Appears in
Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets

By Darra Goldstein

Published 2015

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madeleine is a small sponge cake in the shape of a shell that occupies a hallowed place in French patisserie. Madeleines have long been associated with the town of Commercy in Lorraine, whose bakers claim that the cake originated during the eighteenth century in the kitchens of the nearby chateau of Stanisław Leszczyński, father-in-law of Louis XV of France. The name of the cake is attributed to an elderly cook named Madeleine Paulmier (according to Bescherelle).

Nineteenth-century cookery books (those by Audot and Brisse, for instance) give recipes for madeleines as a modified pound cake or quatre-quarts mixture, a type of sponge cake with a sufficiently firm crumb to prevent its breaking apart when dipped into a cup of hot tea or a tisane. See pound cake and sponge cake. A madeleine batter is made by beating together softened butter, fine white sugar, egg yolks, and wheat flour. The mixture is aerated with whisked egg whites and flavored with zest of lemon and orange flower water or brandy. Spoonfuls of the mixture are baked in special embossed madeleine tins that resemble small scallop shells. When baked and cooled, madeleine cakes are either left plain or dusted with confectioner’s sugar. See sugar. Alternatively, a sugar glaze is brushed over the freshly baked cakes, which are replaced in the oven for a few minutes to dry.