Wednesday 23 May 2012

Proust's madeleines

It’s funny, the things you remember. Many years ago when I was studying Proust at university a number of us had a weekly tutorial on the great oeuvre A la Recherche du Temps Perdu in a sunlit room with gothic windows. The discussions ambled around literary style, the world of the Duchess of Guermantes and Swann’s way, but there was ever a stumbling point: we could only nibble theoretically at the moment of involuntary memory when Marcel tasted the crumbs of Madeleine with the cup of tisane: the seminal savour that brought back the seven volumes worth of remembering.

"She (Marcel's mother) sent for one of those squat plump little cakes called "petites madeleines," which look as though they had been molded in the fluted valve of a scallop shell … 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 mixed with the crumbs touched my palate than a shudder ran through me and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary thing that was happening to me. An exquisite pleasure invaded my senses …

And suddenly the memory revealed itself. The taste was that of the little piece of madeleine which on Sunday mornings at Combray … when I went to say good morning to her in her bedroom, my aunt Leonie used to give me, dipping it first in her own cup of tea or tisane …. and the whole of Combray and its surroundings, taking shape and solidity, sprang into being, town and garden alike, from my cup of tea."

We edged our way to consensus that madeleines were plain and spongy in texture, though they would have to have lightness and a slight dryness to produce the crucial crumbs.

Now, with the benefit of age and confidence, I know what I should have done. I should have gone away and done some research, and baked some madeleines for us all to drink with lime-leaf tea. I would somehow have found a madeleine tray for baking, like this one from a brocante.

And if I had, then this recipe from Mai K, using the traditional hint of lemon, would have been just about perfect. I found it on her blog A Cup of Mai.

Lemon madeleines

2 eggs
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. almond extract
1/2 cup all-purpose flour, sifted
1 tsp. grated lemon zest
4 tbs. (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
Confectioner's sugar for dusting (optional)
Madeleine pan
(Makes 12)

Preheat an oven to 375°F. Using a pastry brush, heavily brush softened butter over each of the 12 moulds in a madeleine pan, carefully buttering every ridge. Dust the moulds with flour, tilting the pan to coat the surfaces evenly. Turn the pan upside down and tap it gently to dislodge the excess flour.

In a large bowl, combine the eggs, granulated sugar and salt. Using a wire whisk or a handheld mixer on medium-high speed, beat vigorously until pale, thick and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Beat in the vanilla and almond extracts. Sprinkle the sifted flour over the egg mixture and stir or beat on low speed to incorporate.

Using a rubber spatula, gently fold in the lemon zest and half of the melted butter just until blended. Fold in the remaining melted butter.

Divide the batter among the prepared molds, using a heaping tablespoon of batter for each mold. Bake the madeleines until the tops spring back when lightly touched, 8 to 12 minutes.

Remove the pan from the oven and invert it over a wire rack, then rap it on the rack to release the madeleines. If any should stick, use your fingers to loosen the edges, being careful not to touch the hot pan, and invert and rap again.

Let the madeleines cool on the rack for 10 minutes. Using a fine-mesh sieve, dust the tops with confectioners sugar and serve. 


I highly recommend a click over to A Cup of Mai, where not only are there some very appealing recipes, but also great photography – these madeleine pictures are Mai’s - and design ideas.


Pétales de fée said...

Beautiful madeleines with pretty lavender flowers! It is true that in France, we can never enjoy a madeleine without thinking of Marcel Proust!
Kisses and good day to you!

Elizabeth Young said...

Aroma's, tastes, and textures all draw us to the earth as you have beautifully portrayed here. They ground us in the wonderful experience of being human. You are the Queen of expressing this.

Libby said...

Wonderful photos and story :)

Muriel said...

Deborah, reading your post made me hungry...As for reading Proust. well done for surviving it. I never really warmed up to Proust' writing. But I love madeleines. Obviously.

Anonymous said...

Félicitation pour ce beau et bon billet !


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