The genuine petite Madeleine de Commercy
|Alternative name(s)||Petite madeleine|
|Place of origin||France|
|Region or state||Commercy and Liverdun, Lorraine|
|Main ingredient(s)||Flour, sugar, eggs, almonds or other nuts|
The madeleine (French pronunciation: [mad.lɛn], English // or //) or petite madeleine ([pə.tit mad.lɛn]) is a traditional small cake from Commercy and Liverdun, two communes of the Lorraine region in northeastern France.
Madeleines are very small sponge cakes with a distinctive shell-like shape acquired from being baked in pans with shell-shaped depressions. Aside from the traditional moulded pan, commonly found in stores specialising in kitchen equipment and even hardware stores, no special tools are required to make madeleines.
A génoise cake batter is used. The flavour is similar to, but somewhat lighter than, sponge cake. Traditional recipes include very finely ground nuts, usually almonds. A variation uses lemon zest, for a pronounced lemony taste.
English madeleines also use a génoise sponge but they are baked in dariole moulds. After cooking, the cakes are coated in jam and desiccated coconut, and are usually topped with a glacé cherry.
Some sources, including the New Oxford American Dictionary, say madeleines may have been named for a 19th-century pastry cook, Madeleine Paulmier, but other sources have it that Madeleine Paulmier was a cook in the 18th century for Stanisław Leszczyński, whose son-in-law, Louis XV of France, named them for her. The Larousse Gastronomique offers two conflicting versions of the history of the madeleine.
In In Search of Lost Time (also known as Remembrance of Things Past), author Marcel Proust uses madeleines to contrast involuntary memory with voluntary memory. The latter designates memories retrieved by "intelligence," that is, memories produced by putting conscious effort into remembering events, people, and places. Proust's narrator laments that such memories are inevitably partial, and do not bear the "essence" of the past. The most famous instance of involuntary memory by Proust is known as the "episode of the madeleine," yet there are at least half a dozen other examples in In Search of Lost Time.
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
Over and over again
I keep tasting that sweet madeleine
looking back at my life now and then
asking: if not later then when?
The writer Emma Woolf also makes reference to the taste of madeleine cake in her influential "Letters on Memory".
- madeleine. Dictionary.com. Dictionary.com Unabridged. Random House, Inc. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/madeleine (accessed: July 11, 2012).
- Ava Runge. "Madeleines," in La Città Viola, Issue 3, February 2007, published by the International School of Florence. (Article includes a recipe for Madeleines au Citron.) “Louis XV called this tiny pastry “Madeleine” for the first time in 1755 in honor of his father-in-law’s cook named Madeleine Paulmier. Louis' wife introduced them soon afterwards to the court in Versailles and they became loved all over France. Marcel Proust, a well-known author, describes Madeleines as “a little shell of cake, so generously sensual beneath the piety of its stern pleating…” Note: The url for this pdf file does not work, but a search for "La Citta Viola" will yield a link for "Issue 3 Feb 2007" which may be viewed as an html file.
- Josh Friedland (18 April 2004). "Post-Proustian Madeleines". TheFoodSection.com.
The historical origins of the madeleine are disputed, and Larousse Gastronomique relates two conflicting accounts of the cake’s invention. One story lays the origins of the madeleine at the feet of one Jean Avice, the “master of choux pastry,” who worked as a pastry chef for Prince Talleyrand. Avice is said to have invented the Madeleine in the 19th century by baking little cakes in aspic molds. Another account puts the origins of the madeleine much earlier, dating to the 1700s, when they were supposedly first made in the town of Commercy in Lorraine, then popularized at Versailles and later in Paris by Stanislas Leczinski, King of Poland and father-in-law of Louis XV.