Madeleines dipped in white chocolate: a truly exquisite French dessert

The shell-shaped cake’s plain appearance masks a delightfully light and fluffy sponge

Venessa Greenwood’s madeleines dipped in white chocolate. Photograph:   Harry Weir Photography

Venessa Greenwood’s madeleines dipped in white chocolate. Photograph: Harry Weir Photography

 

Afternoon tea is the loveliest way to spend an afternoon. It is big business for hotels, with prices spiralling to dizzying levels. Tea is part of the fabric of Irish culture, and we all understand the difference a china teacup makes. Crustless sandwiches and French patisseries are also a special treat.

At first glance, I had to be convinced of the merit of madeleines on the afternoon tea ticket. The distinctive shell-shaped French cakes are one of the cornerstones of French patisseries. Their otherwise plain appearance masks a delightfully light and fluffy sponge. The finest chefs will insist on serving them to order. Served piping hot from the oven, they are truly exquisite.

All you need is to invest in a tray of madeleine moulds, which are available in good kitchenware shops. Both non-stick metal trays and silicone trays are suitable. If choosing between them, the appeal of silicone is that it requires no greasing. Metal pans will give a crustier shell (and more golden colour when butter is used for greasing). One of the characteristics of truly authentic madeleines is “the hump” that forms in the centre, known as the ethereal pearl inside the shell. The hump is mainly due to the addition of baking powder.

Without it (as in this recipe), the madeleines remain more uniform. Nonetheless, to ensure they rise, it is important to whisk in lots of air into the mixture so the batter still domes as it rises.

A timeless French flavouring is orange blossom. A recent spell in the culinary spotlight led to as many savoury madeleine creations as Lady Gaga costume changes. But don’t knock it – a savoury madeleine could be a diamond in a rhinestone world of tired lunchboxes. Impress your colleagues, friends, family and neighbours with these madeleines, dipped in white chocolate, with a subtle hint of lime zest. In miniature, they become pretty petit fours. If served straight from the oven, a dusting of icing sugar is all that a classic madeleine needs.

Madeleines dipped in white chocolate

Makes 18
110g butter, melted (plus extra for greasing)
125g plain flour
125g caster sugar
3 eggs, room temperature
Zest of 1 lime
50g white chocolate, melted (or icing sugar)

Method
Preheat a conventional oven to 200 degrees (190 degrees fan). You will need a medium-sized madeleine tray.

In a saucepan, melt butter over a low heat. Set aside to cool to room temperature.

In a large bowl, mix together the flour and sugar until fully combined.

Using an electric whisk, mix in each egg simultaneously with a third of the cooled melted butter, continue in turns until fully combined. Mix on a high speed (getting as much air in as possible) until it is the consistency of a pale, thick batter.

Stir the lime zest through the mixture. 

Transfer the batter into a piping bag (alternatively, place in a bowl, tightly covered with clingfilm). Refrigerate for four hours, if possible.

Grease metal madeleine trays by brushing the inside of the cavities well with melted butter, wait 15 minutes then lightly dust with flour (silicone bakeware will not require greasing).

When ready to bake, pipe as much batter as required to fill the moulds to three quarters full (allow room for the mixture to spread, doubling in size). Once piped refrigerate for 15 minutes.

Bake on the upper shelf of the preheated oven for approx 12 minutes or until the cakes are golden blonde and the centre has risen (the actual baking time depends on size of the moulds, so miniature cakes will bake in seven minutes).

Once baked, remove from the oven and immediately pop madeleines out of the moulds. After the first batch, wash the tray and bake more.

Either serve immediately with a dusting of icing sugar, or allow to cool, then dip them in melted white chocolate and set aside until the chocolate hardens.

Variation
Since madeleines are best eaten fresh, the batter can be stored in the refrigerator, tightly wrapped for up to three days, then baked to eat hot.

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