Mouthful of miniature sponge-cake dipped in tea that became one of French literature’s most powerful metaphors may have been named for a 19th-century pastry cook, Madeleine Paulmier, who was a cook in the 18th century for Stanisław Leszczyński, whose son-in-law, Louis XV of France, named them for her.
The story goes that Louis XV called this tiny pastry “Madeleine” for the first time in 1755 in honor of his father-in-law’s cook Paulmier. Louis’ wife, Maria Leszczyński, introduced them soon afterwards to the court in Versailles and they became loved all over France
The madeleine is a traditional small cake from Commercy and Liverdun, two communes of the Lorraine region in northeastern France.
The madeleine cakes that Marcel Proust made famous as the trigger for nostalgia in his book might have actually started out as toasted bread, according to draft manuscripts to be published in France this week.
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. An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses, something isolated, 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 me. … Whence did it come? What did it mean? How could I seize and apprehend it? … And suddenly the memory revealed itself. The taste was that of the little piece of madeleine which on Sunday mornings at Combray (because on those mornings I did not go out before mass), when I went to say good morning to her in her bedroom, my aunt Léonie used to give me, dipping it first in her own cup of tea or tisane. The sight of the little madeleine had recalled nothing to my mind before I tasted it. And all from my cup of tea.
— Marcel Proust, In Search of Lost Time
Here is the recipe:
• 2/3 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for molds
• 1 teaspoon baking powder
• 1/4 teaspoon fleur de sel or pinch of fine sea salt
• 1/3 cup sugar
• Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
• 2 large eggs, room temperature
• 1 tablespoon honey
• 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
• 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and warm, plus unmelted for molds
• 2 tablespoons whole milk
• In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt; set aside.
• Place sugar and lemon zest a bowl. Using your fingertips, rub sugar and lemon zest together until sugar is moist and fragrant. Add eggs and whisk until mixture is pale and thickens slightly, about 2 minutes. Whisk in honey and vanilla. Alternatively, this can be done in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment.
• Gently fold in flour mixture in three additions; fold in melted butter until fully incorporated. Stir in milk. Batter should be smooth and shiny. Press a piece of plastic wrap against the surface of the batter; transfer to refrigerator and let chill at least 1 hour and up to 2 days.
• Butter and flour a large madeleine pan. Spoon batter into madeleine pan; transfer to refrigerator for 1 hour.
• Place a heavy, large baking sheet in oven; preheat oven to 400 degrees.
• Place madeleine pan on preheated baking sheet. Bake until golden and big bumps on top spring back when touched, 11 to 13 minutes. Remove pan from oven and immediately release madeleines from pan by rapping pan on counter. If any stick, use a butter knife or fingers to help release. Let cool on a wire rack.
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