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 had invaded my senses, something isolated, detached, with no suggestion of its origin. And at once the vicissitudes of life had become indifferent to me, its disasters innocuous, its brevity illusory – this new sensation having had on me the effect which love has of filling me with a precious essence; or rather this essence was not in me it was me. … Whence did it come? What did it mean? How could I seize and apprehend it? … And suddenly the memory revealed itself. The taste was that of the little piece of madeleine which on Sunday mornings at Combray (because on those mornings I did not go out before mass), when I went to say good morning to her in her bedroom, my aunt Léonie used to give me, dipping it first in her own cup of tea or tisane. The sight of the little madeleine had recalled nothing to my mind before I tasted it. And all from my cup of tea.
Marcel Proust (1871-1922) ‘Remembrance of Things Past’
New to me until recently, this traditional French cake was responsible for the evocation of powerful memories in Proust’s ‘Remembrance of Things Past’ , a novel well known for its length, beauty and expansive exploration of the theme of memory. Never having studied French literature, I have not read it, but the short excerpts I have looked at while writing this post have entranced me and I now feel compelled to at least attempt this massive work. A summer project, as it is over 2 000 pages!
However, my attention for the last few weeks has been on learning how to make madeleines and developing my own recipe for them. I love the buttery and citrus flavours of this little cake that is crisp on the outside and sponge-like on the inside. You need a special tin, that is easily available, to make these cakes, for at least half their beauty comes from their dainty shell shape. There is nothing especially difficult about making them, but, like all baking, measuring carefully is important. It is citrus season here so I was able to pluck a lime from the tree and use its zest in these madeleines and the heady scent of them filled the kitchen. You could use lemon or orange zest as an alternative. They are best served warm, with tea and lemon.
2 eggs 1 teaspoon vanilla bean extract pinch salt 1/3 cup caster sugar 1 tablespoon lime zest 1/2 cup plain flour 70 g butter Icing sugar, to dust
Preheat oven to 175 C. Lightly grease the madeleine tray with a little of the butter. Melt the remaining butter gently in a saucepan or microwave and leave to cool. This is the most important thing to get right with this recipe. Failure in the form of chewy, sunken, sad looking madeleines awaits if the butter is too hot when added into the mixture. Otherwise it’s a breeze. In a large mixing bowl beat the eggs, vanilla, salt, and sugar with electric beaters on the highest speed for about 5 – 6 minutes, or until the mixture is thick and pale. Add the lime zest and flour and mix well. With the beaters running drizzle in the melted butter and beat until it is well combined and the mixture now glossy and flecked with lime zest. Spoon into the little shells until just filled and bake for 12 – 14 minutes, or until lightly golden and slightly raised. Remove from the tin and dust generously with icing sugar before serving warm.