Honey Madeleines

Honey Madeleines | ZoëBakes | Photo by Zoë François

Nearly 22 years ago I got married, and as a gift I was given a copy of Patricia Wells’ book about the cuisine of Joël Robuchon. It was a heady book for a 23-year-old with Vermont commune roots. The book, and its recipes, stepped me directly into the intimidating world of French food. Patricia Wells promised to explain the techniques I’d need to make Robuchon’s Foie Gras and Creamy Scallop and Caviar Pillows, but at that age I could hardly afford to buy the ingredients, let alone all the equipment I’d need to make them. So, as is true to my nature, I flipped to the back of the book, to all the sweets and landed on the recipe for Madeleines. I’d read about these sexy, little, shell-shaped cakes in Marcel Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past, when I was in college. Proust would have been an amazing food blogger with words like these:

“She sent for one of those squat plump little cakes called “petites madeleines,” which look as though they had been molded in the fluted valve of a scallop shell … I raised to my lips a spoonful of the tea in which I had soaked a morsel of the cake. No sooner had the warm liquid mixed with the crumbs touched my palate than a shudder ran through me and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary thing that was happening to me. An exquisite pleasure invaded my senses … And suddenly the memory revealed itself. The taste was that of the little piece of madeleine…”

But, Proust neglected to provide the recipe, so over the years people have made up their own versions. Some based on a genoise, some a pound cake batter, but Patricia Wells and Robuchon have created what I think is the ultimate Madeleine. It’s a combination of browned butter, honey, lemon zest and almond meal, which combines to make an incredibly rich cake that’s soft on the inside, crisp on the outside and worthy of the shuddering Proust describes. The key to the success of this recipe is to use really flavorful honey, chill the batter before baking and make sure your scalloped Madeleine pans are really well buttered. Whenever theres a special occasion or I want to do something particularly sweet for my husband, I bake him Madeleines.

Honey Madeleines from Simply French by Patricia Wells and Joël Robuchon (I rarely make a recipe without improvising, but this one is perfect in my mind and needs no changes.)

Unsalted butter, softened, for greasing the pans

13 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 2/3 cups confectioners’ sugar (powdered sugar)

1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

1/2 cup finely ground almonds (almond meal)

6 large egg whites

1 tablespoon strong-flavored honey

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

2 lemons, zested – optional

To make the Madeleines:

Heating brown butter | ZoëBakes | Photo by Zoë François

In a saucepan heat the butter over medium-high heat. It will bubble,

Making brown butter | ZoëBakes | Photo by Zoë François

then foam and finally the solids in the butter will brown and smell nutty.

Making brown butter | ZoëBakes | Photo by Zoë François

Strain the browned butter into a bowl and allow it to cool. It shouldn’t be solid, but no longer hot.

Sifting flour, sugar and almond meal | ZoëBakes | Photo by Zoë François

Sift together the sugar, flour and almond meal.

Mixing brown butter and flour | ZoëBakes | Photo by Zoë François

Beat the egg whites until foamy, but still very soft, so they run off the beater when it is lifted. Whisk in the dry ingredients. Add the brown butter, honey and vanilla. If you want a lemon scented cake, then stir in the zest.

Honey madeleine dough | ZoëBakes | Photo by Zoë François

Place the batter into a container, cover and chill for at least 2 hours, but this can be done a day or two ahead.

To bake the Madeleines:

Preheat the oven to 375°F

Spooning madeleine dough into pan | ZoëBakes | Photo by Zoë François

Generously grease the pan with butter. (I highly recommend getting a Nonstick Madeleine Pan)

Madeleine dough in a pan | ZoëBakes | Photo by Zoë François

Fill the pans about 3/4 of the way with the chilled batter. This may require you to wet your finger tips to spread the sticky batter evenly in the pan.

Baked honey madeleines | ZoëBakes | Photo by Zoë François

Bake the cakes for about 18 minutes or until they are golden brown on the edges and pale, but firm on the top.

Baked honey madeleines | ZoëBakes | Photo by Zoë François

The cakes will dome on the top and that is part of their signature look.

Dusting honey madeleines with sugar | ZoëBakes | Photo by Zoë François

Dust with a little confectioners’ sugar and serve warm or allow to cool.

Share this post

31 thoughts to “Honey Madeleines”

  1. These are gorgeous, Zoë. I used to swipe my sister’s pan every time I wanted to make madeleines, but finally last year I caved and purchased one for myself (really because she moved more than five minutes from me and it is much more of a hassle to steal her pan). Proust as a food writer is intriguing. One of my favorite pastimes is going through literature to find references to food to see how people related to it and the role it played in everyday life.

