Let’s talk about the madeleine of Commercy, a delicious little briochy cake traditionally produced in the little town of Commercy, Lorraine. We tried the recipe and wrote it below for you. We hope you’ll make madeleines as delicious as the ones we baked!
At the Court of King Stanislas
In 1755, King Stanislas held a reception in the Duchy of Lorraine. During the dinner, he was informed that his pastry chef had got angry and had handed in his notice.
A dinner without dessert could never be conceivable. Thus, the butler tried hard to save the King’s face, only he needed a little bit of time to work out a solution.
While the guests were having a good time with games and narrations, and with the company of a certain midget Ferry who came out of a giant pâté, the kitchen was bustling about preparing the dessert.
It soon came and it was brought to the guests as original shaped cakes, golden brown in colour that melted in the mouth… a true delicacy!
Delighted, the King sent for the creator of this miracle. A young and pretty maid came in, red with confusion, her hands still white with flour…
- “What is the name of this delicacy?” asked Stanislas.
- “It has no name, sire. This is what we cook back home in Commercy on festive days”.
- “So what is your name?”
- “Then from now on, it will be called like you: Madeleine of Commercy”.
Ever since, the recipe of the Madeleine of Commercy was proudly kept secret.
Since 1928, the firm F. Grojean has endeavoured to revive the amazement of the Court of Lorraine with its delicious madeleines made from pure butter.
Story of a local speciality: the madeleine of Commercy
The madeleine of Commercy was created in the kitchens of King Stanislas around 1750. It is difficult to say much more about it: “The question of who invented them will probably remain unanswered” sadly reflected the historian Charles Dumont back in 1843.
In order to satisfy their master’s weakness for sweet things, Stanislas’ cooks vied with each other to make the best desserts. Thanks to them we have some delicious desserts such as the Ali-baba, the ancestor of the rum-baba, a strong-flavoured biscuit with saffron and moistened with Malaga wine. The fashion for Turkish-inspired culture (‘les turqueries’) was part of the 18th century’s larger passion for the Orient.
Without any doubt, the madeleine is a result of this heritage. From the Dukes of Lorraine’s kitchens, the madeleine made its way to the salons of Versailles. Maria Leszczyńska, daughter of Stanislas and Queen of France, used to serve the little cake to her guests.
And the madeleines reached Paris…
After Stanislas’ death in 1766, one of his former pastry cooks set up his own business in Commercy with the secret recipe of the madeleine. For some, this was Pantaléon Colombé, the ancestor of a family made up of inn-keepers, pastry chefs and bakers which would pass the secret recipe on to each other.
“Amongst the craftsmen, the Colombé family has gained over a long time, in all fairness, a good reputation“, commented Dumont: “Until 1817, the madeleine didn’t make much progress. A pastry cook, competing with his rival cooks decided to lower the price and to give the recipe to all and sundry in order to out-sell them. His sparring partners could only save face by lowering their price by half and by improving the cake’s quality. If the people had benefited from this “price war”, the fighters have made an even larger profit. Nowadays, they are making even more in dozens than in the single units before“.
If the word of Charles Dumont – who witnessed this fantastic fight – is to be believed, the number of madeleine-makers (the ‘madeleiniers’) increased significantly. Half a century later, in August 1870, Bismarck’s secretary, who had just penetrated into Commercy with the Chancelor and the Prussian army, noted in his diary:
“Signboards were found at the doors of many houses with the inscription: ‘fabrique de madeleines’ (madeleine making place). With their melon-shape, the biscuits were a great success in France. We made sure we sent some boxes back to the homeland”.
All glory comes back to the railway!
On the 26th July 1852, Louis Napoleon inaugurated the new Paris to Strasbourg railway line. After the official speech in Commercy, the imperial suite reached the new “hôtel de Paris” for a light-meal where the madeleines made by the hotel’s cook were displayed in a prominent position.
This train enabled Anne Marie Caussin, a young lady from Commercy, to move to the capital. She eventually became Madame de Cassin before marrying the Marquis de Carcano, the heart-throb of the Parisian jet-set. She used to have a salon in her mansion where she served madeleines freshly brought to her each evening by the last train from Commercy.
