Remembrance of Things Past

One can only wonder, would the elegant and petite cake we know as the madeleine be known at all if not for Proust's great novel. Would we pay this little piece of French culture any attention, had the narrator not taken a bite and suddenly remembered his entire past? Though it's a delightful treat that deserves all the attention it gets, I'm not quite convinced that anyone but devoted pastry-lovers would know of the petite cake. Then again, French pastry is very popular all over the world (especially lately with the macarons being in fashion).

Now I loved madeleines long before I found my interest for pastry and cookery. In fact, they were the only sponge cakes I enjoyed eating back then. Mind you, I could even eat the plastic-bag-packed discount madeleines from the supermarket! But to be completely honest I only think I liked them because when all mashed up after a walk in the mountains they were the least unappetizing treats we had available. No matter how I came to like them, I still do... And yes even the plastic-bag-packed discount ones are still enjoyable to me.

And then only a few days ago I finally became the content owner of a madeleine mold. First thing I did was of course to whip up a batch, desperately hoping for them to turn out good. After taking a few photos I finally allowed myself one.

In best Proust-style I fell down by the fireplace with a cup of linen tea and a madeleine and thought about all the good times I've had, sitting high up, climbing gear on, waiting to be allowed further up and - of course - enjoying a mashed up madeleine out of the plastic-bag.

Recipe halved and only slightly altered from Mitch Stamm: “The Pastry Chef's Apprentice”

Madeleines by Kim Park (Yields about 15)

85 g unsalted butter

113 g all-purpose flour

1½ tsp baking powder

Pinch of salt

2½ eggs (I know that count is silly, sorry)

85 g sugar

½ vanilla bean

  1. Preheat oven to 200C (400F) and prepare a madeleine mold by brushing it with melted butter.
  2. Melt the 85 g butter. Sift together flour, baking powder and salt. Set both aside.
  3. Whip the eggs and the sugar till the mixture is pale and thick (I whipped with an electric mixer for about 10 minutes). Scrape the vanilla bean and add the seeds to the eggs.
  4. Fold in the flour mixture thoroughly. It's important that you do not beat or whip it in as this will affect the texture of the baked madeleine.
  5. Fold one third of the batter with the melted butter. Mix this back into the batter, still folding it gently.
  6. The easiest way to get the batter into the mold is to pipe it. I just used a plastic bag with a hole cut in the end, works out fine as the batter should be rather thick.
  7. Bake for 13-15 minutes till golden brown. When done, tap the mold gently and the hot madeleines should easily come free of it.

TIP: The recipe states that if you want symmetrical madeleines you bake them right away, but if you want the traditional ones with a little hump, you should refrigerate the filled molds for about 1½ hours before baking.