Madeleines, the tiny shell-shaped cakes, have been the subject of much love and lore. From their evocative presence in Proust’s literature to the still alive debate of whether they are cakes or biscuits, madeleines have a certain charm that continues to endear them to generations. Meryl White takes us on a sweet journey down memory lane and provides a delightful recipe to bake these French treats.
The Magic of Madeleines and Marcel Proust
The journey into the world of madeleines often begins with Proust’s ‘A la Recherche du Temps Perdu’. This classic work introduced many, including Meryl, to the madeleines’ magical ability to evoke potent, involuntary memories. While literary discussions gave the young students much food for thought, they ultimately concurred that enjoying madeleines, preferably dunked in tea or coffee, was the best way to savor them.
Understanding the Madeleine
The texture of madeleines lies somewhere between a cake and a biscuit, which has sparked debates. Traditional ingredients include sugar, eggs, butter, and flour. Flavorings might include vanilla extract or lemon zest. Some adventurous souls might substitute ground almonds for flour, although purists like Odile might have reservations about it. The madeleine tin, with its signature shell shape, is crucial for getting that perfect madeleine silhouette.
Baking Madeleines: A Delightful Recipe
Baking madeleines is a rather straightforward affair. Here’s Meryl’s tried-and-tested recipe:
- Butter: 100g (melted)
- Caster sugar: 100g
- Eggs: 2 (beaten)
- Milk: 50g
- Flavoring: Vanilla extract or zest of 1 lemon
- Plain flour: 100g
- Baking powder: 1 tsp
- Preheat the oven to 220C (200C fan) or gas mark 7.
- In a bain-marie setup, beat the eggs and mix in sugar, flavoring, and part of the milk.
- Remove from heat, continue whisking, and gradually incorporate the remaining milk.
- Gently fold in flour and baking powder.
- Prepare the madeleine tin with oil or melted butter and spoon the batter in, filling each mold halfway.
- Bake for 10-12 minutes until risen and firm.
- Let them cool for a few minutes, then transfer them to a cooling rack.
For decorating, opt for a simple dusting of icing sugar, a dip in melted chocolate, or an exquisite combination of apricot jam brushed on the madeleines and a drizzle of melted chocolate.
The Madeleine’s Origin Story
The history of the madeleine is laced with fascinating tales. Hailing from the Lorraine region of North Eastern France, stories vary about its creation. Whether attributed to a royal cook named Madeleine or a pilgrim bearing the same name journeying back from Santiago de Compostela, the madeleine’s shell shape has a clear link to the symbol of St James.
Today, Meryl keeps the tradition alive, baking these little delights with her grandchildren, ensuring that her fond memories of madeleines continue to thrive.