Petites Madeleines (madeleine cakes)

The invention of madeleines, the small, rich shell-shaped cakes popular throughout France, is believed to date back to the 18th century, when they were first made in the town of Commercy (Lorraine region).

In 1755, Madeleine Paulmier, a servant of the marquise Perrotin de Baumont, is said to have created some little scallop-shaped cakes for the Duke of Lorraine, Stanislas Leszczynski (1677-1766), former king of Poland.

Little did she know that she would launch a regional speciality that would eventually bear her name.

Indeed, the traditional madeleine, with its characteristic shape and little bump, is a soft, lemon-scented cake that is today regarded as a classic French pastry.


From the late 19th century until the Second World War, hungry rail passengers making a stop at the Commercy train station would be greeted by the boisterous spectacle of madeleine vendors hawking their tasty goods.

The madeleine was immortalised by Marcel Proust (1871-1922) in Remembrance of Things Past, where it famously provides an example of how a simple thing can evoke a vivid memory without conscious effort.

“She sent for one of those squat, plump little cakes called “petites madeleines,” which look as though they had been moulded in the fluted valve of a scallop shell. And soon, mechanically, dispirited after a dreary day with the prospect of a depressing morrow, 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 had invaded my senses, something isolated, detached, with no suggestion of its origin.”

—A la recherche du temps perdu (Remembrance of Things Past), by Marcel Proust (1913)

Today, madeleines remain a popular accompaniment for tea, and are still favoured by many as a filling snack for train travel.

madeleine cakes

Madeleines are very easy to make, requiring only eggs, butter, flour, sugar and a bit of lemon or orange rind. No special techniques are involved, though you must, of course, have a madeleine cake pan.

Recipe for traditional madeleines

Adapted from Je sais cuisiner (French Edition), by Ginette Mathiot, published in English as I Know How to Cook.

Preparation time: 20 minutes
Yield: two dozen madeleines


  • 150 grams flour
  • 125 grams butter
  • 150 grams sugar
  • 2 large eggs (or three medium ones)
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • grated rind of one lemon (or orange)


  1. Set butter to melt on low heat.
  2. Beat the eggs and sugar together until mixture is smooth and pale yellow.
  3. Gradually sift in the flour, mixing well. Gently incorporate the melted butter using a spatula.
  4. Butter a madeleine tray and fill each shell two-thirds full.
  5. Bake at 220 degrees C for 8 to 10 minutes or until done (edges will be golden brown).
  6. Let cool two or three minutes and gently slide each madeleine out of its shell with the help of a rubber spatula.

Madeleines can be enjoyed warm or cool. Store them at room temperature in an airtight container.

The recipe can be varied by adding 1/4 cup of diced candied citrus peel (orange, lemon or mixed peel) in place of the lemon or orange rind.

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4 thoughts on “Petites Madeleines (madeleine cakes)”

  1. I would like to know if its absolutely necessary to rest the batter (or in the fridge) for it to thicken before baking. I have read that that ensures the hump comes up.

  2. Easy & superb. I baked them for breakfast today. I got 32 very uniformly size Madeleines. I put the rest of the batter in the fridge for 20 minutes while waiting for the first batch to be baked. The last batch I baked had higher bumps than the first batch. Thanks a lot for sharing your recipe. My daughter loves them!!!

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