These delightful French Lemon Poppy Seed Madeleines combine the perfect soft buttery sponge interior with a crisp, scalloped shaped exterior. Flavoured with zesty lemon and dipped in a tangy lemon glaze, I’ve added just the right amount of poppy seeds for some textural crunch. Packed full of flavour, these elegant little delicacies make the perfect afternoon accompaniment with your tea.
With a French Mum I grew up knowing about these classic French beauties. We would often buy them from the store to enjoy at home (admittedly, they weren’t home made, but I still loved them!) It was on trips to France to visit my Grandmother that I could truly appreciate just how delicious these traditional French little cakes actually were. Served in the cafe’s throughout France, they are as common as a chocolate chip cookie in America.
But Madeleines do have a reputation to be tricky. Over the past year I have delved right into learning all about Madeleines and creating delicious recipes so that you too can enjoy them at home. In addition to providing you with a delicious madeleines recipe, I include invaluable tips and tricks to help you master these in next to no time.
On my website you’ll find two other variations of these traditional French Madeleines:
What are Madeleines?
They are a light, buttery, small sponges baked in a shell shaped mould typically eaten in the afternoon with tea or coffee. Madeleines originate from a Northeastern region of France called Lorraine. How they came to be is a little murky but one belief is that they were baked and served in the 19th Century to the Prince at the time, and he named them after the baker.
You can read more about their history here. I enjoy any opportunity to learn about France.
How do the French eat Madeleines?
Usually they are served warm, not long out of the oven, either dusted in powdered icing sugar or dipped in a thin glaze. Many markets sell them throughout France and the French enjoy them primarily at two times during the day, either for breakfast dunked in their coffee, or for ‘goûter’, their afternoon tea.
What do French Madeleines taste like?
Classic French Madeleines are a very buttery sponge that is texturally light and airy when you bite into them. A plain vanilla Madeleines recipe may also contain a hint of lemon zest in the batter and vanilla extract to sweeten.
With the soft interior the exterior has a crisp edge to it and lightly browned in appearance. This is perfect. The shell shape allows the edges to cook quicker than the centre which results in the crispy edge and fluffy centre.
For my recipe today I’ve tapped into seasonal lemons that are having their moment to shine. In January, stone fruit and berries are out of season allowing winter citrus fruits such as lemons, oranges, limes and blood oranges their spot in the lime light. I created these Lemon Madeleines with lemon zest in the batter and accompanied the zest with poppy seeds to provide crunch. Lemon and poppy seeds pair beautifully in your bakes and in particular in these Madeleines. Once dipped in the tangy lemon glaze, your taste buds come alive when biting down into these Madeleines.
Are Madeleines a cookie or a cake?
This is open to deliberation! Cookie or cake - it's up to your own interpretation. They are a baked sponge which technically makes them a cake. Even if they are just tiny little cakes!
However, many (mostly Non-French) call them a cookie. Why? Well, because of their small size, crispy sides and because they are amazing dunked in your coffee!
Cake or cookie, traditional French Madeleines served for breakfast, in the afternoon or as an after dinner treat, are delicious.
What ingredients do I need to make Lemon Poppy Seed Madeleines
Butter: Helps add flavour and add moisture to the Madeleines. I prefer unsalted butter but if you use salted then omit the salt in the recipe. Melt the butter and set aside to cool to room temperature.
Eggs: Use large eggs. Make sure to whip these with the sugar for a good five minutes to aerate them adequately.
Caster Sugar: Use granulated sugar if you cannot find caster sugar. I find caster sugar dissolves that bit easier when whipping with the eggs but the taste will be the same.
Lemon Zest: I add this when whipping the eggs and sugar at the start of the recipe as it helps release the oils from the zest into the batter.
Lemon Juice: Freshly squeezed always. Hopefully that is a given considering you have added lemon zest. Fresh juice adds moisture but also the tangy lemon taste.
Plain Flour (all-purpose): Don’t use self raising flour. The tender crumb of the Madeleines comes from the small amount of baking powder and aeration of the whipped eggs. These two plus the thermal shock create by the heat difference is enough to cause the Madeleines to rise.
Poppy Seeds: These add the perfect amount of crunch to the delicate sponge which creates an interesting contrast.
Baking Powder: You only need a small amount to help the sponge become light in texture.
Salt: Use fine table salt. Only add if using unsalted butter
Lemon Glaze: A combination of powdered icing sugar and lemon juice, the glaze adds a sweet tangy coating to the outside of the Madeleines.
How to make Lemon Poppy Seed Madeleines
The technique used to make this sponge batter is unlike a regular batter where you would normally cream together the sugar and butter, then add in the eggs followed by the dry ingredients. Let me explain further and take you step by step through the process so that you can understand the exact method to make these Lemon Poppy Seed Madeleines with ultimate success.
