I think if I was given the opportunity to live short-term in a foreign country, I’d find myself flying to France in a heartbeat. First I’d tour (and eat) my way through the country, but after a few weeks of visiting Marseilles, Strasbourg, Bordeaux, Lyon, Paris… I’d eventually settle down in a small rural town in the countryside. I’d search for the best local boulangerie and seek out an apprenticeship, where I would spend my time waking before the sun to enjoy the therapeutic qualities of kneading dough and rolling out layers of puff pastry, all under a expert’s watchful eye. I could learn the secret behind crafting the perfect baguette—I’ve heard all the theories: The French use locally sourced and naturally-carbonated spring water in their dough, they have special family starters which have been passed down generationally, they make slashes in the loaves before baking at very particular angles that let out the steam just so. After my quota of baking for the day, I would tote one of the beautiful products of our labors along home with me as I spun through town on my little cruiser bike (better yet, moped).
The first time I remember being enthralled with everything français was in sixth grade, when I took French as my first language class in school and for my birthday in the spring requested to my parents a French-themed party. Being the sweet parents that they are, they cooked an elaborate French dinner for my guests, complete with Brie cheese and champagne grapes as an appetizer, printed menus to accompany the meal, and a cathedral cake (literally a bundt cake shaped like a cathedral, for anyone wondering) for dessert. The next morning (it was a sleepover—I was in middle school, after all) we dolled each other up, threw on our finest berets and scarves, and were chaperoned to the most legit French bakery in Roswell for breakfast.
My obsession with French culture and cuisine is still very real today—I just keep it a little more low-key…no more French-themed birthday parties or halloween costumes (that happened one time too!) The other night when dog-sitting at a neighbor’s house, I came across a copy of Julia Child’s The Way to Cook and found myself sprawled across their couch gazing at pictures of sablés and paté until two in the morning.
While I don’t think I have enough authority or expertise to share recipes for croissants and baguettes on this space (one day…!), I am totally willing to share about these French madeleine cookies, which are a much simpler and straightforward bake. Aside from the only obstacle of owning madeleine tins, anyone can make these cookies. And although they’re technically a French cookie, they seem much more like a miniature cake when you take a bite. If you haven’t tried one before, it’s time to get on Amazon and order yourself some madeleine tins! Super tender and buttery, they’re one of the easiest French patisserie specialties to recreate (and impress company with) because all they are is cake batter baked inside fancy-looking sea-shell molds.
I made these a few weeks ago for Mother’s Day, and because my mom is basically in love with marmalade, I gave the cookies orange flavoring and brushed them with a honey-marmalade glaze. Then I went wild and amped up the toppings even more by adding a drizzle of dark chocolate and a pinch of fleur de sel on top of each cookie. Of course, if you wanted to keep it more simple, you could omit the toppings completely and dust with a light shower of powdered sugar. (Being honest here, the French would probably do it that way anyways.)
Serve them warm with a pot of tea, and if you’re like me you can pretend you just took them out of the oven at your cottage in a small French town with its adjoining fields of lavender and weathered stone walls that climbing roses like to make their homes on.
Marmalade Sea-Shells (Madeleines)
*adapted from King Arthur Flour*
Makes about 24 cookies
Prep time: 25 minutes
Total time (includes chilling): 1 hour 40 minutes
For the Cookies:
10 tablespoons unsalted butter (plus extra for greasing the tins)
⅔ cup granulated sugar
3 large eggs, room temperature
½ teaspoon salt
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
1 ½ teaspoons orange extract
1 cup all-purpose flour, sifted
For the Toppings:
3 tablespoons orange marmalade
2 tablespoons honey
Around 1 ounce dark chocolate, or 1/4 cup dark chocolate chips (they may not melt as well but can be used if that’s all you have on hand)
½ teaspoon coconut oil
Fleur de sel (optional)
- Melt 10 tablespoons of butter in a microwave and set aside to cool to room temperature.
- Combine sugar, eggs, and salt in a medium bowl and beat on medium speed for around ten minutes, until ingredients are completely incorporated and the mixture becomes fluffy and light yellow. Add the vanilla and orange extracts and beat an additional thirty seconds until they are incorporated.
- In four stages, alternate between folding in first the flour and then melted butter into the beaten egg mixture. Be careful to fold gently in order to keep the batter as aerated as possible. Once all the ingredients are just combined, cover the bowl and place in the refrigerator for 45 minutes so the batter firms up.
- After chilling the batter, preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease madeleine tins lightly with melted butter, making sure to cover all the grooves in the tins.
- Add a heaping tablespoon of batter to each mold, slightly spreading the batter gently with a spoon. (If you only have one pan, put the batter back in the fridge in between batches.)
- Bake madeleines for 12-14 minutes until the edges are lightly browned and a toothpick entered in the middle of the cookie comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack for several minutes, and then turn the pan over to take the madeleines out. Let the cookies continue to cool on a wire rack.
- To make the glaze, combine the marmalade and honey in a bowl in the microwave in 20-second intervals, stirring in between. Once the glaze has become a liquid, use a pastry brush to brush a light coating of glaze over each cooled cookie.
- To make the chocolate drizzle, combine the chocolate and coconut oil in a bowl and microwave in 20-second intervals, stirring in between. Once the chocolate is melted and warmed through (it should be runny when a spoon is dipped in), use a spoon to drizzle chocolate over each cookie. Top each with a little fleur de sel if desired.
- Eat warm, or let the glaze and chocolate set for several hours, and then store in an airtight container between layers of wax paper.
Keeps for 2 days, but is best eaten on the first day.