How apropros is it that my grandmother Jessie’s recently discovered recipe files included a recipe for madeleines?! I did not make the Proustian connection until I started to write the post, after just having made the cookies.
If you do not recall or might not be into classic French literature, Marcel Proust created A la recherche du temps perdu, inspired by a madeleine he had eaten, dipped in tea. Memories of his childhood came flooding back – profusely, in his very lengthy remembrance. Who among us does not have a favourite childhood cookie memory – or seven?
What I liked about this week’s recipe is that I definitely do remember having these cookies at my grandmother’s place. The madeleines I made turned out to be just as I remember them. What I cannot figure out, however, is what happened to Jessie’s madeleine pan. I know I do not have it, nor did my mother (LN D-W, do you?). Her pan was a very old tin one, without nonstick coating. My miniature madeleine pan is nonstick and comes from France (via West Vancouver, BC) . The mini-madeleines (“mini-Maddies”??) stick, though, far more than the much cheaper large nonstick version. The large one I picked up – brand new – at a small-town flea market between Savannah, Georgia, and Charleston, South Carolina, a few years ago.
The recipe itself included a twist, as the madeleine is close enough to a basic génoise to double as a “jelly-roll” cake, which Jessie indicated on the reverse of the recipe. One other aspect of the letterhead that is interesting (to me) is the bank’s logo with a very 1970s typeface and look; this is when Jessie had moved to the north side of Chicago from the south side and opened an account at this bank. Yet I do know that she made these cookies decades prior to the 1970s. Jessie’s pan probably was from the 1940s.
I also like the fact that the madeleine is a classic French cookie, and my grandmother was a bit of a Francophile. Jessie loved to shop and thought Paris was a great city for women’s shopping, she wrote to tell me when I lived in France’s capital. In the same aerogram, she indicated that London was better for men, when it came to shopping – my grandfather had suits and shoes made there – while Paris was superior for women’s wear. I myself never had any trouble in either city shopping for men’s wear! (I devoted far more attention to bakeries in Paris than pursuing fashion).
What I liked about Jessie’s recipe is that it is accurate (the time for beating the eggs and sugar alone was a great guide to achieving the ribbon stage, in my preparation), versatile (big and small madeleines as well as the jellyroll option), and yields a good number: I made two dozen large cookies and 40 miniatures.
For the madeline recipe with updates…
The cookie itself is very light and moist but not too wet, with a strong vanilla note. In short, it is a fine example of the classic biscuit français. The proportions of the recipe vary from other madeleine recipes I have made (e.g., more eggs, less butter, less sugar), yet the result is light, springy, and tender, with plenty of flavour. Channeling Jessie, I served the madeleines on a plate of hers, a classic blue-and-white Wedgwood dish before I realized the irony of a cookie emblematic of France on china, which is quintessentially British. Jessie would not have cared about that international rivalry, I am sure.
Madeleines, from Jessie’s recipe file
Makes 40 miniature and 24 large cookies
- 4 eggs, at room temperature
- 2/3 cup of sugar
- 2 teaspoons of pure vanilla extract
- 4 ounces of salted butter, melted and cooled a bit, plus a bit extra for greasing pans
- 1 cup AP (all purpose, though I know you know that) flour, plus a bit more for the pans
- Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees, positioning the rack on the lower-middle rung.
- Grease and flour madeleine pans thoroughly (my miniatures stuck a bit the second round, and if you are worried, you can follow the extra-careful technique of melting additional butter, brushing it in the pans, flouring, placing in the fridge or freezer for a few minutes, and repeating once before filling.
- Mix eggs and sugar in the bowl of a stand-mixer (preferably), using the paddle attachment for seven minutes on level six (on my KitchenAid, that was the right setting). This can be done with an electric handmixer or, if you are really ambitious, with a whisk, by hand; it will take much longer.
- When the egg-sugar mixture become pale and double in volume (making a ribbon when the batter is dropped from a spoon back into the batter), add vanilla, on the lowest setting. Or else, whisk in the vanilla.
- Still on lowest setting, alternate butter and flour in three additions, until just blended, being careful not to overbeat. Manually, you could use a spatula for folding.
- Fill the prepared pans just below the rim of the form.
- Bake until the edges are a rich golden brown (about eight minutes for minis, 10 minutes for the large).
- Enjoy with a cup of tea or other favourite beverage…be prepared for memories to flood back.