Baking · Cake · Europe · Nation Cake Challenge

France: The Great Madeleine Debate

Flag of France

Though looking small innocent and thoroughly innocuous  these small fluffy desserts have been the centre of one of the fiercest debates in baking history – are madeleines a cake or a cookie? This is the type of argument that results in a messy kitchen and flour fights, but as never satisfactorily been resolved. Martha Stewart is the principle leader of the cookie brigade, whilst the French chefs at Le Cordon Bleu stand firmly on the side of cake. In this [imaginary] debate between leading chefs, I would have to side with the French – They are definitely a cake! My judgement is very simple – cakes = soft, cookies – crunchy. Madeleines are not  crunchy so therefore they are cake.

Where do you stand on the whole cake/cookie debate? Answers on a postcard please (or in the comment section…)

madeleines 3

For a cake that has caused huge culinary disagreement, the madeleine supposedly has a very humble origin being developed by a poor french farmer named (you guessed it!)… Madeleine. However, it shot to fame in later years when the king came by, ate the cakes and loved them, taking the recipe and naming them after the original creator. The madeleine was also used by Proust to discuss the difference of voluntary memory (where memories are the result of an effort to create them) and involuntary memories, describing an event where the narrator bites into a madeleine and is instantly transported back to a memory from his childhood. In the spirit of philosophy, I then invite to to take a bite of a madeleine and see what involuntary memories come back to you.

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[For your information, the involuntary memories that came back to me was the Friends episode with the male nanny, and Rachel saying ‘Sandy made madeleines!’ Not exactly deep or thought-provoking!]

Mocha Madeleines


  • 3 large eggs
  • 4oz/125g caster sugar
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 150g plain flour
  • 1 tbsp cornflour
  • 32g cocoa powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tbsp instant coffee powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 4oz/110g melted butter

For the glaze

  • 187g icing sugar
  • 45ml brewed coffee
  • 1/2 tsp instant coffee powder


In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, instant espresso powder and salt. Set aside. In a separate bowl, beat eggs, granulated sugar, and vanilla with a mixer on medium speed until frothy. Fold the flour mixture into the egg mixture using a rubber spatula. Fold in the melted butter until incorporated. Refrigerate the batter for at least two hours or overnight.

Preheat oven to 375°F/190°C/Gas mark 5 and butter the madeleine pan. Fill each madeleine tin with 1 tablespoon batter. The batter will be stiff, but it will spread as it bakes. Bake for 7-8 minutes until an inserted cocktailstick comes out clean. Immediately turn the madeleines out onto a wire rack. If baking the madeleines in batches, wash the pan, dry it thoroughly, butter the tin again, fill them with batter and repeat the baking process.

To make the glaze, dissolve the coffee powder into the brewed coffee, before whisking in the icing sugar. Once the madeleines are cool, dip them at an angle into the glaze and place on baking parchment to dry.

2 thoughts on “France: The Great Madeleine Debate

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