For those of you who have tasted a madeleine, it may come as somewhat of a surprise to hear that one bite of this simple, albeit delicious cake, could summon forth a deluge of memory that would result in the longest novel ever written. At 1,267,069 words set into 7-volumes and reportedly never finished À la Recherche du Temps Perdu or Remembrance of Things Past, was the loquacious Proust’s crowning achievement in an already sterling career.
“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.”
If a spoonful of tea-soaked madeleine crumbs can do all this for a 17th century Parisian neurotic, imagine what two or three freshly baked ones can do for you?
Origins of the Madeleine
Long before Proust was thrown into paroxysms of memory by a cookie, the madeleine was already well established among the French people. There are several theories as to how the madeleine was first made and gained its subsequent popularity. Many claim the madeleine rose to prominence via Stanislas Leczinski, the deposed king of Poland. Leczinski, the king without a kingdom, had sunk into a fit of depression after being given the monarchical boot. In an attempt to raise the spirits of the morose king, his chefs worked tirelessly to create incredible sweets and cakes hoping the sugar might elevate his sunken spirits. However it was not the fantastical or extravagant that caught the eye of Stanislas, but the simple madeleine. Having developed quite a penchant for the small shell-shaped cakes, Leczinski inquired into their maker, a woman by the name of Madeleine. Enthusiastic at the proposition of a ceremony, Stanislas, with much royal aplomb, conferred her name upon the cookie.
A Literary Cookie
Despite the true origin of the cake, madeleines had been around for sometime before Proust, however, until the author waxed eloquent about the bivalve shaped cake it’s hard to say how common they were outside of France. As Marcel’s literary stamina began to receive recognition across Europe, so did the madeleine. The charming little scalloped cakes were elegant and now with their added literary clout unstoppable. Already commonplace in France they now spread across Europe and can still be seen today in some of the finest patisseries.
Like anything in France involving food, there is a certain amount of ritual involved in the eating of madeleines. The cookie is at it’s finest when eaten alongside a cup of hot tea ideally the slightly lime flavored Tilleuil. Citrusy on its own, the tea brings out the lemon essence in the cake and the marriage of flavor has the power to ‘invade the senses with exquisite pleasure’.
Lemon + White Chocolate Madeleines
1 ½ sticks unsalted butter, melted
1 ½ cups cake flour,
½ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon coarse salt
3 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
¾ cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 Tablespoons lemon zest
2 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
⅓ cup white chocolate, melted
–It seems that the simplest things are always the most difficult to perfect. No bells and whistles to distract from flaws or mistakes. The Madeleine, one of the simplest pastries is no exception to this rule. Small, delicate, and finicky, there are many things that can go wrong when preparing madeleines and so it is best to go into the kitchen well-prepared and armed with a few tricks to produce the perfect madeleine.
Butter two madeleine pans and set aside.
In a medium bowl whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
In the bowl of a standing mixer add eggs, yolks, sugar, vanilla, zest, and the fresh lemon juice.
With the whisk attachment, whisk on med-high for five minutes, or until pale in color and thickened slightly.
Mix in the melted butter*
–Every madeleine calls for a relatively large amount of melted butter. By browning the butter, you add a nuttiness that heightens the flavors and unleashes wells of repressed memories at the first bite. However browning butter can be tricky, and can very quickly go from just toasted to burnt. Those who don’t feel confident in their browning abilities can simply melt the butter. However, I was once told “we must do brave things in the kitchen” so I encourage everyone to at least give it a shot.
Using a large spatula fold in the dry ingredients to the egg mixture. When combined set aside to rest for thirty minutes.
To make madeleines you need special scalloped baking trays. I encourage you to buy two as most recipes will produce two dozen and to wash, dry and butter the molds twice quickly becomes tiresome. I used to have the traditional unlined MORA pans but the madeleines could be difficult to remove and were significantly harder to clean. Since then I have upgraded to the nonstick variety, which are a dream to use. I recommend the pans made by Chicago Metallic’s Madeleine Pan
When the batter has finished resting fill your trays 3/4 of the way full
–Some insist that a true madeleine will have a pronounced bump on the back, I personally prefer a more svelte madeleine but who am I to argue with tradition? In order to achieve that height try freezing your madeleine pans prior to filling them and letting the batter rest in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes, and if time and patience allow, as long as overnight.
Bake cookies 7-8 minutes rotating halfway through until the edges are crisp. Let cool for several minutes in the pan before removing.
While the madeleines are cooling, heat up the white chocolate on top of a double boiler adding a couple tablespoons of coconut oil if it seems too thick. When the chocolate is thoroughly
Madeleines keep very well sealed at room temperature for 2-3 days.