Growing up in France, my favorite moment of the day was without any doubt le goûter, a late afternoon treat celebrating the end of the school day. If I was lucky, my mother would be waiting for me with a chausson aux pommes (sort of an apple turnover) from the bakery that I would enjoy on the way back home. More regularly, it would be fruits and a couple of cookies, or just a piece of baguette with Nutella or 4 squares of chocolate, not one more — just enough to satisfy my craving without spoiling my dinner. This shouldn’t be confused with snacking. People don’t snack in France. Le goûter is a light refined meal, enjoyed between the lunch at 1 p.m. and the dinner at 8 p.m.
It would be a mistake to think that this sweet habit disappeared as I reached adulthood, but it has definitely become rarer. It’s not easy to run to the bakery when you’re stuck in a meeting. And if I can kick off early, I generally take it as a sign for happy hour. Maybe that’s the American equivalent.
But my parents, now retired, still take a break around 4 p.m. to enjoy some tea with typical French cookies such as petits beurre, financiers or madeleines and a square of dark chocolate. And because goûter does not sounds sophisticated enough, they call it l’heure du thé, or tea time.
With their soft, buttery and delicate texture, madeleines are the perfect treat for tea time, even more if they’re flavored with earl grey tea leaves or matcha powder. I also made a batch of lemon and lavender ones, but it’s only because lavender makes everything so perfect (also true for cardamom).
Don’t let yourself be fooled by their unpretentious look. Under their slightly crispy scalloped shell, they hide a moist and tender cake-like consistency. They should hold together and not disintegrate when dunked into a cup of tea.
Making madeleines requires some technique and intimate knowledge of your oven. Why do you think most food blogs depict them upside-down? It’s because there is no distinctive hump to be seen. Yet the hump is the most important part, and not only for aesthetic reasons. That’s where all the fluffiness is! As a kid, I used to bite into the hump first, happy to deliver my little madeleine from its heavy burden. I would then fill the hole with a teaspoon of jam. Don’t judge me.
Now, let me share with you the secret for a perfectly bumpy madeleine, and it has nothing to do with saturating your batter with baking powder. The secret is to create a thermal shock by first chilling your batter and then, while they’re baking, making a couple of precise temperature adjustments. The result? Let’s say a picture is worth a thousand words…
I know that a lot of recipes call for brown butter, but after experimenting for a while, I found that using softened butter instead allows for a lighter texture. If, on the other hand, you prefer your madeleines denser, use melted butter cooled to room temperature.
Earl Grey madeleines
yields about 2 dozen madeleines
- 3 tablespoons earl gray tea leaves
- 2/3 cup (130 g) caster sugar
- 3 eggs at room temperature
- 2 tablespoons liquid honey
- 1 1/4 cup (150 g) flour
- 1 pinch of salt
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 8 tablespoons (125 g) softened butter
In a mortar, grind the tea leaves into a fine powder. Combine with the sugar and, using your fingertips, rub until the sugar is fragrant.
In a bowl, beat eggs and flavored sugar with an electric mixer. Gradually add honey and whisk until the mixture is pale, thickens and doubles in volume — about 5 minutes.
Gradually add the flour, salt and baking powder and beat until the mixture is homogeneous. Finally, incorporate the softened butter. Cover the batter with plastic wrap, pressing the wrap against the surface to create an airtight seal and chill for at least 2 hours. This will allow the gluten to relax and give a light texture to your madeleines.
Preheat your oven to 460°F. Line the molds with butter and a dusting of flour. Don’t fill the mold with too much batter; a tablespoon will be enough. Also, don’t worry about spreading the batter evenly as the heat of the oven will take care of that. For even better results, you can chill the mold and the batter for 10 minutes in your fridge before baking them.
Bake for about 2 to 3 minutes, until you see a small depression, then reduce the temperature of the oven to 390°F. Cook for an additional 4 minutes (the hump should start to form), then reduce to 350°F and cook for another 4 to 5 minutes, until the madeleines are golden and well rounded. In the end, your madeleines will cook between 10 and 12 minutes.
Unmold immediately and let cool on a rack.
Make sure that for each new batch the pan is cool and properly buttered and floured.
They’re best eaten slightly warm, direct from the oven and cooled for a few minutes. But you can store them for a couple of days in an airtight container.
For matcha madeleines: use 7g of matcha powder.
Incorporate the matcha powder with the flour.
For lemon lavender madeleines: use 1 tablespoon of dried lavender buds and the zest of 1 Meyer lemon. You can also add a little bit of the lemon juice to the batter.
Rub the sugar, lavender buds and lemon zest together with your fingertips until the sugar is moist and fragrant.
I can’t tell which version was my favorite. I guess it would be like asking me to choose among my children. I knew from the beginning that the lavender lemon woud be a hit because, you know, it’s lavender. Nothing can ever go wrong with lavender! As for the Earl Grey ones, their subtle citrus flavor will pair very well with your cup of tea (which may or may not be Earl Grey). You’re all set for a perfect screening of Downton Abbey!
But I was surprised by the taste of the matcha madeleines. Although I’m a big fan of matcha, it’s true that its earthy and slightly bitter taste can be overpowering. The quantity in the recipe is just enough for adding a subtle tang that will nicely counterbalance the sweetness of the madeleines. I’m already addicted!