She sent out for one of those short, plump little cakes called 'petites madeleines,' which look as though they had been moulded in the fluted scallop of a pilgrim's shell. And soon, mechanically, weary after a dull day with the prospect of a depressing morrow, I raised to my lips a spoonful of the tea in which I had soaked a morsel of the cake. No sooner had the warm liquid, and the crumbs with it, touched my palate, a shudder ran through my whole body, and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary changes that were taking place. An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses, but individual, detached, with no suggestion of its origin. And at once the vicissitudes of life had become indifferent to me, its disasters innocuous, its brevity illusory--this new sensation having had on me the effect which love has of filling me with a precious essence; or rather this essence was not in me, it was myself. I had ceased now to feel mediocre, accidental, mortal. Whence could it have come to me, this all-powerful joy? I was conscious that it was connected with the taste of tea and cake, but that it infinitely transcended those savours, could not, indeed, be of the same nature as theirs.
Swann's Way, Marcel Proust, Overture
First, an admission. I have not read Proust's À la recherche du temps perdu (translated as either In Search of Lost Time or Remembrance of Things Past). In fact, I haven't even read Swann's Way, the first book of the seven volume epic. This is a truly guilty admission, as this is the first sweet treat on this blog to have been inspired by a book I haven't read. However, if I ever get trapped on a desert island (and can sit quietly under a tree with my books, rather than lug them around on public transport), I will finish the complete work; the first chapter alone - the only part I have read - was beautiful.
The famous madeleine scene is often referred to when people speak of 'involuntary memory'; memories of past experiences that return unbidden, triggered by cues encountered in everyday life - sights, sounds, smells, tastes. In a way, it's what this blog has been about (though perhaps in a rather more 'voluntary' than involuntary capacity). I've been taking myself back to the imaginary worlds I lived in during my childhood: joining Harry in the Great Hall for a slice of treacle tart, sitting amongst the flowers and long grass with Mary, Dickon and Colin, and willing Bruce to finish the entire cake at Crunchem Hall. And so, despite not having read the book, I couldn't leave Proust's madeleines out.
Makes around 50 small madeleines
50g unsalted butter
1 large egg
40g lavender infused caster sugar*
45g plain flour
1tbsp butter for greasing
Icing sugar for dusting
Electric hand whisk
1. Melt all butter (including the butter for greasing) over a low heat and leave to cool.
2. Beat the egg with the caster sugar in a bowl for five minutes with the electric hand whisk until very thick.
3. Sieve the flour into the egg and sugar mixture and fold in gently with the spatula. Set aside 1tbsp of the butter for greasing, add the rest to the batter, and mix well. Leave the batter to stand for half an hour in the fridge, and then half an hour at room temperature.
4. Preheat the oven to 220C and generously brush the madeleines tin with the extra melted butter. Fill the tray with the batter - around 1tsp in each shell indent should be enough. It doesn't need to fill the base, as the sponge will spread as it rises.
5. Bake for five minutes (though check after three to ensure they're not browning too quickly) and then tip out of the tin and leave to cool on the rack. You'll have enough batter to do a second, and possibly third, batch. Dust all the madeleines with icing sugar and serve with a cup of tea.
*Pop 1tbsp edible lavender in a jar with around 500g caster sugar, and shake it every so often. Sieve before using.