In a country where no meal was complete without a dessert, the delicious buttery sponge cake that was the Madeleine was a shining star! (Or rather, a shell…)
They have a deep connection with the French town of Commercy. Legends of their exact origin vary. One popular story is that King Stanislas named them after the young chef who made them for the court from a Commecy recipe.
- 3 eggs
- baking powder
- lemon zest
There was a traditional method prior to 1939. It consisted of six main producers, each getting ingredients from the local markets, each producer having his own variation considering the ingredients where the same.
What is interesting about the Madeleines recipe is that the strict nature of these essential ingredients allowed variation between recipes to only really be the ingredients amount and unique methods that resulted in these separate producers. This ties into Poulains insightful statement of French cuisine being “a cuisine where the combination of ingredients became an art governed by rules very similar to that of musical harmony or pictorial balance.”
Concerning nostalgia and food, Madaleines make an adept example in Prousts novel, “In Search of Lost Time,” where the narrator laments over how a stationary Madelaine had not meant much until he tasted it, and then the senses involved summoned a strong memory and consequent nostalgia…”The taste was that of the little piece of madeleine which on Sunday mornings at Combray” (Proust, 1982, In Search of Lost Time)
This is an adept example of a unique common food within a country and the memories and nostalgia it can produce! I’m sure you’re all familiar with something like this, care to share any memories in the comments?
In Paris they are all over the bakeries and sold in packs for decent prices. Alternatively they are sold at supermarkets in bags by authentic brands such as St Michel Madeleines.
But if you’re interested for a taste locally, I’d recommend Cummulus in Melbourne. While heavy on the powdered sugar, they seem to mostly stick to authentic methods, offering lemon curd on the side (madeleines à la crème au citron – sweeter and more of a Commercy version, Parisian Madeleines favouring the plainer versions.) and offering an authentic shape and style of the Madeleine! 🙂
Bon Appetit! xx