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Madeleines for Spring mornings

March 20, 2009

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; perhaps because I had so often seen such things in the meantime, without tasting them, on the trays in pastry-cooks’ windows, that their image had dissociated itself from those Combray days to take its place among others more recent; perhaps because of those memories, so long abandoned and put out of mind, nothing now survived, everything was scattered; the shapes of things, including that of the little scallop-shell of pastry, so richly sensual under its severe, religious folds, were either obliterated or had been so long dormant as to have lost the power of expansion which would have allowed them to resume their place in my consciousness. But when from a long-distant past nothing subsists, after the people are dead, after the things are broken and scattered, taste and smell alone, more fragile but more enduring, more unsubstantial, more persistent, more faithful, remain poised a long time, like souls, remembering, waiting, hoping, amid the ruins of all the rest; and bear unflinchingly, in the tiny and almost impalpable drop of their essence, the vast structure of recollection.
Marcel Proust (1913-27), Remembrance of Things Past (Vintage edition, 1996)

There is something magical about the small shell-like madeleine cakes: simple and so comforting. They are supposed to date back to the mid-18th century, a town called Commercy in Lorraine and a peasant girl called Madeleine; but it was Proust who made their name.

madeleinesThe classic recipe as noted in Larousse is:
1. Melt 100g (4oz) butter gently.
2. Put the following into a bowl: juice of half a lemon with a pinch of salt, 125g (4.5oz) caster sugar, 3 eggs and an extra yolk. Mix well.
3. Sieve 125g (4.5oz) 00 or plain flour into the mix and stir it in.
4. Add the melted butter.
5. Spoon the mixture into buttered moulds (to a maximum of two-thirds full).
6. Bake for about 25 minutes at 180 degrees centigrade.
7. Turn out onto wire rack to cool then wrap in greaseproof paper.

* The Commercy recipe is said to contain orange flower water instead of lemon juice and cooks them at a higher temperature (220 degrees centigrade) for only 10 minutes

old-mad-tins1Whichever recipe you use, you’ll need a proper madeleine baking tin. The best I’ve found are the heavy duty French Gobel brand (they’ve been making kitchen kit since 1895) about £12.

My quick recipe is as follows:
2oz each of SR flour, butter, caster sugar
1 egg
Pinch salt
Rind of 1 lemon
a splash of milk

Beat ingredients together, spoon into the cake tins, bake at about 180 degrees centigrade for about 10 minutes. Makes about 20.

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