“She sent out for one of those short, plump little cakes called petites madeleines, which look as though they had been moulded in the fluted scallop of a pilgrim’s shell. And soon, mechanically, weary after a dull day with the prospect of a depressing morrow, 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… at once the vicissitudes of life had become indifferent to me, its disasters innocuous, its brevity illusory…” – An excerpt from “À la recherche du temps perdu” (“Remembrance of Things Past”, or later: “In Search of Lost Time” – Marcel Proust).
Until now, my Madeleine pan has baked Boursin biscuits and other such things past. I even once considered cornbread shells but decided it would be un sacrilege – or at a minimum, an uncomfortable culture clash. Cast iron is for cornbread. At least the Boursin originated from Normandy.
If the Madeleine made Proust shudder as described, then I shuddered to think that I could ever make a cookie worthy of his remembrance, despite his inability to criticize from his spot in Père Lachaise. I never tried. Until now. Thanks to a blast from the past (this was no involuntary autobiographical memory in Proustian fashion), I received an emailed recipe from an old friend in Hawaii, now a facebook pal and darned good Dew reader, named Steve Spence. Steve, and wife, Valorie sometimes bake the madeleines in their design studio where he claims they, “have to beat the neighbors away with a bat,” when the cookies come out of the oven. His description of the cookie reception, while a bit less prosaic than Proust, was incentive enough for me. The recipe burned at 375 degrees in my inbox until I accepted the challenge.
Proustian intimidation be damned! This was easy. Little golden cakes, their fat, smooth sides up soon emerged from the oven perfectly lined up as if they were plump soldiers on parade. Their shell sides were even better, a deeper gold with a crisp trim and clean ridges. I didn’t know whether to eat them or worship them. The aroma provided the answer: Eat. Now. Make more.
I made more Madeleines and off we went to a gathering where they lined up to await compliments. My favorite, from a Francophile and serious smartie pants, went something like this, “Not bad. I feel like I’m in some second-tier French city.” If only my little soldiers could have spoken for themselves, they would have answered (with a decidedly Pepé Le Pew accent), “Mais oui, Monsieur! Even less than a second tier city. La Madeleine was created in Commercy, a very small village in the Lorraine region.”
- 1 and ¼ cup of superfine sugar
- 1 and ¼ cup of plain flour
- 1 and ¼ cup of melted butter, plus extra softened butter for the moulds
- 4 eggs
- A pinch of salt;
- 1 teaspoon vanilla;
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Butter the madeleine moulds and place in the freezer to set the butter. Combine sugar, flour, eggs, salt and vanilla in a bowl. Work with spatula until smooth. Stir in the melted butter. Remove the mould from the freezer and butter again. Return to the freezer to set and let the batter rest while butter freezes again in the mould. When ready, spoon the mixture into the moulds 2/3 full each. Bake for 14 minutes. Serve with love.
Note: This could be a lovely holiday gift for the Francophiles you know, or for anyone who loves Madeleines – for whatever reason. To be true to Proust, consider adding some tea to the gift.