The Hundred Years of Proust’s Madeleine

It’s light, spongey and not much bigger than a walnut, yet it’s imbued with the potential to evoke powerful memories of things past. It’s the humble madeleine!

Cakes and literature. Unless you enjoy a nibble while you’re reading a book, the two don’t often go hand in hand. Fans of Charles Dickens might point to Miss Havisham’s decaying wedding cake in Great Expectations as one example. But there’s a little cake out there that’s synonymous with a literary giant. It’s light, spongey and not much bigger than a walnut, yet it’s imbued with the potential to evoke powerful memories of things past. It’s the humble madeleine, and it will forever be associated with the French writer Marcel Proust.

2013 marks the 100th anniversary of the publication of Swann’s Way, the first of seven volumes of Proust’s most famous work, In Search Of Lost Time (“À la recherche du temps perdu”). Proust’s narrator involuntarily recalls an episode from his childhood after tasting a madeleine dipped in tea.

“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.”

While the macaron might be the fashionable French confection du jour, the madeleine has not escaped the attention of some of the world’s most renowned chefs and restaurants. The likes of Alain Ducasse, Joel Robuchon, Daniel Boulud and Heston Blumenthal all have their own take on the madeleine. Even London’s St. John restaurant – known for its contemporary revival of traditional British recipes – has inspired many a home cook with its oven-fresh madeleines. There can be few better places to find the perfect madeleine, however, than Paris. Fabrice Le Bourdat’s Ble Sucré is a small boulangerie in the Ledru-Rollin area, which has won a loyal following for its light madeleines with a lemony glaze. Established in 1886, gourmet delicatessen Fauchon doesn’t just do a mean madeleine, its original store is actually situated on Place de la Madeleine. And if you’d prefer a madeleine with a distinctly Japanese flavour, try the matcha green tea madeleines at Pâtisserie Sadaharu Aoki. Whichever madeleine you try, if Proust was right, you’ll be unlikely to forget it.

You can start by making it at home with our Madeleine recipe at:

Ingredients

Sugar 125 g

Butter 100 g

Flour 125 g

Salt 1 pinch

Eggs 3 each

Rosewater 1 tbsp

Icing sugar

Info box

Preparation time 25 m

Cooking time 1 h

Recipe category Dessert

Recipe yield 8

Recipe cuisine French

Preparation

Heat the oven to 180°C (160° fan) 350°F gas 4. Butter 24 madeleine tins. Beat the butter and sugar in a mixing bowl until creamy. Beat in the egg until blended. Stir in the flour, salt and rosewater. Cover the bowl and chill for 1 hour. Spoon into the tins and bake for about 15 minutes, until golden. Cool in the tins for a few minutes, then place on a wire rack to cool completely. Sift over a little icing sugar just before serving.

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