Monday, February 20, 2006


I ordered a madeleines pan from Williams-Sonoma. This sounds extravagant, but I couldn’t find one at Target or K-Mart. I was reading IN SEARCH OF LOST TIME and wanted a Proustian experience. But madeleines aren't a popular cookie.

Everyone knows the scene in SWANN’S WAY in which M., the narrator, describes the exquisite experience of eating a madeleine. He equates the taste of madeleines with joy and sensuality. If madeleines were the source of joy, I would bake them.

Proust wrote: “ day in winter, as I came home, my mother, seeing that I was cold, offered me some tea, a thing I did not ordinarily take. She sent out for one of those short, plump little cakes called ‘petite 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 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, but individual, detached, with no suggestion of its origin. And at once the vicissitudes of life had become indifferent to me, its disasters innocuous, its brevity illusory--this new sensation having had on me the effect which love has of filling me with a precious essence, or rather this essence was not in me, it was myself. When could it have come to me, this all-powerful joy? I was conscious that it was connected with the taste of tea and cake, but that it infinitely transcended those savours, could not, indeed, be of the same nature as theirs. Whence did it come? What did it signify? How could I seize upon and define it?” (p. 62, C. K. Scott Moncrieff translation, Modern Library edition)

Making the madeleines was fun. I combined two recipes from THE GOOD HOUSEKEEPING COOKBOOK and THE NEW YORK TIMES COOKBOOK. First you melt one-fourth cup butter or margarine and let it cool. Then you whip two eggs with a pinch of salt until it peaks. Then add one-third cup of sugar, two tablespoons at a time, beating the mixture until the froth becomes a stiff peak. Then add a half teaspoon vanilla. Then fold in two-thirds cup flour and the margarine (or butter).

Fill the seashell molds of your French nonstick madeleines pan three-fourths full and bake for 8 minutes in a 375-degree oven.

My oven must have been too hot, because the fluted bottoms of the cookies were too brown (I turned them over when they’d cooled so I could admire the shell pattern). I also had trouble figuring out how to remove them from the pan. The spatula was too big, so I used a knife to scrape them out.

The overall taste was disappointing. I had wanted homemade Pepperidge Farm cookies. Instead, I had shell-shaped sponge cakes (which I later learned they were supposed to be anyway).

Next time I’ll try a different recipe and perhaps I’ll use butter instead of margarine.

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