Proust’s Remembrance, Revisited

Following the previous delightful attempt at baking Earl Grey Madeleines, I’d decided to return to the basics i.e. revisit the recipe for the traditional recipes which prompted Proust’s provocative description.

Below is yet another excerpt…

 …when one day in winter, on my return home, my mother, seeing that I was cold, offered me some tea, a thing I did not ordinarily take. I declined at first, and then, for no particular reason, changed my mind. She sent for one of those squat, plump little cakes called petites madeleines, which look as though they had been molded in the fluted valve of a scallop shell. And soon, mechanically, dispirited after a dreay 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 mixed with the crumbs touched my palate than a shiver 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…”

–  Marcel Proust, Remembrance of Things Past

The more I read excerpts available on the internet, the more curious I get about this book. I really should remember to pick up this book the next time I visit Kinokuniya, my favourite bookstore.

Recipe: Traditional Madeleines

Ingredients

  • 55g all-purpose flour
  • 1g baking powder
  • pinch of salt
  • 65g caster sugar
  • some lemon zest (optional)
  • 1 large egg, room temperature
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3 tbsp unsalted butter, melted and cooled

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 200°C.
  2. Prepare a madeleine pan by buttering the pan, dust the insides with flour and tapping out the excess. No preparation is required for silicone moulds.
  3. Sieve the flour, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl. Set aside.
  4. Rub the lemon zest into the sugar in a medium bowl until well distributed.
  5. Add the egg into the sugar and beat on medium speed until mixture is thick and light.
  6. Add in the vanilla.
  7. Gently fold in the dry ingredients with a rubber spatular until well-mixed.
  8. Gently fold in the cooled melted butter until well-mixed.
  9. Spoon the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 10 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean. (If you want your madeleines to turn out with a more pronounced hump characteristic of madeleines, you can cover the batter-filled pan with cellophane wrap and refrigerate overnight).
  10. Transfer the madeleines to cool on wire rack before storing them in an air-tight container, although madeleines taste best when eaten fresh out of the oven.

Yield : 12 petite madeleines

Madeleines are not tedious or require much elbow grease to prepare or bake, but somehow I don’t come across many online bakers who bake them. Perhaps they too, like me, have very little patience. For starters, it’s just not in my nature to let something sit in the chiller overnight just to ensure that the madeleines achieve a more pronounced hump, but I did. Several times to boot!

Ah well, the lengths I would go in the name of a fastidious baker.

Proust’s Remembrance, with a Twist

Whenever madeleines are mentioned, French author Marcel Proust shall come to mind, for he single-handedly immortalised madeleines outside of France. How so, you might ask? In Proust’s monumental novel ‘In Search of Lost Time’ (sometimes also known as ‘Remembrance of Things Past’), he described his first awakening ‘encounter’ with madeleines over tea.

Below is an excerpt…

“No sooner had the warm liquid mixed with the crumbs touched my palate than a shiver 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, Remembrance of Things Past

Indeed, we come to the conclusion that Proust’s little episode with the madeleines brought about some involuntary memory of his childhood. I could identify with Proust, for I too, have a food which would bring on involuntary memory of my childhood – I associate steamed egg cakes (known as ‘gai dan gou‘ to me when I was young) with my late paternal grandmother, who has left us for a decade now.

Recipe: Earl Grey Madeleines

Ingredients

  • 35g unsalted butter
  • 1 sachet of Gryphon Earl Grey Tea
  • 55g all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • pinch of salt
  • 30g caster sugar
  • 1 large egg, room temperature
  • 1 tbsp floral honey
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 200°C.
  2. Melt the butter and empty the sachet of earl grey tea leaves to infuse for about 5 minutes before straining and discarding the leaves. Leave butter to cool.
  3. Prepare a madeleine pan by buttering the pan, dust the insides with flour and tapping out the excess. No preparation is required for silicone moulds.
  4. Sieve the flour, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl. Set aside.
  5. Add the egg into the sugar and beat on medium speed until mixture is thick and light.
  6. Add in the floral honey and vanilla extract.
  7. Gently fold in the dry ingredients with a rubber spatular until well-mixed.
  8. Gently fold in the cooled melted butter until well-mixed.
  9. Spoon the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 10 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean. (If you want your madeleines to turn out with a more pronounced hump which is characteristic of madeleines, cover the batter-filled pan with cling wrap and refrigerate overnight).
  10. Transfer the madeleines to cool on wire rack before storing them in an air-tight container, although madeleines taste best when eaten fresh out of the oven.

Yield : 12 petite madeleines

These earl grey madeleines are not the typical madeleines we usually see. You see, I’ve always been more of a tea rather than coffee person, and earl grey teas are always quite my favourite. I would just have to attempt this recipe and I am proud to declare that the madeleines do turn out quite okay.

If you have an issue with the glossy sheen on the madeleines, then take note not to use silicon moulds. I could live with it, for I much prefer the sheen over the laborious task of buttering or flouring the crooks and crevices on a metal mould for madeleines. Entirely your call.

Everyone who is in the know will tell you that madeleines are best eaten fresh out of the oven for they notoriously turn stale rather rapidly. In a nutshell, madeleines don’t keep well so do not attempt to keep it beyond a day or they won’t taste as well as they should. In fact, baked madeleines should be stashed away in air-tight containers once cooled if they are not to be consumed immediately.

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