flour two 12-cavity madeleine pans.
- When ready to bake, fill each madeleine cavity up to ¾ with the batter. You can use a small cookie scoop like I did, or a piping bag, or simply a pair of spoons to measure out the quantity. Try not to over-fill the cavities.
- Bake for 10-12 minutes, until the cakes have a little bump on the top and the top of the madeleines springs gently when pressed. You can also try testing with a toothpick for doneness.
- Allow the madeleines to cool in the pan for at least 10 minutes before unmolding. After unmolding, transfer cakes to a wire rack and allow cakes to cool completely before dipping in chocolate.
- You could most certainly eat the madeleines plain. Personally, I love them in their simplest form. Or, you could sprinkle them with powdered sugar. But if you want to do the last step of this recipe and coat them in the pink-hued ruby chocolate, prepare a double boiler and gently place the ruby chocolate in the top of the double boiler, allowing it to melt over the steam.
- Once the chocolate is fully melted, dip one corner of the madeleine in the melted ruby chocolate and carefully place it back on the rack so the chocolate can set. Sprinkle with white sprinkles or any other decoration you desire while the chocolate is still warm.
- Allow the chocolate to set before serving. Madeleines are at their best when fresh out of the oven, or within the same day, but you could always store them in an airtight container to extend their shelf life.