Tag Archives: French

Madeleines – What Would Jessie Dish? Week Eight: Remembrances of Things Past in a Classic Cookie

Madeleines with Rainier cherries make a light summer dessert.

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.

Always in fashion, Jessie and her family (ca. 1940) liked their desserts a la mode, too.

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).

Jessie's precise directions result in a ribbon of the egg-sugar mixture.

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…

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Poulet au citron, or Lemon Chicken

Enough of the pies and pastries – bring on the poulet.

Freshly roasted, the chicken rests next to its recipe source.

When I was a graduate student at La Sorbonne in Paris, I spent much of my time in food-related pursuits. Quelle surprise. I relied on Patricia Wells’ Food Lover’s Guide to Paris (I think I had purchased the first edition before leaving for France). When I was in Paris, Ms. Wells was the food writer for the International Herald-Tribune, published in Paris. It was a great resource for me, in exploring the city’s markets, restaurants, and, of course, bakeries – so here we come back to patisseries again…no escaping this recurring theme for long.

My favourite pastries in Paris were:

Tarte aux framboises – the classic raspberry tart,

Tarte au citron (the more puckery, the better for the true Parisian lemon tart),

Religieuses au chocolat or au café, (a variant on the éclair with a small ball of pate au choux on top of a larger one – to resemble some sort of religious figure – these delights represented my religious experience in Paris), and

Macarons – 20 years or so before they became a global food fetish trend, I was chasing down the best across the City of Light.

Ms. Wells’ book helped me to find the best things to eat, while discovering some more obscure parts of the city. I compared and contrasted the best examples, with the rigour a French literature student applies to l’analyse du texte. Besides, the best pastries were much tastier than the literature of the Middle Ages and Renaissance I was studying.

Since then, Ms. Wells has garnered a justifiably international reputation for her knowledge and expertise in French cuisine. I have purchased some of her later editions of “food lover’s guides” and cookbooks. Her cookbooks are always engaging with the backgrounds and context of recipes, consistently well-written, and precise in the directions for all recipes, which always turn out well for me.

After a brief rest, the chicken is now ready for carving.

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