1. Whip the eggs, sugar and lemon zest for a solid 5 minutes to really get some volume going.
2. Next, add in the flavouring. In our recipe today the flavouring is freshly squeezed lemon juice. (Vanilla extract, orange blossom water or orange juice are alternative flavourings).
3. Add the sifted dry ingredients (flour, baking powder and salt) and mix gently until just combined.
4. At this point, pour in the melted butter and fold it in so as not to knock out all the lovely air incorporated earlier on.
5. Once the batter is made, cover the bowl with cling wrap and refrigerate. The flour is able to hydrate and the butter to chill. Between 1-2 hours is ideal but overnight if you want to have fresh Madeleines for breakfast (totally acceptable I might add!). When the cold batter hits the warm oven, steam is created which helps the batter to rise resulting in fluffy madeleines with a signature hump.
6. Prepare the Madeleine pans. Melt a tablespoon of butter and use a pastry brush to work that butter into all the nooks of the shell mould. Then dust lightly all over with flour and tap out the excess. This helps give the outside of the Madeleines a crispy exterior but also stops them from sticking. Very important!
7. Spoon into pans and bake. Once the batter has chilled for the required amount of time, it's time to bake! Place a level tablespoon of the batter in the deepest part of the shell mould. To ensure that I have 24 equal sized Madeleines I use a level tablespoon of batter in each depression. Alternatively, you can use a cookie scoop, but as I don’t own any in the correct size, I can’t advise on this approach. Once in the mould don’t flatten out the batter. The heat of the oven will allow the batter to fill each depression in the mould and allow the signature ‘hump’ on the back of the madeleine to rise. Bake for for 8-10 minutes rotting half way through.
Why do Madeleines have a ‘hump’?
Along with the signature shell shape, another identifying factor of a well made Madeleine is the Madeleine ‘hump’. It's that raised mound on top of the Madeleines when you remove them from the oven. When you see this, don’t think you have done anything wrong. Usually we don’t like seeing strange mounds on our bakes. This time, pat yourself on the back, you’ve made them perfectly.
The science behind it. The pan and batter are both super cold after their refrigeration period. When they hit the hot oven, this creates thermal shock due to the extreme difference in temperatures and the steam created in the batter from the heat ‘poofs’ up the sponge causing it to rise. Then, due to the shape of the mould being so shallow, the batter on the outside of the Madeleines sets in place whilst this rise occurs in the centre. They bake so quickly so the rise stays as is up until you remove them from the oven.
That all being said, if you don’t achieve the mound there are three possible causes for this. Firstly, you may not have whipped the the eggs and sugar enough at the start. Secondly, you may have knocked out too much air when mixing in the flour or folding in the butter. Or lastly, you might have flattened out the batter when you filled the moulds.
If this happens then don’t worry, you haven’t ruined them - they will taste EXACTLY the same, just possibly a little denser. More reason to try them again!
Do I need to glaze my Lemon Poppy Seed Madeleines?
I love the lemon glaze with these Lemon Poppy Seed Madeleine. The glaze is made out of two ingredients only: powdered icing sugar and freshly squeezed lemon juice. If you prefer it on the thicker side to fully coat the Madeleine shell, then add less lemon juice. Or, if you prefer it to thinly coat, more like a syrup does, then add more lemon juice. It's all personal preference. The tangy sweetness that a thicker glaze adds to the soft buttery sponge is gorgeous in my opinion.
Alternatively, if you prefer not to glaze the Lemon Poppyseed Madeleines then you can simply dust them whilst still warm with powdered icing sugar.
What equipment do I need to make these Lemon Poppy Seed Madeleines?
You need two specific pieces of equipment to make Madeleines. A Madeleines pan and a pastry brush.
1. Madeleines Pan
Unfortunately, you can’t substitute the pan with anything other than a specific Madeleines pan. There is no other way of getting that distinctive and traditional shell shape. It's the unique elongated shell shape depressions in the pan that allows the crispy edges to form and the visual bump to grow in the oven.
There are two sized pans that you can buy.
This recipe uses a regular Madeleine Pan. They most likely come with 12 depressions in the mould so I recommend purchasing two pans as the recipe makes 24 little Madeleines. It can be a little annoying to have to wash, re-butter and chill the pan in the middle of baking the full quantity. Having two pans at your disposal makes the process easier. You can find them here:
You can also find large shell Madeleine Pans. They have beautiful large spherical shell moulds and each mould holds double the amount of filling. Instead of the 24 small Madeleines you bake up 12 larger ones. The bonus of this is that you only need to buy one pan. A couple of years ago I bought one of these pans and I absolutely love it. I made my Triple Chocolate Madeleines in this shape and have fallen head over heels in love with it – a wise investment for sure, I know that this tray will serve me well! You can find them here:
What can I use instead of a Madeleine Pan?
