*My mother sent out for one of those short, plump little cakes called ’petites madeleines,’ which look as though they had been moulded in the fluted scallop of a pilgrim’s shell. And soon, mechanically, weary after a dull day with the prospect of a depressing morrow, 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, and the crumbs with it, touched my palate than a shudder ran through my whole body, and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary changes that were taking place. An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses…..*
This is the moment in Marcel Proust’s novel À la recherche du temps perdu when his character, Charles Swann bites into the sweet, buttery deliciousness of a cake à la Madeleine dipped in tea and is transported into a revelry of sheer bliss..
The Madeleine Moment was beautifully evoked by Marcel Proust
The good news is that we can recreate such a moment in our own kitchens through baking and sharing such delicious treats and experiences with friends, family and of course for us here at Chez Teresa/A Taste d’Angleterre with our customers. In a way I see whisking up such sumptuous delights as our own kind of time travel i.e. making and baking tried and tested recipes that have been handed down over the years perhaps from your own family and in some cases since time immemorial. My Mother enjoyed baking and as a child coming home from school to a sweetly scented kitchen with swirls of sifted flour haloing my Mother’s face heralded the fact that a freshly baked sponge cake was definitely going to be presented for tea. All the Aunties baked and our Aunt Lydia used to present quite elaborate cake confections including highly decorated cakes topped with Crinoline ladies made of icing sugar adorned with a veritable garden of sugared flowers.
My Mother’s baking was of a more home spun kind. In fact when we were children she often made small buttery cakes very like Madeleines which is probably why every time I see them in a Patisserie window here in France my heart skips a little beat and I am transported back to childhood. Something about the colour I think rather than the shape, though mentioning that the shape is of course a key element of this cake’s identity like to a sea shell scallop. The shape was possibly because in the 18th century metal moulds began to be used in cooking so suddenly perfectly shaped patisserie was possible in a more exact way than ever before.
A patisserie legend is born…..
It is said that the Madeleine was originally from the town of Commercy in Lorraine and that it was the creation of a local peasant woman called Madeleine. How wonderful to be immortalized in cake…. As the story goes; back in 1755 the then King of Poland, Stanislas Leczinski who happened to be the father-in-law of Louis XV tasted the little cake then introduced it to the court and launched a fashion at Versailles then when his daughter Marie, wife of Louis XV delighted in the little cake she introduced into Parisian society…
The first recorded recipe for Cakes à la Madeleine comprised:
One pound of flour, one pound of butter, eight egg whites & yolks, three fourths of a pound of fine sugar, a half glass of water, a little grated lime, or preserved lemon rind minced very finely, orange blossom praliné; knead the whole together, & make little cakes, that you will serve iced with sugar.
Source: Menon, Les soupers de la Cour ou L’art de travailler toutes sortes d’aliments, p.282 (1755)
Legendary chef, Antoine Carême, was famous for his ‘grande cuisine’ for kings and queens was also known for his Madeleines and other more elaborate confections. Carême opened his Pâtisserie de la rue de la Paix, in Paris which he ran from the 1790s until 1813. The Pâtisserie gained fame for its pièces montées which were elaborate constructions often inspired by architecture that were displayed in the pâtisserie window.
The elegance of an 18th century drawing room and the partaking of an afternoon tea; part of the ritual of high society life
The passion for Madeleines grew…They were especially popular during the Napoleonic period. By the 1840s over 20,000 Madeleines were baked every day in Paris alone. Priced at 30 centimes La Pièce this sounds somewhat très cher to me, but I guess these were rather special little cakes and one of the favoured delicacies of the richer in society at that.
To create your own 24 perfect little Cakes of buttery deliciousness à la Madeleine you will need:
+ Icing sugar (for sprinkling)
Melt the butter in a pan and add the sugar then gently fold in the frothy eggs Then gradually add the rest of the ingredients until you have created a smooth battery mix. It should be pale in colour. Next spoon the mixture into the individual moulds of a buttered Madeleine tin. Bake in a pre-heated oven (180c) for around 12 minutes or until golden brown and springy to the touch. Remove the individual Madeleines from the tin and sprinkle with icing sugar. They are also delicious coated in a layer of melted good quality milk chocolate or alternatively sprinkled with flaked almonds. For the latter you will need to sprinkle the flaked almonds just before you put them into the oven to bake. Another tasty topping is to glaze them with a zesty lemon or orange icing.