These shell-shaped biscuits famously appeared in Proust’s À la Recherche du Temps Perdu. In possibly the finest literary example of spiritual transcendence through sensory experience, a madeleine dunked in limeflower tea calls forth powerful, yet involuntary, childhood memories.
"And as soon as I had recognized the taste of the piece of madeleine soaked in her decoction of lime-blossom which my aunt used to give me (although I did not yet know and must long postpone the discovery of why this memory made me so happy) immediately the old grey house upon the street, where her room was, rose up like a stage set to attach itself to the little pavilion opening on to the garden which had been built out behind it for my parents (the isolated segment which until that moment had been all that I could see); and with the house the town, from morning to night and in all weathers, the Square where I used to be sent before lunch, the streets along which I used to run errands, the country roads we took when it was fine. And as in the game wherein the Japanese amuse themselves by filling a porcelain bowl with water and steeping in it little pieces of paper which until then are without character or form, but, the moment they become wet, stretch and twist and take on colour and distinctive shape, become flowers or houses or people, solid and recognizable, so in that moment all the flowers in our garden and in M. Swann’s park, and the water-lilies on the Vivonne and the good folk of the village and their little dwellings and the parish church and the whole of Combray and its surroundings, taking shape and solidity, sprang into being, town and gardens alike, from my cup of tea." (Montcrieff translation. Check out the Lydia Davis translation for a slightly more elegant reading.)
- 2 eggs
- 3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- 1/3 cup white sugar
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon lemon zest
- 1/4 cup butter
- 1/3 cup granulated sugar for decoration
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C).
- Butter and flour 12 (3 inch) madeleine molds; set aside.
- Melt butter and let cool to room temperature.
- In a small mixing bowl, beat eggs, vanilla and salt at high speed until light.
- Beating constantly, gradually add sugar; continue beating at high speed until mixture is thick and pale and ribbons form in bowl when beaters are lifted, 5 to 10 minutes.
- Sift flour into egg mixture 1/3 at a time, gently folding after each addition.
- Add lemon zest and pour melted butter around edge of batter.
- Quickly but gently fold butter into batter. Spoon batter into molds; it will mound slightly above tops.
- Bake 14 to 17 minutes, or until cakes are golden and the tops spring back when gently pressed with your fingertip.
- Use the tip of the knife to loosen madeleines from pan; invert onto rack.
- Immediately sprinkle warm cookies with granulated sugar.
Serve with limeflower tea (known as linden blossom tea in these parts) for a Proustian experience.