French recipes are, understandably, often steeped in history. The nation is as proud of its culinary traditions as it is of its epistolary and philosophical ones. It’s why the incursion of soft drinks and hamburgers are as noxious as the incursion of English words like “le leader,” “le power” and “le hot-dog.” It’s why Jose Bove can become a national icon for burning down a McDonalds, and why Maria Antoinette’s remarks about brioche could topple a monarch. The evolution of French culture and identity can be easily traced along the x-axis of language, and y-axis of cooking.
The center of this graph, the 0,0 point, might well be Marcel Proust’s A la Recherche du Temps Perdu, or The Remembrance of Things Past. In one section of his seven-volume, three-thousand page work, Proust described his favorite childhood confection:
She [Proust’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.
This was my take on Proust’s beloved madeleines.
Recipe adapted from Ina Garten’s Barefoot in Paris.
PREP TIME: 15 minutes
COOK TIME: 15 minutes
YIELD: 20 Madeleines
WHAT TO GRAB:
1 tablespoon melted butter, for greasing
3 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
2/3 cup vanilla-sugar (or plain sugar)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup flour
2 tablespoons corn starch
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/2 cup butter, melted and cooled
Lemon zest of one large lemon
2 tablespoons shredded coconut (optional)
HOW YOU DO IT:
1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Thoroughly butter the madeleine pan.
2. With an electric mixer, beat the eggs, sugar, and vanilla on medium speed for about 3 minutes, or until light yellow and fluffy. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, cornstarch, baking powder, and salt. Working in batches, stir the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients with a rubber spatula. Stir in the melted butter. Then stir in the lemon zest.
3. Using a soup spoon, drop the batter into the pans*, filling each shell almost full. Bake the madeleines for 12 to 14 minutes, or until the edges of the madeleines are golden brown. Immediately tap the madeleines out onto a baking pan lined with parchment paper and allow them to cool. Dust with confectioners’ sugar and serve warm!
*Traditionalists might prefer the metal madeleine pan, but I like my silicon mold because it makes emptying the madeleines so easy!