madeleines 1

Unless you’re in traction or trapped under something heavy, life’s too short to read Remembrance of Things Past. It’s more than 3,000 pages–roughly the length of War and Peace, Gone With the Wind, and Bill Clinton’s My Life combined.

What do you need to know about Marcel Proust’s masterpiece? It’s all about involuntary memory. The narrator tastes a madeleine, remembers ones his aunt gave him as a child, and starts remembering his childhood in detail. From there, he decides to write about his entire life. Proust kept adding details until he died.

I’m surprised his editors didn’t kill him.

I’d always assumed madeleines were cookies, but they’re actually buttery, lemony little tea cakes. If you piped a little marshmallow fluff inside, they would taste like very high-end Twinkies. The shell shape comes from the madeleine pan.

How did they fare at our house? Jeff and I thought they were good, but Henry the French Bulldog inhaled them. I used them to sneak him his allergy meds. Do you remember the scene in Velvet Goldmine where the rock star snorts cocaine off a hooker’s back? That was Henry with the madeleines. Then he passed out on the couch and started nursing in his sleep. Dreaming of life as a puppy.

Traditional Madeleines

From Dorie Greenspan’s “Baking: From My Home to Yours”

  • 2/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • Grated zest of 1 lemon
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 3/4 stick (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting
  1. Whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt.
  2. Working in a mixer bowl, rub the sugar and lemon zest together with your fingertips until the sugar is moist and fragrant.
  3. Add the eggs to the bowl.
  4. Working with the whisk attachment, or with a hand mixer, beat the eggs and sugar together on medium-high speed until pale, thick and light, 2 to 3 minutes.
  5. Beat in the vanilla.
  6. With a rubber spatula, very gently fold in the dry ingredients, followed by the melted butter.
  7. Press a piece of plastic wrap against the surface of the batter and refrigerate it for at least 3 hours, or for up to 2 days.
  8. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Butter 12 full-size madeleine molds, or up to 36 mini madeleine molds, dust the insides with flour and tap out the excess. Or, if you have a nonstick pan (or pans), give it a light coating of vegetable cooking spray. Place the pan(s) on a baking sheet.
  9. Spoon the batter into the molds, filling each one almost to the top. Bake large madeleines for 11 to 13 minutes, and minis for 8 to 10 minutes, or until they are golden and the tops spring back when touched.
  10. Remove the pan(s) from the oven and release the madeleines from the molds by rapping the edge of the pan against the counter. Transfer the cookies to a rack to cool to just warm or to room temperature.
  11. Just before serving, dust the madeleines with confectioners’ sugar.