The legend is that a maid named Madeleine baked these tea cakes for the fallen polish king Stanislas Leszcynski in his castle of Commercy (a town in the region of Lorraine in the north of France). The king was so impressed that he named the cakes after the girl and this is how they became so famous. That was back in the 18th century...
As for every "classic" there are many ways to make madeleines. This recipe is the one that consistently works out the best for me. The madeleines are as good looking as Starbucks' ones, but of course their taste is more authentic and you'll have plenty for the price of 3... :-)
Here is what you need for about 3 dozens of madeleines:
- 4 eggs
- 200 grams of sugar (7 ounces, or a little less than 1/2 pound)
- 200 grams of unsalted butter
- 225 grams of flour (1/2 pound)
- 1 tea spoon of baking soda
- 1 tea spoon of natural vanila extract
First beat the whole eggs in a large bowl with a whisk as you would do for an omelette. Add the sugar, all at once, and beat again until the mix is homogeneous and a white foam forms on top.
Melt the butter in a small pan. First cut it in cubes. Use low heat so that it melts without cooking (it should remain white and smooth, it shouldn't turn bright yellow and oily). I find that European style butter has more taste than "regular" unsalted butter. You should try!
Add the flour to the egg and sugar mix. It's better if you sift the flour first: pour it in a sieve or a strainer over the bowl and shake until it's all gone through. Stir the mix while adding the flour, making small circles in the middle of the bowl to incorporate it without creating clumps. Then add the baking soda and stir again (you can also pour the baking soda over the flour in the sieve).
Add the melted butter and stir well until the mix is smooth.
Add the vanila extract and stir again. Other flavors are nice too: for example you could replace the vanila extract by finely grated lemon zest, orange blossom extract, cocoa powder... but you don't want to overwhelm the buttery, sugary taste, which is the most important in this recipe.
Leave the bowl in the fridge for at least one hour.
Then scoop the dough and pour 1 tea spoon in each shell of your madeleine pan (first spread butter and flour on the pan if it isn't anti-adhesive).
Bake them at 365F for 11 or 12 minutes each. Check without opening the oven and take them out as soon as they are golden.
Let them cool down on a grid and enjoy! You can also store them in a metal box or a hermetic plastic box with a paper towel at the bottom. This way you can keep them almost as good as fresh for about a week.
[picture added 11/9/2010]