If you are unable to get your hands on a madeleines pan then you can at a pinch use a cupcake pan. Ensure that you go through the same process of preparing the pan by greasing each mould well, dusting them with flour and refrigerating. I have never tried baking them in a cupcake tin so I cannot guarantee the signature hump, but if the lack of Madeleines pan is what is stopping you from trying these out, I say GO for it. The taste will identical! Let me know how you go if you do
2. Pastry Brush
Once the batter is made and placed in the fridge to chill you’ll need to prepare the Madeleines pans. To do this, melt a tablespoon of butter and use the pastry brush to coat the inside surface of the shell moulds of the Madeleines Pan. Doing it with a brush ensures that you get into all the nooks of your pan.
Personally, I prefer the wooden pastry brushes with a round head over the silicon brushes that are on the market. I feel that I have more control of where I direct the brush in the pan giving me the best coverage. You can find the brush here:
After you butter the pan, dust it lightly with flour and tap out any excess and place the pans in the fridge. As a result of these steps, you’ve now given yourself the best possible chance to have Madeleines that will pop right out of the pan when baked.
How do you store Madeleines?
Madeleines are best eaten the same day that they are made, ideally within a couple of hours. They are at their freshest and fluffiest and melt in your mouth this way.
Madeleines can store them in an airtight container for 2-3 days at room temperature. Wait for the glaze to set before placing them in the container.
Can Madeleines be frozen?
Yes they can be frozen if need be. Wait for them to cool fully, wrap in baking paper and then place in an air tight container and freeze for up to 1 month. To thaw, place in the refrigerator over night, then allow to come to room temperature prior to glazing and serving. I tested freezing them and found that the sponge does become a bit denser after it defrosts. A quick blast in the microwave for 10 to 20 seconds warms them up which makes a difference. To be honest Madeleines don’t last long enough to be frozen in my household. With three children they are gone overnight!
FOR MORE LEMON RECIPES check out the following:
Lemon Poppy Seed Madeleines
- Pastry brush
- Madeleines Pan (regular)
Lemon poppyseed madeleines
- 115g g unsalted butter, melted and cooled, divided
- 2 large eggs, room temperature
- 100 g caster sugar
- 1 lemon, zest
- 15 ml freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 110 g plain flour (all-purpose), plus extra for dusting
- 6 g poppy seeds
- ½ tsp baking powder
- ¼ tsp fine salt
- 150 g powdered icing sugar (confectioners’ sugar)
- 30 ml freshly squeezed lemon juice
Lemon poppyseed madeleines
- In a small saucepan set over medium heat, melt the butter, and stir occasionally. Once fully melted, remove from the heat and pour into a small bowl set aside to cool to room temperature.
- In the bowl of an electric stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, place the eggs, sugar and lemon zest and beat on medium for 5 minutes until pale and thick. Decrease the speed to low and add the lemon juice and mix until combined.
- Sift into the bowl the flour, baking powder and salt, add the poppy seeds and mix on low until a few flour streaks remain.
- Remove the bowl from the stand mixer and slowly pour in the melted butter. Gently fold in the butter with the rubber spatula ensuring that you don't knock out all the air.
- Cover the batter with cling film and refrigerate for 2-3 hours or overnight.
- 30 minutes before baking, pre-heat the oven to 180°C (350°F). Melt 15g / 1 tablespoon of butter and, using a pastry brush, grease all the moulds of your Madeleines pans. Lightly dust with flour and tap out any excess. Place the pans in the refrigerator until the oven has come to temperature and you are ready to fill them with the batter.
- Once the oven is at temperature, remove the batter and pans from the fridge and scoop one level tablespoon of batter into the mould's deepest part. Repeat until all the shell moulds are full. Make sure that you don’t level off the batter in the pan. Scoop it in and leave it.
- Place the Madeleine pans in the oven and bake for 8-10 minutes. I turn them at 8 minutes to ensure they brown evenly. Bake until golden on top, browned along the edges and risen in the middle.
- Remove the pans from the oven and set them aside to cool for ten minutes. Give the pan a jiggle, and they should pop right out. Use a butter knife and run it gently along the edge if they don't come out when you jiggle the pan initially. Cool the Madeleines on a wire wrack.
- To make the glaze, sift the powdered icing sugar into a medium-sized bowl and add 2 tablespoons of lemon juice. Whisk together until smooth. The glaze should be thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.
- Once the Madeleines are cooled, then dip the scallop side into the glaze and set onto the wire rack or baking paper for the excess to drip off. Repeat with the remaining Madeleines— alternatively, dust with powdered icing sugar. Serve immediately.
All recipes are developed and tested in Metric grams. I strongly recommend that you bake using digital scales for a more accurate result. I have provided a conversion to US customary in the recipe but please note that I haven’t tested using this method.