Even if the madeleine of Commercy owes a great deal of its fame to Stanislas, Maria Leszczyńska, Napoleon III, the Marquise of Carcano, the “madeleiniers” have also proven themselves in the creative concept of marketing them.
The beginning of the fame!
The packaging per dozen, the boxes made of fir trees from the Vosges, then in beechwood, have helped create the image of the madeleine. After this came an ingenious idea … on the 13th October 1874, a local decree authorised the sale of madeleines on the railway station’s platforms.
“Madeleine of Commercy!”
When those few words are pronounced in front of a traveller from Paris to Nancy, he is reminded of the platform of a railway station, a low building already outdated, where young girls moved around selling labelled boxes, opened or closed, always very enticing. A few syllables for Beauguitte, a few crumbs for Proust; the madeleine seems to live through its own magic:
“I raised to my lips a spoonful of the tea in which I had soaked a morsel of the cake. No sooner had the warm liquid, and the crumbs with it, touched my palate than a shudder ran through my whole body, and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary changes that were taking place…”
Did Marcel Proust have tea at Marquise de Carcano’s?
Cloche d’Or, Cloche d’Argent, Cloche Lorraine… The image of the cloche (the bell) is often linked to madeleiniers. It is by tradition a tribute to Stanislas who donated the biggest bell of the parish church Saint Pantaléon.
The madeleine is above all a family story, that of the Colombés. The oldest ancestor that has been retraced had a name quite disquieting: the Burnt-one. As a dynasty of pastry-chefs and bakers, the Colombé family still manage several madeleine productions, including the Cloche d’Argent and the Cloche Lorraine.
It is perhaps due to its origin in the kitchens of the Polish King that several head-waiters from Commercy also made madeleines: the hotel de la Providence, the hotel de Paris and the most famous, hotel de la Cloche d’Or.
The making of the madeleine
Until 1939, the madeleine was made in the traditional way by six producers. The total daily production of madeleine before the war was estimated to be approximately 60 kilos, equivalent to 2,500 madeleines, most of them being sold on the stations’ platforms.
The weight of a madeleine has been reduced regularly over the years from 90g-100g (according to Dumont), to 30g before the war and 25g today. If the ingredients are always the same: flour, butter, sugar, eggs not forgetting baking powder and lemon essence, each producer has his own proportions.
In the old days, the madeleiniers got the ingredients from the local market.
The work of a madeleinier
They also had to take into consideration the variable quality of their supply in order to maintain the reputation of their product. The madeleinier used to work at the bowl, surrounded by assistants passing through the ingredients: firstly, the eggs broken one by one, mixed to the sugar, then the flour, and lastly the clarified lukewarm butter. Once the mixture was ready, he then filled the individual tins with a horn.
The madeleine today
Two companies continue the traditional production of the madeleine of Commercy: the company “Saint Michel – Grojean” and the “Boîte à madeleines”.
Ingredients makes approx. 30 madeleines.
- 3 eggs
- 250 g flour
- 200 g caster sugar
- 125 g butter, soft (room temperature)
- 50 ml milk
- 1 teaspoon vanilla essence
- 1 ½ teaspoon baking powder
- 1 desert spoon of cooking oil
- Pinch of salt
- Zest of 1 lemon
- whisk the eggs in a large mixing bowl
- add the caster sugar and whisk until the mixture turns white
- while still whisking, add the salt, vanilla essence, lemon zest, milk and oil.
- carefully add the sieved flour little by little, then gradually mix in the baking powder and the soft butter until you have a smooth mixture
- cover the mixture with a tea towel and let it rest at room temperature for 2 hours.
- Butter the madeleine tins and then douse with flour (shaking off any excess) before filling them half-full with the mixture.
- Put them in a hot oven (180°C) for 10 minutes.
Note – I never us a fan-assisted oven.
- Leave them to cool for 1-2 minutes then take them out of the tins.
- You can eat them hot or at room-temperature.
- To store them, put them in air-tight tins and eat within 3-4 days.
Recette en français / Recipe in French
Did you try our madeleine of Commercy recipe? Let us know what you think and if they were a success!!