Two years ago, I tagged along on my guy’s drive down to San Francisco for Father’s Day. As we chugged up and down the hilly streets, butterflies the size of elephants flapped around my stomach. I really wanted to make a good first impression on his grandparents, but as a shy awkward introvert, I usually forget how to carry a conversation after the initial round of introductions.
Once we eased into our chairs around the formal dining table, I smiled and nodded as his sweet talkative grandmother chatted away next to me while passing around serving dishes of salad, turkey, and pasta. I carefully maneuvered my fork and knife around my plate, praying I wouldn’t drop croutons or macaroni in my lap to taint their opinion of me, but I concentrated so hard that I completely neglected to save room for dessert. (That never happens—it’s the most important meal of my day!)
My guy’s mom baked madeleines for the gathering, and despite my inability to shove another crumb into my belly, I nearly reached for one of the small golden cakes. Their elegant shell shape captivated me; they looked so delicate and classy.
Fast forward to last month, when my mom frantically phoned me two weeks before Christmas begging for gift ideas. She normally shops for presents over the summer to beat the crowds, but she fell behind after our family emergency this fall. As an incredibly indecisive person, those few extra months gave me enough time to compile a list, and I included lots of baking tools: more Silpats, a candy thermometer (thanks Rachel!), and a madeleine pan.
On Christmas morning, Mom handed me a bright red bag from under the tree. “Who’s it for?” I asked, searching for the nonexistent tag.
“We thought the ‘Williams Sonoma’ script across the side would give it away,” she replied, and I gleefully tore out the tissue paper to find a gorgeous gold madeleine pan (and an adorable miniature one too!).
After returning from Arizona, I clicked around the internet, researching the history of and recipes for madeleines. Although the size of a cookie, they’re technically little cakes that first appeared in 18th or 19th century French baking. Each shell-shaped cavity in the pan holds the génoise batter (a type of sponge cake), known for its fine crumb, thoroughly beaten eggs, and lots of melted butter.
Not exactly healthy.
Instead of throwing in the towel and letting my new pans collect dust for years, I created a lightened version while still preserving the classic techniques and flavors. With their delicate texture and buttery flavor, these Apricot Pistachio Madeleines fooled my taste testers—they thought these were the indulgent ones instead of healthier low fat, skinny cakes!
Madeleines begin with the melted butter. Most recipes require almost 1 full stick—that’s ½ cup! To cut out excess fat and calories, I reduced the amount to only 2 tablespoons of butter and added in extra vanilla extract. Vanilla imitates butter’s flavor, making these taste just as rich as the traditional ones. I also mixed in a tiny bit of milk—not a typical génoise ingredient—to compensate for using less liquid.
Note: It’s important to melt the butter and measure out the milk prior to starting on the rest of the recipe. This allows the melted butter to cool and the milk to warm to room temperature before you add them to the batter, which is key to the delicate texture of the madeleines.
A génoise cake batter is defined by its eggs. Traditional recipes required no leavening agent and solely depended on vigorously beating air into whole eggs instead. Although most modern madeleines cheat and add a little baking powder (including mine!), you’ll still beat the eggs until doubled in size.
After mixing in the vanilla and milk, treat the beaten eggs like whipped egg whites. Incorporating lots of air creates a fragile structure, so gently fold in the remaining ingredients with a spatula! Sprinkle the flour over the batter in 4 parts, sifting before each addition, to preserve the light and delicate texture. Finally, stream in the melted butter and cover it with plastic wrap to chill.
You must let the batter rest for at least 2 hours. (Overnight works too—I did 18 hours for my first batch!) Chilling lets the gluten relax and helps with their characteristic bump on the back, like in my mini madeleines above. However, I prefer a graceful shallow arch, like in my larger ones below. The big bumps look like strange boils to me, and when you flip them over, the madeleines totter about precariously like turtles on their backs! (If you want the bump, this helpful guide explains how to achieve that.)
In honor of the madeleines’ French heritage and my sweet mother, I folded in dried apricots and pistachios. On our last visit to Paris, we discovered a boulangerie selling apricot and pistachio tarts, by which Mom immediately became infatuated. We failed to find them at any other shop, and when we returned two days later, the store had sold out. She’s been pining for them ever since!
Now we’re ready to bake! Generously coat the madeleine pans using cooking spray with flour. Just like with the bottoms of regular cake pans, the flour prevents the cakes from sticking and helps them release easily. It’s important to meticulously coat all of the little crevices so the madeleines pop right out.
Once a few of the madeleines turn golden around the edges, pull them out of the oven! They bake quickly—only 12-15 minutes with well-chilled batter—so keep a watchful eye on them. After just 1 minute of cooling, transfer them to a wire rack to prevent them from drying out.
Rich buttery flavor fills every bite of these soft Apricot Pistachio Madeleines. Studded with sweet dried fruit and little nuggets of nuts, the pale yellow cakes look elegant and inviting with their classy seashell shape. Their moist delicate crumb pairs perfectly with coffee and tea, or nibble on one plain each time you wander into the kitchen. (That’s what I did!)
With only 65 calories in each madeleine, you can still enjoy dessert without derailing your diet. (Perfect for those New Years Resolutions!) And with how much I enjoyed baking these, you can expect many more madeleine recipes from me this year!
Rich buttery cakes studded with sweet dried fruit and nuts. Although best the day they’re made, they’ll keep for 4-5 days if sealed in an airtight container.
- Melt the butter and set aside to cool while preparing the other ingredients.
- In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. In a large bowl, beat the eggs and sugar for 3-5 minutes or until doubled in size. Mix in the milk and vanilla. Sift ¼ of the flour mixture over the egg mixture, and gently fold in with a spatula. Using the same method, add the remaining flour in 3 parts. Carefully fold in the melted butter. Cover with plastic wrap, ensuring the plastic touches the surface of the batter, and chill for at least 2 hours (or overnight).