    1. Hey Shaina,

      Clearly your sister didn’t consult with you before she, and her pans, moved!

      I love reading about food in literature, I realize how much I use the photos to cheat on a description. 😉


  2. Zoe…my baking angel. Wondering about the almond meal. Does grinding the almonds in a food processor/blender work or do I need to order some almond meal from King Arthur? The food processor/blender route doesn’t make for a very fine texture and I have always thought of madeleines having a fine texture and crumb.

    1. Hi Darby,

      I thought about having people make their own almond meal, because its sometimes tough to find and it’s expensive. BUT, as you mention, it is never as fine, so I decided to make you buy it already ground. The commercial grinders are just more powerful and able to get the almonds ground to a flour. So, the long answer is that you’ll need to order some.

      Thanks, Zoë

  3. Funny, but I own this book and the pages with the recipes – and photos – of the madeleines are the most visited, over and over again. And I have always planned on trying each of the flavors. I began making madeleine only about a year or so ago and have tried many recipes so I can’t remember if I finally made Robuchon’s. Now I must. Yours are beautiful! And btw I have guests for dinner tomorrow and am planning on making panna cotta with madeleines!

    1. Hi Jamie,

      Please, let me know if you agree with my love for this recipe. If you have one you like better, I really want to try it! I actually had to tape the madeleine recipes back into the book! 😉

      Cheers, Zoë

  4. thanks so much for posting this. I had read about this recipe but couldn’t find the book. I have tried several recipes for madeleines, seeking the perfect Proustian one and I can’ wait to try this. Neither can my husband who loves to eat them!

    1. Hi Katherine,

      According to Proust’s description his madeleines seem a bit crumbly, so these may be a touch more moist than the ones he actually ate, but I’m ok with that! 😉

      Cheers, Zoë

      1. I made them ysterday but 18 minutes is too long- came out too dark and crispy on the edges but great flavor. Will try again at 15 minutes. We are in Denver at 5280 ft- do you think the altitude affected it? I use a dark metal pan- is that an issue? Checked my oven temp with an oven thermometer too.

        1. Hi Katharine,

          I have a feeling the browning is more to do with the color of the pan than the altitude, but both may be playing a part. Try reducing the heat a little and see if that helps.

          Thanks! Zoë

  5. Love these and all your posts! Happy anniversary to you and Graham. (I worked with him at Aveda). Perhaps I could convince you to do a guest post on my blog one day (wisconsinbites.me), as long as you use a Wisconsin ingredient or two. 🙂 Thanks for being a blogger inspiration!

  6. Thanks for reminding me to make this perfect spring dessert, though I still lack the courage to take up with Proust. We like our madeleines with orange zest and orange flower water.

  7. I just stumbled on your website as I was searching for a madeleine recipe and these look amazing! I made David Lebovitz’s madeleines but burned the first batch when, despite my misgivings, I followed his instructions and baked them at 425F. I lowered the temperature for the second batch and they came out ok but nothing to be overly excited about. Maybe it was the taste of baking powder. I’m excited to give this recipe a try, but I have a question. It looks like yours got the little bump even though the recipe doesn’t use baking powder or other leavening agent – is it becuase of the natural leavening provided by the egg whites?

    1. Hi Polina,

      Yes, eggs are a natural leavener and these will rise slightly. I think you will really enjoy this recipe!

      Cheers, Zoë

  8. Oh boy, if you like food in literature — Have you read Louise Penny’s books? They are murder mysteries but set in Quebec! Whenever the characters go into the Bistro, my mouth starts to water. Such wonderful descriptions of the food, they make me want to move to Canada every time.

    If I can still put in a question re this post — I wonder how many madeleines this recipe will make? If I were really experienced at making tiny cakes I could probably tell by the amount of the flour, but I’m not that good! Recently tried madeleines for the first time at Starbucks (the ones that come in little packages). Good enough to make me want to try baking some fresh ones!

  9. I just made these madeleines and this recipe is PERRRRRRRRFECT.
    My family and guests were delighted and so was I. I am a French national who had lived in France for the first half of my life and the flavor of these madeleines is on point. I did add the lemon zest which made them even better. I even made a lemon icing and iced a few of them just to try to enhance the lemon flavor. It was delicious but I do prefer without it.

    Thank you for this amazing recipe, which I am definitely adding to my own recipe file because it is a keeper!

    I you have not made these yet, I strongly encourage you to do so. Your taste buds will thank you for it!!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *