Saturday, March 12, 2011

Chocolate Madeleines

"Many years had elapsed during which nothing of Combray, save what was comprised in the theatre and the drama of my going to bed there, had any existence for me, when one day in winter, on my return home, my mother, seeing that I was cold, offered me some tea, a thing I did not ordinarily take. I declined at first, and then, for no particular reason, changed my mind. She sent for one of those squat, plump little cakes called 'petites madeleines,' which look as though they had been moulded in the fluted valve of a scallop shell. And soon, mechanically, dispirited after a dreary 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 mixed with the crumbs touched my palate than a shudder ran through me and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary thing that was happening to me. An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses, something isolated, 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; of rather this essence was not in me it was me. I had ceased now to feel mediocre, contingent, mortal. Whence could it have come to me this all-powerful joy? I sensed that it was connected with the taste of the tea and the cake, but that it infinitely transcended those savours, could, no, indeed, be of the same nature. Whence did it come? What did it mean? How could I seize and apprehend it?...

...Suddenly the memory revealed itself. The taste was that of the little piece of madeleine which on Sunday mornings at Combray (because of those mornings I did not go out before mass), when I went to say good morning to her in her bedroom, my aunt Léonie used to give me, dipping it first in her own cup of tea or tisane. The sight of the little madeleine had recalled nothing to my mind before I tasted it; perhaps because I had so often seen such things in the meantime, without tasting them on the trays in pastry-cooks' windows, that their image had dissociated itself from those Combray days to take its place among others more recent; perhaps because of those memories, so long abandoned and put out of mind, nothing now survived, everything was scattered; the shapes of things, including that of the little scallop-shell of pastry, so richly sensual under its severe, religious folds, were either obliterated or had been so long dormant as to have lost the power of expansion which would have allowed them to resume their place in my consciousness.

But when from a long-distant past nothing subsists, after the people are dead, after the things are broken and scattered, taste and smell alone, more fragile but more enduring, more unsubstantial, more persistent, more faithful, remain poised a long time, like souls, remembering, writing, hoping, amid the ruins of all the rest; and bear unflinchingly, in the tiny and almost impalpable drop of their essence, the vast structure of recollection.

And as soon as I had recognized the taste of the piece of madeleine soaked in her decoction of lime-blossom which my aunt used to give me (although I did not yet know and must long postpone the discovery of why this memory made me so happy) immediately the old grey house upon the street, where her room was, rose up like a stage set to attach itself to the little pavilion opening on to the garden which had been built out behind it for my parents (the isolated segment which until that moment had been all that I could see); and with the house the town, from morning to night and in all weathers, the Square where I used to be sent before lunch, the streets along which I used to run errands, the country roads we took when it was fine.

And as in the game wherein the Japanese amuse themselves by filling a porcelain bowl with water and steeping in it little pieces of paper which until then are without character or form, but, the moment they become wet, stretch and twist and take on a colour and distinctive shape, become flowers or houses or people, solid and recognizable, so in that moment all the flowers in our garden and in M. Swann's park, and the water-lilies on the Vivionne and the good folk of the village and their little dwellings and the parish church and the whole of Combray and its surroundings, taking shape and solidarity, sprang into being, town and gardens alike, from my cup of tea."

~ Marcel Proust, Remembrance of Things Past ~

Madeleines are a treat and they really are nice little cakes, easily recognizable in their beautiful scallop shape.
Not having had the same experiences and feelings as Mr. Proust, I don't believe I could come up with a discourse quite like his... especially about madeleines.

That said, I've had them as packaged, dry, flavorless little things. In France.
So sad.
Not something I would have expected, but convenience food certainly is convenient- not necessarily tasteful.

These are based on a recipe from Joël Robuchon's The Complete Robuchon.

Perhaps chocolate isn't the most traditional flavor, but who would argue?
Moist, fudgey-cakey, chocolatey...

I'm not trying to say I have the uncanny ability to best M. Robuchon. I never tried to make the original recipe, and maybe I should have.
However, I had to change things...

For one thing, many chocolate bars are packaged in a 4 oz. size. I don't generally like to have bits and pieces of this and that left over. When you need it again, you can never find it. It's only when you're trying to clean and de-clutter that you suddenly amass many bits and pieces, which I find annoying.
Le Chef called for more than 4 oz., but less than 8 oz. in the original, and myself feeling like I might be able to do something to remedy the situation...

You will want to use a little flour or cocoa powder to coat the greased madeleine molds. Flour is fine, however with chocolate desserts and confections you do run the (horrible) risk of a somewhat spotted or streaked finished product. Not a big deal, but if it bothers you, the cocoa powder option will undeniably NOT mar your chocolate masterpieces.

Chocolate Madeleines
based on a recipe by Joël Robuchon
makes about 24, 3-inch cakes

2 sticks (1/2 lb.) butter, plus extra for greasing the mold
1 T honey
4 oz. semi sweet or bittersweet chocolate
1 3/4 c confectioners sugar
1/2 c flour
1/2 c fine almond flour
2 T cocoa powder
1/4 t salt
6 lg. egg whites
1 T honey

Using a pastry brush, coat the indentations of the madeleine mold with melted butter. Sprinkle with flour (or cocoa powder), shake the pan a little, and tap the excess out of the pan.
Melt the butter in a small saucepan and pour it into a small bowl to cool. Add the honey to the butter and set aside.
In the same small pan, gently melt the chocolate over low heat. Set aside once melted.
In a medium bowl whisk together the confectioners sugar, flour, almond flour, salt, and cocoa powder until well-combined and aerated.
Beat the egg whites in a large bowl until fluid and slightly frothy (it only takes a minute or two). Pour the flour mixture into the egg whites and stir until well combined. Add the butter/honey mixture as well as the melted chocolate, and whisk until you have a homogenous batter.
Spoon batter into the hollows of the prepared madeleine mold, filling almost to the top. Place the filled mold as well as the other half of the batter into the refrigerator to rest one hour.
About 20 minutes before the batter is set to come out of the refrigerator, preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Bake the madeleines 12-15 minutes or until you are unable to see raw batter in the cracks that appear at the back of the tender cakes and they spring back when poked lightly. Remove the pan from the oven and rap a few times on the counter to dislodged the cakes. Tip the cakes onto a cooling rack using a knife to help remove the madeleines from the pan if necessary.
Wash and dry the pan, grease the indentations with melted butter, dust with flour, and divide the remaining batter among the madeleine indentations. Repeat the baking process, etc.
Serve warm or at room temperature. Cooled madeleines can be stored in a sealed container for several days.


  1. The wonderful surprise in biting into this is that the inside is chewy and the thin edges are crispy---so it is like "cookie" in the first bite and "cake" as your teeth hit the center of the delicacy!

  2. ooh, but almond flour is so expensive!! Is there another good substitute?

  3. I know, I know.
    But it's a big part of the flavor and texture.
    I semi-justify it by telling myself I can make 24 madeleines only using 1/2 cup almond flour. Keeping it in the fridge would make it last a little longer for special-occasion uses.

    I don't know of a substitute... however, you can make your own almond flour with whole almonds and a food processor. Be careful not to over grind and turn it into almond butter. Use a sieve to get rid of any too-large almond bits.