Every week I meet with my writing group to read some interesting poems, write some poetry, and read our work to one another. Sometimes we read bits of really classic writing. Seems like a good platform for reading a little of Swann’s Way from Remembrances of Things Past and thinking about madeleines. Also a good excuse for baking some madeleines. Years ago, I tried making them from one of Julia Child’s recipes, and they were a total flop, so I have never been brave enough to try them again until now. My recipe is a tweek of the version in Marion Cunningham’s Fannie Farmer Baking Book. If you follow the directions carefully, it is an easy effort. You should also have all of the ingredients assembled and equipment at the ready before you start. (remember, mis en place.)
Also, I’ve never read Remembrance of Things Past, so I was anxious to find out what the fuss was all about. Here’s a quote from Proust:
Many years had elapsed during which nothing of Combray… had any existence for me when one day in winter, on my return home, my mother seeing that I was cold, offered me some tea…She sent for one of those squat, plump little cakes called “petites madeleines,” which look as though they had been moulded 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 shivver ran through me and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary thing that was happening to me. An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses, something isolated, detached, with not suggestion of its origin… I had ceased now to feel mediocre, contingent, mortal. Whence could it have come to me, this all powerful joy? I sensed that it was connected with the taste of the tea and the cake, but that it infinitely transcended those savours, could, no, indeed, be of the same nature.
No wonder everyone wants to be transformed by a madeleine with tea.
None of the group writes as well as Proust, but I thought we might get some inspiration with a fresh madeleine.
- 2 eggs at room temperature
- ½ cup sugar
- zest of one lemon
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1 cup all-purpose flour placed in a flour sifter
- 1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter. melted
- 4 tablespoons soft butter to coat lining of baking forms
- confectioner’s sugar (optional)
- In a large mixing bowl, combine the eggs, sugar, and lemon zest. Set the bowl in a pan of simmering water. Be sure the level of the water is above the level of the egg mixture. (See my post on seven-minute frosting.) Using an instant-read thermometer, beat on low speed with an electric mixer until the temperature is 130 – 140° F. If it is too cool, the batter will not come together. If it is too hot, the eggs may scramble and you will have to start again.
- Remove the bowl from the water bath. Beat with an electric mixer on high speed until the mixture is tripled in volume and is light and fluffy – about 3 minutes.
- Stir in the vanilla and salt.
- Sift half of the flour over the egg mixture and fold in with a spoon or spatula. Pour in the melted butter, and sift in the remaining flour, folding in gently until the batter is smooth.
- Spoon the batter by generous tablespoons into madeleine molds that have been greased generously with the remaining butter. There should be enough batter for 24 regular-sized molds.
- Bake for 12 minutes in the middle of an oven that has been pre-heated to 400°F. The edges of the cookies should be golden and lift easily from the molds. Transfer the cookies to a rack to cool. The cookies should be served within a few hours or wrapped and frozen. Sprinkle with confectioner’s sugar if desired.