These legendary sponge-cake cookies were immortalized by French writer Marcel Proust. In his book Remembrance of Things Past Proust’s narrator tastes a Madeleine dipped in tea and is immediately swept back in time to his childhood. “No sooner had the warm liquid mixed with the crumbs touched my palate than a shudder ran through me and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary thing that was happening to me. Whence could it have come to me, this all-powerful joy?” And thus was triggered a deluge of memories that would go on to fill seven long volumes!
The theme of this revered and personally beloved book revolves around memory, how a scent or taste can suddenly bring us back in time – and for me, the lilac does exactly that. Just a waft of its fragrance on a warm evening breeze instantly transports me back to a green, golden childhood moment of playing outside at dusk with neighbourhood friends. I was wild, happy, free – and filled with all the excitement of knowing summer is just around the corner – schools out!
It is this nostalgic memory of sweetness and promise that keeps me dreaming of new ways to capture lilac’s heady and evocative flavour. And what better tribute than what Proust describes as “… one of those squat, plump little cakes called ‘petites madeleines,’ which look as though they had been moulded in the fluted valve of a scallop shell.”
Made from a simple mixture of flour, sugar, eggs, melted butter and lemon, the batter is spooned into special moulded baking trays. Different techniques abound from dead easy to decidedly more complex, some batters are to be rested overnight, some can just straight away go into the oven. Some use baking powder and some not. Some just mix all the ingredients together at once, others (like Julia Child) separate the mixing of dry and wet ingredients.
But for Lilac Madeleines, no matter which method you choose, the most important ingredient is lilac herself. Coaxing out as much of her flavour as we can requires infusing and mixing her blossoms into as many ingredients as possible – so you’ll need to pick a generous amount. About 4 cups of loosely packed flowers should do. Each blossom should be separated from its tiny green stems (which give what I can only describe as a tannic flavour) and flour, butter, cream and icing sugar should all be infused for 24 hrs – or overnight at least!
You can start by infusing flour with lilac petals, about 3/4 cup to 1 cup of flour. Then let sit overnight. Next make lilac sugar, which just involves whirring up equal amounts of fresh petals and sugar together in the food processor. So for this recipe, you’ll need 2/3 cup of blossoms to 2/3 cup of sugar. This lilac sugar goes into the cookie batter.
I also infused about one cup of violet blossoms directly in warm melted butter, which goes into the batter. The recipe calls for 1/2 cup of butter but add a little extra to account for what will be absorbed. Add blossoms a bit at a time, letting them wilt into the butter before you add more. I let sit overnight on the counter before baking the cookies the next day. I then rewarmed the butter, strained off the blossom (giving them several powerful squeezes to make sure you get all the flavourful butter out) and was ready to bake!
For the Lilac Icing Glaze, I infused both the cream ( I used 18% milkfat) and the icing sugar. I mixed about 3/4 cup of blossoms into the sugar powder. Then for the cream, I took a small jar, filled it with blossoms and poured it over the cream. I let both the icing sugar and cream sit overnight.
Before baking began, the blossoms were strained out of the butter, cream and icing sugar. I used the lilac sugar in place of regular sugar for the batter as I did the lilac infused butter. Then for the glaze, I just slowly added the infused cream to the infused icing sugar until I got the consistency I wanted.
For the recipe, I went with the dead-simple method from one of my mom’s old French cookbooks, but if you want to use the more elaborate Julia Child method click here. And if you don’t have the Madeleine Pans just use mini-cupcake tins – you’ll end up with Lilac Madeleine Cupcakes instead!
After Proust, Madeleines became so globally famous that today they are one of France’s most renowned sweet treats. So finally, in remembrance of Proust (and centuries of French Madeleine aficionado’s) remember the Madeleine is considered best served with – and then dipped – in tea.
- 1/2 cup infused & melted lilac butter (& little extra plain butter to grease your pan)
- 1 cup sifted all-purpose flour (again a little more for dusting your pan)
- 4 large eggs, room temperature
- 2/3 cup lilac sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1 &1/2 teaspoons freshly grated lemon zest
- 1 cup lilac infused icing sugar (make sure you’ve sifted your blossoms out)
- 2-3 tablespoons of lilac infused cream (with blossoms strained out)
- couple drops of blueberry or beet juice if you want colour
Slowly add cream to icing sugar until you reach a thick but “dippable”consistency.
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Butter and dust the Madeleine pans with flour.
- Remelt your butter and strain out lilac blossoms if you haven’t already.
- With an electric mixer (or by hand) whisk eggs, sugar and salt together until thick, about 8 minutes. Add vanilla and lemon zest.
- Using a rubber spatula, fold in flour. Make sure flour is well blended. Then fold in butter. Gently mix until butter is well incorporated into the dough.
- Spoon 1 tablespoon of mixture into prepared Madeleine pans. Don’t spread it out.
- Bake until golden, about 7 minutes. Cool completely before glazing.
- Dip each cookie in your glaze. Let dry. Double dip again if so inclined. I did!
- Sprinkle your Madeleines with icing sugar.
For more Lilac Magic check out this video!