This post is a part of my Madeleine series in tribute to this iconic French pastry and all that it means - from its fascinating history, choosing the right pan, all the secrets of authentic madeleine hump, and storage suggestions - you name it!
What are madeleines? Some people say they are cookies, but the French would have a different madeleine definition. So let’s explore this simple French treat and find out what defines it as such!
Have you ever tried a madeleine?
As for me, I fell into the madeleine many years ago, and I still haven't really come out of it.
Everything started with making classic French madeleines whose recipe was perfected over time.
Madeleines are the perfect combination of buttery, sweet, and delicious. They are small enough to fit in your hand but big enough to satisfy any craving.
And they are so versatile! You can make them with chocolate chips or without; add lemon zest for an extra burst of flavor or keep it simple with just vanilla extract. The possibilities are endless.
What are madeleines?
Madeleines (les madeleines in French) are a type of small sponge cake, originally from Commercy, in Lorraine.
They are baked in a shell-like shaped mold and have been enjoyed for their light texture with elegant notes from lemon or vanilla beans.
According to the French dictionary Larousse, madeleine is a
Small cake in the shape of a domed shell, made of a batter made from beaten eggs, sugar, flour, melted butter, flavored with lemon or orange blossom.
Are madeleines cookies or cakes?
Many people refer madeleines to as madeleine cookies due to their cookie-like form. Some even specify them as teatime cookies.
They are made with flour, sugar, eggs, butter as their base and baked in their special pan called a madeleine pan, with shell-shaped molds.
But they have cake features too. Like most cakes, they contain simple ingredients such as flour, sugar, eggs, butter, a leavening agent, and some flavoring.
Due to their firm yet spongy texture, madeleines are very similar to a pound cake.
According to Wikipedia,
The madeleine or petite madeleine is a traditional small cake from Commercy and Liverdun, two communes of the Lorraineregion in northeastern France.
All the elements that makeup cookies and cakes are happily merged in a madeleine.
So, the best description of a madeleine dessert is probably something that crosses between a cookie and a cake.
Still, however you categorize these French creations, elegant madeleines symbolize friendliness, perfect as a snack for children and adults.
It goes well with a cup of tea or coffee and dessert, with a fruit salad and a chocolate mousse.
What is Proust's madeleine?
When we think of the French language, an expression like 'Proust's madeleine' (madeleine de Proust in French) oracularly pops into our heads.
This example derives from a rich literary heritage and has a deep meaning associated with it.
This well-known expression was first used by French writer Marcel Proust. His famous work called In Search of Lost Time ("A la Recherche du Temps Perdu" in French) consists of seven parts.
The madeleine's expression emerges in Du Côté de chez Swann, the first novel in the series. It basically deals with the evocation of childhood memories of the narrator.
The section where Marcel Proust talks about the madeleine is thus linked to his memory.
When he was a kid, his aunt made him madeleines dipped in tea. All the surroundings and emotions he felt as a kid come back to him. It included simple gestures, places, tastes, and even smells...
The taste of a madeleine soaked in tea brought the narrator the forgotten moments of his happy childhood in Combray.
Here is Proust madeleine passage:
And all of a sudden the memory came to me. This taste was that of the little piece of madeleine that on Sunday mornings at Combray (because that day I didn't go out before mass time), when I went to say hello to him in his room, my Aunt Léonie offered it to me after having dipped it in her infusion of tea or lime blossom. The sight of the little madeleine had reminded me of nothing before I had tasted it; perhaps because, having often seen them since, without eating them, on the shelves of pastry chefs, their image had left those days of Combray to be linked to other more recent ones; perhaps because of these memories abandoned for so long outside memory, nothing survived, everything had disintegrated; the shapes – and also that of the small pastry shell, so richly sensual, under its severe and devout pleating – had been abolished, or, drowsy, had lost the force of expansion which would have allowed them to rejoin consciousness. But, when from an ancient past nothing remains, after the death of beings, after the destruction of things, alone, more frail but more lively, more immaterial, more persistent, more faithful, the smell and the flavor remain for a long time yet. , like souls, to remember, to wait, to hope, on the ruin of all the rest, to carry without flinching, on their almost impalpable droplet, the immense edifice of memory.Marcel Proust
So, what is a madeleine of Proust?
According to Linternaute.com, Proust's madeleine is a
Feeling of nostalgia caused by a smell, a color or a place.
What is meaningful to understand is that it is a kind of memory that comes back to you in a completely random way.
In other words, Proust's madeleine means an unexpected memory filled with nostalgia. It includes smells, tastes, sounds, or any sensations.
You can say that something is your Proust's madeleine if it brings you back, like the smell of madeleines did with Mr. Proust.
The Proust phenomenon is a myth of childhood. It is such a unique feeling of nostalgia that revives your unforgettable memories linked to your own story.
For example, you can say that you drink hot chocolate when sad. It is your Proustian madeleine; it makes you feel better.
So, what is your Proust's madeleine? A gourmet kids' snack or the tea is taken with your grandparents?
And it is completely fine that your Proust madeleine is something quite different from a madeleine.
Over time, this expression evolved so popularly that neuroscientists have tried to explain the idea of unconscious memory scientifically.
Also, philosophers have identified Proust with prominent thinkers on time and memory.
What do madeleines taste like?
A madeleine simply tastes like a crumbly, moist sponge-cake-cum-biscuit for some people. Sweet and delicious. They try it and forget.
Many people (like me) will forever fall in love and give them a special place among other pastries that make their lives a little bit sweeter.
For a few, tasting the madeleine may come as a jaw-dropper that something so simple and plain could activate such a copious gush of memories that would serve seven long and ponderous volumes (Proust’s case).
Where to eat the best madeleines in the world
There is no place like Paris when it comes to finding the perfect madeleine.
If you look for a unique treat in the area, look no further than Fabrice Le Bourdat's Ble Sucré which serves the best madeleines in Paris.
These light madeleines are covered with an elegant lemon glaze that will have your mouth watering from just one bite.
Another place is Fauchon, a French delicatessen that has been around since 1886.
They don't just make madeleines... Their original store is situated on Place de la Madeleine.
Gilles Marchal's madeleines created by a chef from his Lorraine memories are pillow and truly divine.
As per customers, "once you take a bite of their perfect Madeleines, you won't be able to have "just one."
For Mr. Marchal, madeleines are the emblem of his pastry. Even the shop's front door handles have a touch of that delicacy.
It is also whispered that the perfect madeleines are those of Philippe Contichini in his La pâtisserie des rêves, in Paris.
Also, don't skip visiting La Grande Épicerie de Paris, Un Dimanche à Paris, Au Fond du Jardin in Strasbourg, France, La Fameuse Madeleine de Proust in Saint-Avit-les-Guespières, and Pâtisserie Sadaharu Aoki to try matcha green tea madeleines.
Finally, madeleine makers (aka madeleiniers) of Saint-Yrieix-La-Perche brought the madeleines to the top of regional delicacies.
Their sweet treats are made with apple, chestnut flour, and unique black pudding. Only there you will find madeleines called Bijou, Boule d'Or or Bébé madeleines...
When in Commercy, capital of the famous madeleines, try classic and different variations of madeleines, including the ones with mirabelle plum.
And finally, you can make the world's best madeleines at home: here is the authentic madeleine recipe!
There is a chance that you will fall in love with a madeleine, and if Proust is right then, you will be unlikely to forget it.