Is My Blog Burning? Post-Proustian Madeleines

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I've had madeleines on my mind recently, and Renee’s call to create a cake for the third installment of Is My Blog Burning? provided an excellent opportunity to actually make the little cakes for the first time.

The small, buttery cakes, which, as Marcel Proust describes in Remembrance of Things Past, “look as though they had been moulded in the fluted valve of a scallop shell,” will be forever associated with his meditation on time and memory.

One bite into the the madeleine triggers a flood of memories of youth spent in the fictional village of Combray. Eventually, the town of Illiers, Proust’s ancestral home, morphed itself into Illiers-Combray, a ville touristique,” where some 2,000 madeleines are sold every month to visiting Proustophiles.

The historical origins of the madeleine are disputed, and Larousse Gastronomique relates two conflicting accounts of the cake’s invention. One story lays the origins of the madeleine at the feet of one Jean Avice, the “master of choux pastry,” who worked as a pastry chef for Prince Talleyrand. Avice is said to have invented the Madeleine in the 19th century by baking little cakes in aspic molds.

Another account puts the origins of the madeleine much earlier, dating to the 1700s, when they were supposedly first made in the town of Commercy in Lorraine, then popularized at Versailles and later in Paris by Stanislas Leczinski, King of Poland and father-in-law of Louis XV. As one version goes, the cake was invented in 1755 during a feast given in Commercy by Leczinski at which a young servant named Madeleine cooked this traditional cake and saved the dinner.

There are multiple variations on the madeleine, from spiced versions to chocolate cakes. The recipe I used comes from Nancy Silverton’s Pastries From the La Brea Bakery. The recipe combines flour, ground almonds, baking powder, eggs that have been whipped together with sugar, along with a substantial amount of butter that is melted with vanilla bean and lemon zest. All of these ingredients are combined together, and then the batter must rest, refrigerated, for at least 24 hours to three days before baking.

Making the little cakes required special equipment, and so I purchased a gastroflex madeleine form (below). The soft, flexible mold is made of silicone and provides a completely non-stick, easy-to-release surface for baking the madeleines.

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As a non-stick surface, the silicone form worked excellently, but I found that it buckled under the heat of the oven, causing the batter in some of the forms to spill over and lose some of their shape (they still tasted fine, of course). The bottom, scalloped side also did not brown as fast as the top did, so I would be interested to try this all over again with the more traditional steel pan rather than the modern gastroflex.

These minor problems aside, the madeleines came out better than I could have imagined--spongy and sweet, with the intense aroma of vanilla, lemon, and almond.

Thanks to Renee for leading this worldwide cake walk!

Related: Previous Is My Blog Burning? entries:
-Is My Blog Burning? Tartine with Bacon, Avocado, and Mâche
-Is My Blog Burning? Roasted Chestnut Soup


 





Comments

Great post! You know, I've never had a madeleine before, I almost feel like its reputaion might be greater than the actual cake and that upon finally eating one I would be disappointed and I just don't know if I could handle that, heh. I've often looked at that Nancy Silverton recipe and wondered...and now I know that its worth a try.
Thanks!

 

Madeleine has been on my "to try soon... probably" list since years. After reading your great post, and seeing the mouthwatering madeleines you made, I'd guess the moment to try them out has gotten nearer... maybe in another 6 months :-).

 

Mmmmm, love those madeleines...

 

Thanks, Deb. The recipe is easy, especially since you get to break the job into 2 stages. They do have a huge reputation, but they come pretty close--what can beat lemon, almonds, vanilla and butter?

Alberto, I highly recommend you make them. I never do much baking, and these were pretty easy, though I am still trying to master the art of the gastroflex.

Thanks Ria!

 

For some reason I was thinking about making Madeleines this weekend (you must have been channeling the idea) and soon set out on a madeleine pan buying excursion - but soon thought better of it, because I still feel guilty for buying a brioche pan a while ago and never making brioche.

I was thinking of Madeleines because I was reading something last week about those silicon pans and was thinking of getting one. I'm glad you forwarned us - metal is probably the best way to go. :-)

 

Teresa, there was a lot of madeleine making going on this past weekend:

http://scally.typepad.com/cest_moi_qui_lai_fait/2004/04/hazelnut_madele.html

Don't give up on the silicone mold just yet. It did work really well in terms of releasing the madeleines, and Pascale (at link above) seemed to have a very positive experience.

 

Like everyone else, I've been thinking about madelines since I had some at tea in Normandy, France last year! Now... NO MORE EXCUSES. Its time to get a pan, and get baking! Thanks for the great recipe and write up.

 

As the recipient of some of these madelines, I can say they are worth the 24 hour wait. Even the aftertaste was great. Damn, thinking about it and reading this entry... I'm going to stop writing this and go eat one right now.

 

Thanks for the history. I adore Madelines and have had fabulous ones in *gasp* Minneapolis. I'd love to make my own. But I want to know how many people have read all of Proust. I am a prolific reader, but had a hard time getting through the first volume. I adore language, but wanted to shake the man and say it's a damn flower move on!

 

Lisa, I have to admit to never finishing the book either! I guarantee that baking the madeleines is much faster than reading about the memories they evoke.

 

I know your madeleine report was posted almost a year ago, but if your only madeleine form is still the gastroflex/silicone mold, then I would recommend trying the madeleines again. The "buckle" you describe is quite common, and I usually just stick spoons underneath the edges that bow down so they are propped up. If the tops are cooking faster than the bottom, then you need to (i) lower your oven temperature (try between 350 to 375 degrees F for 12-15 min.), (ii) continually use a chilled batter (place the batter in freezer in between baking sessions, and/or (iii) place the baked madeleines in the freezer after baking while they're still in their molds, as this helps them set.

 

I AM DIABETIC. ANYONE HAVE A SUGAR FREE (SPENDA MADE) RECIPE FOR THE
MADELEINES, THAT THEY'VE TRIED AND
TASTED?

 

I have been eat these petite cakes at starbucks and I went on line to find a recipe,I want to bake them myself.

 

I have a hard time finding a Starbucks which sells the Madeline's Petite Cakes...and I travel all over. The last time I found them was in Las Vegas on last week, before that it was in Atlanta, GA at the Starbucks in Lennox Mall in September! Where can I buy them!!!

 

Cheryl,
I too always look for these little treats at Starbucks, especially in airports, but like you, usually come up empty handed! Of course, they have them at the Seattle airport and all the area Starbucks I've been to there. I've found them at a couple of Starbucks in Atlanta (Decatur Square, for one). Also, I was at Phipps Plaza, Atlanta recently, and the little coffee bar adjacent to Nordstrom's had them, individually wrapped vs. Starbucks' 3-to-a-pack, but they tasted just the same. I love them all by themselves - no tea necessary!

 

Madelines are great! We used this recipe to make a batch for our French Presentation, and it came out great. Thank you!

 

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