"He's a French bloke. Wakes up, in France. Has a biscuit. Thinks, 'what did I do yesterday?'... for 3,000 pages. It's brilliant, very French."
- Bernard Black talking about Proust in Black Books
I didn't tell you guys, I made another attempt at reading Proust this year! Well, I kind of had to; you don't really sign up for a module called The Painting as Phantom: Diderot to Proust without knowing you're gonna have to pick up even just a part of Temps Perdu.
The daunting task of reading this amazingly intense and looooong piece of literature was made less daunting by the excuse I created to make madeleines! I had treated myself to a madeleine pan earlier in the year in anticipation of this and I decided that if I made these delicious cakey-biscuity pieces of yumminess, the act of reading Proust would be transformed into a doddle of a task.
So I made them, and they were delicious. And then I read Proust. And that was... interesting. But the madeleines were good, and I guess that's what's important.
They were more than good, they had an entirely Proustian effect on me. For those of you who have read In Search of Lost Time (À la recherche du temps perdu if you're fancy), you'll know that early in the novel Proust's narrator eats a madeleine and is transported back to his childhood, when he used to have tea and madeleines with his grandmother. Every mouthful of madeleine I had took me back to the hotel where I worked in France back in 2009. Every morning, after getting up ridiculously early to ready and serve breakfast to the guests, I would have a madeleine, or two, with a chocolat. With every bite I could hear the whirring of the drinks machine, the unique ring of the reception telephone, and the ever so slightly shrill voice of my boss in the distance. It was a profoundly odd experience.
I think ol' Marcel may have been onto something.
Madeleines (adapted from Daniel Boilud's recipe, found here)
3/4 cup/3 oz/75 g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
3/4 cup+ 2 tbsp/3 oz/75 g granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 tbsp honey
1 tbsp packed light brown sugar
zest of 1 lemon, finely grated
6 tbsp butter/3 oz/75 g, melted and kept warm
1. In a small bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
2. In a medium-sized bowl, mix the sugars, eggs, honey, and lemon zest using a whisk. Add the flour mixture and whisk until just combined. Add the butter, and stir until just incorporated. Cover the bowl with cling film and refrigerate for 1-1 1/2 hours.
3. Preheat the oven to 400ºF/200ºC. Liberally grease your madeleine pan. Place all the batter in a piping bag and pipe into each mold to about 2/3 full. If you don't have a piping bag, you can always use a ziploc/ sandwich bag and snip off one of the corners with a pair of scissors.
4. Bake for 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to 350ºF/180ºC and rotate the pan. Continue to bake about another 5 minutes, until the centres have risen and the edges are golden brown. Remove the pan from the oven, turn it upside down and tap it against the counter to release the madeleines. Serve warm.
Makes 1 dozen large-sized madeleines. See the link for how to make mini madeleines.