La Madeleine

La Madeleine

Some of you may recall that a few weeks back I did a series of interviews chez d’autres auteurs in blogalandia. During the course of one of those interviews, I let it slip that I had never read Proust.

Please note that I did not say that I wished to read Proust. I’ve read more than my share of French classics already, to the tune of 500 or so of them. And analyzed them which is a bad way to ruin a good book.

No, I just said that I wished that I had read him so that I could discourse intelligently about him.

Maybe I should try the comic book.


Of course, news of this slipped out, mostly because I am a blabbermouth and now that I had confessed it to the world at large, the subject kept preying on my mind until I had also confessed it to my colleagues.

At which point, every single French professor in the room confessed that they had never read all of Proust, either, or even been tempted to. But one.

He waxed indignant. “You’ve never read Proust? No, but–especially you, you’re a novelist. You have to read Combray at least.” He was so transported he had to lapse into French even though it’s not his native language, which happens to us in our half-French world sometimes. “C’est–c’est délicieux.

Well. You know me. Describing a book as delicious is pretty much the most likely way of getting me to read it.

My vision of my next book is, of course, that it would be printed entirely in chocolate ink and that people could nibble on the cover whenever they got hungry while staying up until 2 a.m. in heedless absorption over its contents. Its verbal contents.

So when people say “delicious”, that’s the vision that pops into my mind.

Also, I was teaching the too-famous-for-its-own-good madeleine passage to students the next week, and I always feel guilty at such moments that I’ve never read more than excerpts myself.

Plus, when I got to work the next day, I found my colleague’s copy of Combray sitting on my desk.

Which is PROSYLETIZING, if you ask me.

So. I tried.

What can I say? Proust does not work for me. I have the most intense urge to grab him by the shoulders and shake him.

But, of course, ANY excuse is a GOOD excuse to try a new recipe, AND I DON’T CARE IF IT’S A CLICHE.

Look at my little madeleines.


Whenever I make a new thing, I usually work from three or so recipes plus all the comments posted about those recipes on cooking sites.

Which is not a cooking method for the faint-hearted, trust me.

During this particular juggling act, I accidentally used the half a cup of clarified butter in this recipe instead of the 1 cup of softened butter it was supposed to have.

Also, I used 7/8 cup of almond flour instead of grinding my own from blanched almonds, and I halved the lemon juice on purpose and with more regret the lemon zest. (Only one lemon in the house.)

Sébastien liked them, but he also doesn’t usually like French bakery madeleines, so I don’t know if that’s a good guide. He said: “They have less of that arrière-gout that I don’t like.”

Arrière-gout is roughly the equivalent of the English “aftertaste”, but in French you get the impression of a flavor lurking in hiding in the back of your mouth, ready to leap out at you when you least suspect it.


Well. I liked them. You’ve got to take a break from chocolate to explore other culinary literature from time to time, right?

Even though I agree with this artist’s take on the whole thing. Except I imagine Proust adding, “Curse it all, if only I had written about chocolate, this could be a good hell.”

That’s why I write about chocolate a lot. I like to keep my bases covered.

  • I had my first madeleines in Bayeux. You can imagine…nothing else has EVER compared. I admire you for making your own. I thought about it, once or twice, realized I had to go buy special pans, and we all know how well I do with the French confections, do we not? (I’d link, but I don’t know if your comments will let me…just, bad crepes, is all I can say. Bad crepes!)

    One bite of that Bayeux madeleine and I felt like I understood Proust without ever having read him. So I figure I have that literary gap covered… 🙂

    September 25, 2007 at 12:43 pm
  • Never could get into the whole literary analysis thing. Oh, I could write a paper and make an excellent argument for whatever I wanted, but it just ruined reading for me for a while. You know, sometimes a whatever is just a whatever, and no one has to be right about what it all means. It just is. Read the book and enjoy it, darn it. Or don’t read it if you don’t Ahem . . . Proust.

    I’d love to try those, but A.) I don’t normally bake and B.) I never bake anything requiring special bakeware. They do look yummy, though.

    September 25, 2007 at 1:09 pm
  • Your madeleines are lovely! Not only have I never read Proust (I can sort-of beg off since I’m an American Lit specialist by training, right?!?) but I’ve NEVER tasted a madeleine! One of these days I’d love to bake them–I’ve seen recipes with rose water!

    BTW, I’m trying to re-train myself to read for pure pleasure without all that lit analysis I’ve been *indoctrinated* with…I find reading food writing and eating CHOCOLATE helps restore my non-analytical pleasure:)

    September 26, 2007 at 7:29 pm
  • Anne-Gaëlle

    hum…I’ve not even read any excerpts by Proust or I can’t remember, which is even worse 😐
    Actually, I would be more tempted by your madeleine’s recipe since I don’t like the arrière-goût of the traditional’s ones either (is it understanding?)and they look so gorgeous!!
    thank you then!! 😉

    September 27, 2007 at 4:54 am
  • Would you believe that not only do I have madeleine pans but that I’ve actually *used* them? Well, not recently but I have in the past. 😉

    September 27, 2007 at 9:05 am
  • THEMS madeleines is just gorgeous!
    I know that means multi-colored but so what!
    I LOVE French Band Dessiner, so I’ll look for the Proust.
    Merci for the heads up !

    September 27, 2007 at 9:35 am

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