Madeleines are small French cakes made of flour, butter, eggs, sugar and lemon baked in a shell-shaped mold about three inches long. Some say they were invented by the French pastry cook, Avice, when he was in the service of the famous French statesman, Tallyrand.
But most food historians believe they were first made in a French town, east of Paris, called Commercy, for records show they were popular with royalty in 1730 at Versailles and in Paris.
The recipe was a secret for many years until it was sold for a large sum of money to the pastry makers of Commercy who made this a specialty of theirs.
Today the Commercy madeleines are the most famous and they are sold in a special oval-shaped box with the name of the town on top.
Commercy madeleines are always flavored with lemon, but vanilla or almond madeleines are also common. Some today are made chocolate by the addition of cocoa and some shops dip them half-way in chocolate icing, however the traditional madeleine is either plain or lightly dusted with confectioners' sugar.
The tins are difficult to find and expensive in the U.S. but they are necessary, for the shape is important.
Many people know about madeleines because they were described by the famous French writer, Marcel Proust in his novel, ''Swann's Way'', when he writes about having them with lime-flower tea with his aunt.