Madeleines – a Proustian experience

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Madeleines

In Marcel Proust’s monumental study of voluntary and involuntary memory, In Remembrance of Things Past, the narrator, now an adult, describes how the taste of a madeleine cake brings flooding back to him the days of his youth in Combray where he grew up.

So what better for a dreary Bank holiday Monday monsoon than a fine cup of tea with madeleines to dip, if you so desire, associated hopefully with the memory of an August Bank holiday in days gone by when the sun shone.

Here is the recipe I use, and it never fails. And if you want to enjoy the Proustian experience, see the extract from the novel below:


For 12 madeleines – Preparation time 20 min.

Ingredients
75g melted butter
75g sugar
75g wheat flour
1 large egg
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp rose / orange blossom water (optional)

Method
Pre-heat the oven to 200 C.
Mix together the egg with the sugar, then add the rose / orange blossom water.
Add the flour and the baking powder and stir well.
Add the melted butter. Stir well.
Pour some mixture in the madeleine mould. Make sure you don’t fill it to the top.
Bake for exactly 10 min.
Keep an eye on the madeleines so they don’t burn.

When done, take the madeleines out and leave to cool a little before you unmould them.


From Marcel Proust: In Remembrance of Things Past

Marcel_Proust
Marcel Proust

Many years had past during which nothing of Combray, except what was comprised in the theatre and the drama of my going to bed there, had any existence for me, when one winter’s day, as I arrived home, my mother, seeing that I was cold, offered me some tea, something I didn’t normally drink. At first I refused, but then, for no particular reason, I changed my mind. She sent out for one of those short, plump little cakes called ‘petites madeleines,’ which look as though they’ve been moulded in a fluted scallop shell. And so, tired after a tedious day with the prospect of a depressing day to follow, I mechanically 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 entire 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 hint of what had caused it. 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. I had ceased now to feel mediocre, accidental, mortal. Where had it come from, this overpowering joy? I was conscious that it was connected with the taste of tea and cake, but that it infinitely transcended those flavours, could not, indeed, be of the same nature as theirs. Where had it come from? What did it mean? How could I grasp and define it?

. . .And suddenly the memory came to me. It was the taste of the little piece of madeleine which on Sunday mornings at Combray (because on those mornings I didn’t go out before mass), when I went to say good morning to her in her bedroom, my aunt Léonie would 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; perhaps because I had so often seen such things since, without tasting them, on the trays in patisserie windows, that their image had dissociated itself from those Combray days to take its place alongside others more recent; perhaps because of those memories, so long abandoned and put out of mind, nothing now survived, everything was scattered; the forms of things, including that of the little scallop-shell of pastry, so richly sensual under its severe, devout folds, were either obliterated or had been dormant so long that they had lost the power of expansion which would have allowed them to resume their place in my consciousness. But when from a remote past nothing survives, after the people are dead, after things have been destroyed and scattered, still, alone, more fragile, but with more vitality, more insubstantial, more persistent, more faithful, the smell and taste of things remain a long time, like souls, ready to be recalled, waiting and hoping for their moment, amid the ruins of all the rest; and bear unfaltering, in the tiny and almost impalpable drop of their essence, the vast structure of memory.

Translation adapted by John Lyons

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