- Preheat the oven to 375°F, and generously coat the madeleine pans using nonstick cooking spray with flour.
- Remove the batter from the refrigerator, and discard the plastic wrap. Gently fold in the apricots and pistachios. Fill each madeleine cavity until almost full. Bake at 375°F for 12-15 minutes or until a few madeleines begin to turn golden brown around the edges. Let the madeleines cool in the pan for 1 minute before immediately turning out onto a wire rack to continue cooling.
Notes: It’s important that the melted butter and milk are room temperature to preserve the delicate crumb of the madeleines.
Be sure to gently fold in the flour, butter, fruit, and nuts. Stirring or using an electric mixer will overdevelop the gluten strands and result in dry, tough cakes. Sifting the flour before folding it in will also help prevent tough madeleines.
Immediately removing the madeleines from the pan prevents them from over-baking and drying out.
Shelley @ Two Healthy Kitchens says...
Oh, Amy! I just love the sweet story about the first time you met his grandparents! And I love, love your methods for making this traditionally decadent treat into a healthier option! Brilliant! 😀
Thank you Shelley! Looking back, it’s rather hilarious how nervous I was since both of his grandparents are so sweet. If we lived closer, I’d love to visit them more often. Your sweet comment means a lot to me; it’s really rewarding to hear that people like having healthier options!
I’ve actually never heard about madeleines but the way you describes lets me imagine just how good they will taste. 🙂 Also, since you made them so much reduced in calories, they’re even more tempting. 🙂
I always love reading your intro stories to your posts. You make them so nice and personal!
Thank you so much Katy! It’s so wonderful to hear that people enjoy reading my little stories. It’s really fun for me to write those — much more so than simply describing how the recipe looks and tastes! I hope you get a chance to try madeleines; they’re quite a treat!
I know this recipe and post is from quite a while ago, but have a question – would it be okay to just omit the apricot and pistachios, making plain madeleines instead? (My family has nut allergies and has requested plain cookies, without any add-ins) If I do this, would I need to change anything else in the recipe (cooking times, ingredient quantities, etc.)? Thanks!
I’m honored that you’d like to try making my recipe! Yes, it’s perfectly fine to omit the apricots and pistachios. You shouldn’t need to change anything about the recipe if you do! The only difference is that you may end up with 1 or 2 fewer madeleines because there isn’t as much batter due to the missing apricots and pistachios. But they should still bake in about the same amount of time! 🙂 I’d love to hear what you and your family think of these madeleines if you try making them!
Thanks for the quick response! I actually tried making them yesterday afternoon. My family and I loved the flavor, but the texture was not there. It was pretty gummy, and there were huge holes inside the madeleines one they baked. Maybe I over mixed the batter?
It’s my pleasure! That sounds disappointing and not like how the texture of these madeleines is supposed to turn out at all. I’m happy to help figure out what happened! 🙂 Did you make any modifications to the recipe, other than omitting the apricots and pistachios? How did you make the batter? Did you use a hand-held mixer or stand mixer for everything? How long did you chill it?
I made 2 other modifications: 2% milk instead of nonfat, and I accidentally overfilled the tins, making 12 madeleines instead of 18. I used a whisk for beating the eggs and sugar together and mixing in the vanilla/milk, but a rubber spatula for everything else. I let the batter rest in the fridge (with plastic wrap touching the surface) for about 5 hours. When I removed it from the fridge to distribute it among the tins, there was a foamy mixture that had separated and risen to the top during refrigeration. I briefly mixed the batter together with a spoon before pouring it into each madeleine tin and baking for about 12 minutes. Thank’s again for helping out and responding so quickly!
It’s my pleasure, Addie! (I had a feeling A was for Addie! 😉 ) I think the issue was caused by when you mixed the batter with a spoon right before pouring it into your madeleine pan. If you stirred the batter like normal to reincorporate that foamy mixture, rather than very gently and gingerly fold it in (like you should have done with the sifted flour in Step 2!), then that easily could’ve overmixed the batter. Overmixing will overdevelop the gluten strands, making them really long and tangled, and that’s what typically leads to a gummy, tough, or dense texture. It’s really easy to overmix with low-fat batters (like this one!), so don’t feel badly at all for doing that! Fat helps prevent the gluten from developing those extra long strands by inserting itself in between the strands, but with so little butter in these madeleines (compared to traditional ones!), there are fewer fat molecules that can insert themselves in between the gluten strands, which is why it’s so important to be very delicate with folding in the flour and other ingredients.
So if you decide to try making these madeleines again, I’d recommend being very gentle and very careful when folding in the flour in Step 2 and folding in any foamy mixture that separates while chilling, and use a rubber spatula for both of those. You want to move the batter as little as possible, which should result in the best soft and tender texture. 🙂 Does all of that make sense?
Sorry…I’m Addie, but I also wrote “A” before. Clarified just in case 🙂
Yes, got it! I sense that I’ll be making these again in the near future as my family and I liked the flavor so much (and hopefully the texture next time, too)! Will let you know how they turn out! 🙂
And once again, thanks for all your assistance with finding what went wrong and always quickly responding to my comments with helpful answers. Just wanted to let you know that this is my first time commenting on one of your recipes, but will definitely do it more often now – with questions or compliments! This is an amazing blog and I really appreciate all the hard work you put into it – thank you! I’ll certainly be trying more of your healthy recipes soon!
You’re welcome, Addie! I’m SO honored by your sweet words about my blog and recipes. It really means a lot that you’d take the time to let me know — and especially that you’d want to do so again in the future! I’m truly touched! 🙂 I’d absolutely love to hear how round two of these madeleines turn out, as well as any other recipes you decide to make in the future too!