Make Ahead

Date Madeleines

December  7, 2022
0 Ratings
Photo by Margot Mustich
  • Prep time 45 minutes
  • Cook time 20 minutes
  • makes 24 large madeleines
Author Notes

Most people know of Proust’s madeleines, even if they’ve never read the first 100 pages of In Search of Lost Time. Those little cakes, dipped in tea, brought Marcel back to the days of his youth at his Aunt Léonie’s home. In Proust’s day, there was likely only one kind of madeleine to be found in the boulangeries of Paris and the provinces: the blond variety, with a familiar lemon or orange scent and a tender crumb. These days, one can find just about every kind of madeleine imaginable: chocolate, almond, pecan, hazelnut, matcha. There are unadorned madeleines and glazed madeleines (quelle horreur!). After learning firsthand how to make them from the excellent cookbook author and teacher Lydie Marshall, I can turn out a batch of classic madeleines at the drop of a chapeau. But for me, the madeleines that stand head and shoulders above the rest will always be the very unorthodox date madeleines that could only be found, until sometime in 1985, at the venerable tearoom on Manhattan’s East 37th Street, between Fifth and Madison, named Mary Elizabeth’s.

Mary Elizabeth’s was a popular lunch haunt for people who worked in the nearby Empire State Building and for ladies who shopped at Lord & Taylor and its two now-defunct competitors, B. Altman and Best & Co. You can read online about the history of the establishment and find comments from loyal customers who still hunger for just one more taste of Mary Elizabeth’s coconut cake, crullers, and oatmeal cookies. When my mother came home after a day in the city with a box of Mary Elizabeth’s madeleines, we all rejoiced!

What was so special about those madeleines? They weren’t golden, but a deep, almost gingerbready brown; they weren’t soft and light, but dense and chewy; they weren’t laced with citrus, but rather assertively flavored with dates and molasses. Was there a touch of ground cardamom or cloves in the batter, too? Possibly. All I know is they were exotic, and original, and wholly irresistible.

I wish I knew the story behind those madeleines. Were they the brainchild of a creative baker determined to think outside the box, or were they just the result of some happy accident? (You know the story of the first tarte Tatin, right?) Did someone make a mistake one day when mixing the batter for date-nut bread and, rather than throwing it out, try to salvage it by baking it in madeleine pans with fingers crossed? Whenever and however these madeleines came about, they had a devoted following among Mary Elizabeth’s customers.

I like a challenge, especially when it involves baking. I recently made it my mission to try to resurrect this gone-but-not-forgotten teatime treat. I can’t guarantee it’s identical to the original, but I can promise it will surprise and delight you. —Margot Mustich

What You'll Need
  • For the madeleine batter
  • 125 grams medium rye flour
  • 1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 100 grams unsalted butter
  • 100 grams vegetable shortening (I use Crisco)
  • 175 grams pitted Medjool dates, chopped
  • 125 grams granulated sugar
  • 5 tablespoons unsulphured molasses (I use Grandma's "Original")
  • 1 large egg, at room temperature
  • 2 large egg yolks, at room temperature
  • To bake the madeleines
  • unsalted butter for greasing the pans
  • 2 pitted Medjool dates
  1. For the madeleine batter
  2. Whisk the flour, cocoa, baking powder, and salt together in a medium bowl. Set aside.
  3. Melt the butter and shortening in a shallow saucepan over medium heat. Don’t let it come to a boil. Take the pan off the heat. Add the chopped dates, stir to coat, and let them soften in the melted butter/shortening for 2 minutes.
  4. Transfer the date mixture to the bowl of a food processor. Process until the dates are more or less puréed and blended into the melted fat.
  5. Put the sugar into a medium bowl. Add the date mixture, being sure to scrape all the inside surfaces of the processor bowl and top to get every bit of deliciousness into the batter. Add the molasses and stir well with a wooden spoon. Add the egg and yolks, and stir until thoroughly blended.
  6. Sift the dry ingredients over the batter. Stir until smooth.
  7. Cover with plastic wrap and chill for at least 4 hours, preferably overnight.
  1. To bake the madeleines
  2. Preheat oven to 400° F.
  3. Generously butter two madeleine pans with room temperature butter. Make sure that all the creases and edges of each mold are well coated.
  4. Cut the 2 dates in half lengthwise. Cut each half into strips about 1/8 inch thick. Cut each of these strips in half across the middle. Set aside.
  5. Use half the chilled dough for the first batch of 12 madeleines: Using a tablespoon or a small ice cream scooper (the one I use is 1 inch deep and 1½ inches across), make 12 balls of dough approximately 1½ inches in diameter. Roll the balls into ovals and place them in the madeleine shells. Press one of the reserved date slivers into each oval with your index finger, making sure the date is well below the surface of the dough. Cover and chill the rest of the dough until you are ready to bake the second batch.
  6. Bake on the middle rack of the oven until nicely browned and firm to the touch, 18 to 20 minutes.
  7. Rap the bottom edge of the madeleine pan on a marble counter or wood board. The madeleines will fall right out. Cool upside down on the marble or wood board to preserve the beautiful shell shape.
  8. Repeat with the rest of the chilled dough.
  9. Store the madeleines in an airtight container at room temperature for up to a week. To keep them at their best, tear off a corner of a slice of fresh white or wheat bread and place it in the tin with the madeleines. The moisture from the bread will keep the madeleines from drying out.

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