Baking with Proust: Madeleines

Two months after announcing the start of my Summer of Proust, I bring you the first in the series—Baking with Proust, or, How Not to Bake Madeleines.

I know next to nothing about In Search of Lost Time other than the stereotypical cork-lined room and Madeleine episode. So I thought, what better way to kick off the Summer of Proust than by baking some of these Madeleines myself and sharing the results with you? Little did I know how difficult this task would be. But I foreshadow. Onto the cookies!

I was all set to go, and was happily baking and snapping photos of my adventures in baking when I misread the cookbook. There’s something that happens when you combine the butter with the egg/sugar mixture that makes them fluffy. I dumped the whole dang thing together and it wasn’t until the eggs and butter failed to combine that I started to wonder what went wrong.

I briefly considered pitching the whole thing when I remembered our good friend Julia Child. What would Julia do? Persevere, that’s what. Plus, I didn’t have enough eggs to try again. But what would a blogger be without a couple missteps now and then? And so I share with you my helpful tips on how to create the (nearly) perfect Madeleine.

You will need:

1 1/2 c flour
1/2 t baking powder
pinch salt
12 T (1 1/2 sticks) butter
3 large eggs
1 large egg yolk
3/4 c sugar
1 1/2 t vanilla

My first mistake was letting my pantry run out of vanilla. I mean, seriously? Clearly this effort was doomed from the start. I used almond extract instead.

Grease the madeleine pans before you start. I amazingly already had some, purchased at some ambitious point in my life. This is the first time I’ve ever used them. You can get them from Crate and Barrel, Macys, Dillards, and, really, almost anywhere.

I used the Joy of Cooking All About Cookies. They are very particular about sifting and measuring and blah blah before you start. The recipe called for the first three ingredients to be sifted and return to the sifter. I own a sifter but it always seems like kind of a pain, so I just stirred the ingredients in a bowl. Mistake No. 2, for those of you counting.

Here’s where things really started to get complicated. Next, you are supposed to “mash and beat with a wooden spoon until very creamy” the butter. There are some very fancy pictures at the front of the book on how to properly “mash and beat” your butter, and I followed the directions with some zeal. I think this is the only part in the whole process I got right.

I mean, just look at how beautifully that butter has been beaten and mashed. Then the recipe says: “In a large bowl, beat on high until thick and pale yellow” the eggs, sugar, and vanilla. How was I supposed to know this was to be in a third bowl? I had already dirtied two other ones, plus a soup bowl because I tried to be all Food Network and have the ingredients already prepared. I put the eggs et al with the butter. It was Not Pretty.

Maybe you can’t tell from the picture, but that is the sight of wet ingredients Not Combining. Upon seeing this mess, I reread the directions at least three times, looking for my mistake. When it finally dawned on me, I was on the verge of taking a spoon and eating the goopy mess out of the bowl out of spite (no, Dad, I didn’t, or else you would have gotten a call from the hospital saying I had food poisoning). Needless to say, I was very upset. I think every baker who has had to contend with Cake Disasters can relate. Still, I am a Blogger, and as such it is my duty to tell the Truth, the whole Truth, and nothing but the Truth. Plus I ran out of the aforementioned eggs.

I unceremoniously added the flour and other dry ingredients and came out with something that looked a bit like cake batter, a bit like cookie dough, and nothing like Madeleine batter. C’est la vie.

You are supposed to let the batter rest for at least 30 minutes before filling the molds. I figured I had already botched the recipe enough, and so I plunged full speed ahead.

I followed the directions (at long last) and let the cakes bake in a 450 degree oven for 8–10 minutes. And they came out looking fairly harmless and cake-like:

They tasted like almonds (wonder why?) and had the consistency of a muffin—not quite something that would trigger childhood memories. So I put some Nutella on them.

A friend tasted them and pronounced them “not bad.” I think he was just being kind. Oh Proust, I hope our second outing is not so painful.

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8 thoughts on “Baking with Proust: Madeleines

  1. Taryn Tyler says:

    I didn't taste them but your madeleines certainly look tasty. Almond actually sounds like a really good alteration. I'm horrible at following baking directions myself. I usually end up changing something. Sometimes on purpose. Sometimes . . . not.

  2. Libby says:

    I've had my own fair share of baking/cooking mistakes. Way to keep on going. Next time, you'll know, and knowing is half the cooking battle!

  3. Anna says:

    Thanks for your kind words, guys. I'll consider a second attempt as a celebration for finishing Swann's Way. As for the next outing in the Summer of Proust, maybe a Reader's Guide to Proust or a craft project with corks? Stay tuned to find out!

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