Bakers tend to argue over the authenticity of their madeleines, each one thinking that his or hers is the exact re-creation of the cookie that famously stirred Proust's imagination. What everyone does agree on is that madeleines are small, feather-light, spongy cakes meant to be eaten like cookies. They are baked in a special pan with scallop shell indentations and typically have a hump on the back. What combination of techniques would give us the best yet most foolproof recipe?
Shortly after we began our search for the perfect madeleine, we gave up on history in favor of taste, texture, and simplicity. What we wanted was a cake-cookie that tasted lightly buttery and eggy, with a hint of vanilla; it also had to barely weigh down the tongue, and it had to be as simple as possible to prepare.
The first step in making madeleines is to prepare for the last and most difficult step: getting the cookies out of the pan. Coating not just the inside of the molds but also the rims with a little melted butter and a dash of flour did the trick. Releasing the cookies immediately after removing them from the oven also proved crucial. To avoid imprinting lines on your cookies from wire cooling racks, turn the cookies out onto a tea towel, tapping the mold gently on the counter to release them, if needed. For a light texture, we thought using cake flour alone would be the obvious choice. To our surprise, the best cookie, with a light, tight crumb, came from a combination of cake and all-purpose flours.