Proust, Madeleines and a Swann Song

For more than 25 years the whole collection of Proust’s “In Search of Lost Time”, was stacked on my night stand.  On a trip to Paris in 1987, I went seeking immersion in French culture.  In my enthusiasm over discovering an adorable Salon de thé and librairie on the charming Left Bank, I decided I needed to start reading in French again.  I had just finished 7 years of formal university education where I had had no time to read for pleasure.  It was time to balance the deficit.  I shipped 5 CASES  of books back to Toronto, including Proust’s “A la recherche du temps perdu”….all 7 volumes of them, in French. image Once home, I tore through the Marguerite Duras, the Marguerite Yourcenar, the Gabrielle Roy and the Simone de Beauvoir books.    But the Proust?  I managed to get to page 67 of Swann’s Way. 19 years later, on a trip to Normandy with my first born son to see friends Laurence and Frédéric, we visited  the charming seaside town of Cabourg and  Le Grand HotelImage where Proust lived during the 14 years he was penning his masterpiece.image  I vowed to tackle the books once again when I came home.   What was wrong with me?  Why couldn’t I get down to business?  Hélas, on my nightstand, the books continued to gather dust.  Two years ago when we renovated our master bedroom I gave up and decided to move the books to  the family room bookcase.  They looked impressive lined up with their French spines.  No one probably even noticed them but I guiltily glanced at them frequently and hoped no one would ask me about them. Recently my friend Kathleen surprised me with a lovely gift of “Eau de Fleur d’Oranger”,  brought back  from a trip to Morocco, to inspire a blog post.imageimageMadeleines, I thought!   I could finally honor Proust!   Although madeleines are  light, spongy cake-like cookies that have been enjoyed by the French with tea since the 18th Century, it was Marcel Proust who immortalized them for the world in the 20th Century. Thanks to Proust, we believe these tea cakes hold the power to evoke memories of things past, usually happy childhood memories.

“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.”  Marcel Proust, A la recherche du temps perdu, published 1913-1927

Having never cooked with Orange Flower Water, nor attempted to make madeleines(what kind of French girl am I?), I began researching recipes.  There were dozens of versions found, including one by Julia Child.  Many seemed complicated.  Then one seemed to rise above all others.    Flavored with Orange Flower Water, it was  simplicity itself.  The author revealed  that for her, it was always the smell of her grandfather’s madeleines with orange flower water that reminded her of her childhood.  Proustian madeleines!    It is that recipe, from the blog, Bouillon de Notes, that I made here.  The proportions were similar to those of pound cake, which I love.  Orange Flower Water delicately perfumed these.  It was time for me to earn Proust’s forgiveness! Once again I dusted off the 7 volumes off the shelf and gave them a prominent place of honor…….next to a cup of tea and a plate of warm madeleines! image


Adapted from Bouillon de notes Blog


3 eggs

1/2 c sugar

1/2 c flour

4 1/2 T melted butter

3 tsp orange flower water( available in gourmet specialty shops or online)

1 1/2 T butter to grease the madeleine pan

powdered sugar to dust

INSTRUCTIONS: Whisk the eggs and sugar until foamy.  Slowly add flour while continuing to mix. Add the 4 1/2 tablespoons of melted butter and the orange flower water. With a pastry brush, coat the madeleine pan with the remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons of melted butter.  Fill each well shy of the top and set the filled pan to chill for an hour.

Preheat oven to 350  F. Bake the madeleines in the center of oven for about 15 minutes, until edges are golden and the tops have a slight bump. Let cool slightly.  Remove the madeleines from the pan.  They will easily pop out of the pan.  Let cool on a rack.  Dust with powdered sugar.


With a pastry brush, coat the madeleine pan with the melted butter.  image

Fill each well shy of top and set filled pan to chill for an hour.                               image Preheat oven to 350  F, and bake madeleines in the center of oven for about 15 minutes, until edges are golden and the tops have a slight bump.imageimage  Remove the madeleines.  They will easily pop out of the pan.  Let cool on a rack.  Dust with powdered sugar. imageimage Orange flower water is a distillation of fresh bitter-orange blossoms.  It is used in Moroccan and French cooking.  The madeleines can be flavored with other aromatics such as the zest of a fresh lemon or with 3 teaspoons of white rum if you don’t have orange flower water. Note:  the pan makes 12 madeleines.  I used the same pan to bake the additional 6 madeleines and did not chill the batter and they turned out just as well.   So if you don’t have an hour to spare for chilling, you could skip that step.

Enjoy your madeleines like the French, dunked in a cup of hot tea.   And those 7 volumes of “In Search of Lost Time”?  The book mark is still on page…..67 of volume 1.  image (Images of Proust, Cabourg and Le Grand Hotel courtesy of Google Images)

7 thoughts on “Proust, Madeleines and a Swann Song

  1. So well documented and beautifully written!!!! I’ve never had a Madeleine, but now I feel like I must 🙂 Thank you for bringing culture into my day!

  2. magnifiques madeleines ! savez-vous qu’à l’époque les madeleines de Marcel Proust n’avaient pas cette forme, celle de Commercy, elles avaient la forme d’une coquille de Saint Jacques, j’ai découvert cela en faisant un reportage dans la maison de sa tante à Illiers Combray !

  3. I’ll be looking for my bag of these to arrive at my doorstep via UPS anytime now! 🙂 Wow…I had no idea of the history behind madeleines. I am not a reader of the masterpieces, so I applaud you for even making the attempt to get through Proust and all the rest of the books included in those 5 cases! Geez…that’s a LOT of reading!!!

    I’ve always liked madeleines…perhaps because one of my favorite cousins is named Madeline. (Her mother is French. My uncle met and married her while on active duty, stationed in France.) To see how easily you prepared them gives me hope! Bravo!

  4. Pingback: 12 Days of Christmas with 12 Favorite Cookies | French Gardener Dishes

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