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One French word: madeleine, a French recipe: des madeleines

Madeleine, feminine noun (une madeleine, la madeleine, des madeleines) = a madeleine (a little shell-shaped sponge cake) (pronounced mad-euh-lenn, no particular stress).

And of course a French christian name, a little out of fashion, but there are a few baby  Madeleines.

Does everyone know what a madeleine is? It is a favourite tea-time cakelet in France, it has to be “madeleine-shaped” or it isn’t a madeleine. That is to say, shell-shaped on the underside, with a little hillock on the top side.


But it is most famous for being “la madeleine de Proust“.  And what is a “madeleine de Proust”, the less (French) literary among you may ask? In his famous novel, “A la recherche du temps perdu (I. Du côté de chez Swann)”, Marcel Proust (1871-1922) writes of childhood memories and of eating a madeleine dunked in tea. La madeleine de Proust in contemporary French has come to mean anything which instantly takes you back in time, more often to childhood.

A portrait of Marcel Proust, 1892, by Jacques-Emile Blanche. Oil on canvas, Musée d’Orsay, Paris.

It is also the name of a restaurant in Toulouse.

It is also a much-used expression: pleurer comme une madeleine = to cry abundantly, the origin of which refers to Mary-Magdalene weeping before Jesus on the Cross.

Madeleines are usually sweet, to eat with a cup of tea or coffee, but what about savoury madeleines? I think you probably need a mini-madeleine mold to do them, as otherwise they will be too filling to serve as apéritif nibbles.

The basic recipe for about 18 full sized madeleines is:

  • 2 eggs
  • 150gr flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder if your flour is not self raising
  • 130gr sugar
  • 120gr melted butter
  • flavouring of your choice (optional): vanilla essence, vanilla seeds, grated lemon rind…

A madeleine mold


  1. Pre heat the oven to 240°
  2. Beat the eggs with the sugar till the mixture becomes pale yellow
  3. Add the melted butter and flavourings
  4. Stir in the flour and baking powder
  5. Spoon into greased madeleine molds (ungreased if silicone)
  6. Lower the temperature of the oven to 180° and cook for about 12-15 minutes

Just out of the oven

The shape of the two sides of a madeleine

The basic savoury recipe for about 18 full sized madeleines would be

  • 2 eggs
  • 100 gr plain flour
  • ½tsp baking powder (not baking soda, be careful)
  • 5 tbs sunflower or olive oil
  • 1tbs grated cheese (gruyère)
  • 6 tbs liquid cream
  • pepper, a pinch of salt
  • 2tbs each of two other flavourings such as 1tbs pine nuts, 1tbs chopped olives, 1tbs chopped chorizo, 1 tbs cubed camembert, pesto, fresh basil, etc etc

Savoury madeleines: grated cheese, pesto, pine nuts, chopped olives

The difference in oils really depends on whether your other ingredients are “southern” or “northern” French. For instance if I were doing madeleines with pesto and pine nuts, I’d put olive oil. If I were doing them with camembert and chorizo, I’d put sunflower. The combinations are absolutely endless. Cheese and caraway seeds. Tiny cubes of ham and reblochon cheese. Olives and raw smoked ham. Salmon and dill. See how many interesting ones you can come up with.

The method is then to beat the eggs, mix in all the other ingredients, plus your “special” additions. Spoon into buttered madeleine molds and cook in a hot oven for 10 minutes or so. Silicone molds are really useful for unmolding this type of thing. The savoury ones do not seem to rise as well in the middle to make the typical “hillock”.

Another recipe for sweet madeleines :

  • 80gr flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 120gr runny honey
  • the weight of one of your eggs, whole with its shell, of butter
  •  some vanilla seeds scraped out of their pod, or a scant ½ tsp of marmelade in one go into the centre of the batter in the mold, so that, once cooked, it is not visible from the outside but creates a surprise when you bite into it. Or raspberry jam, or half a raspberry, or a blueberry or tiny chunk of fresh pineapple.

And I’ve just seen a picture of madeleines half dipped into melted chocolate. Not bad either…

If you want extra light madeleines, you can separate the eggs, just use the yolks to begin with, beat the whites firm, and fold them in at the last minute.

You can also do half quantities of separate mixtures simultaneously in two bowls, one sweet, one savoury, and cook them together in the same madeleine tray. And of course, if you don’t have the right mold at all, just do them in whatever you have, but you are not allowed then to call them madeleines!

Bon appétit!


About OneFrenchWord

I was a professional linguist and have been a life-long foodie. I am now lucky enough to be retired and free to roam the beaches around my home at the tip of the Finistère (Brittany, France). Writing is occupying a larger place in my life, with this blog and a children's book in preparation. I shall feel much happier calling myself a writer when I have published a book. And so posts on OneFrenchWord will be published first as an e-book, my ambition being to see a glossy volume on French language and cuisine in print some day. So keep reading, and snap up the book when it appears!

11 responses »

  1. Just ate one for breakfast. I love your blog!!!!

  2. Salut Caroline!

    wow I learned a lots in your post, very informative. like to learn about history, languages and food, I lerned all 3 things here in your madeleines post.

    Madeleines are amazing! I can never stop eating them. Your look by the way, perfect!

    Thanks for sharing! =)

  3. nicholasgooddenphotography

    Love it…love your blog!!!

  4. marshmallowfluffxo

    looks delicious!

  5. I love madeleines, but have never made them because I do not have the molds, which didn’t seem worthwhile for just one recipe. But now you introduce me to savory madeleines! I can’t wait to get molds to try them!

    • If you can get mini molds for savoury, as I said in the post, it’s best because they don’t fill people up so fast! Any left over sweet madeleines can be soaked in alcohol or syrup and make the basis for a trifle-like dessert, with a bit of fruit and whipped cream.

  6. I posted on the expression “pleurer comme une madeleine” not too long ago with the recipe, and while making a large batch for my guests this week, I was thinking how good it would be to have a savoury version with olive oil, cheese, olives, bell peppers… I will have to try your recipe!
    See my related post at Bon appetit!

  7. I love madeleines but hadn’t come across the savoury variety before, which I think I would like even better since I don’t have a sweet tooth. We have friends coming for dinner over the weekend – think I will try the ‘southern’ variety with the apéros.


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