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a shudder ran through me and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary thing that was happening to me


Recipe:

Madeleines

Makes 12

Ingredients:

2 free-range eggs

100g/3½oz caster sugar

100g/3½oz plain flour, plus extra for dusting

1 lemon, juice and zest

100g/3½oz butter, melted and cooled slightly, plus extra for greasing

Method

1. Brush the madeleine tray with melted butter then shake in a little flour to coat, tapping out the excess.

2. Whisk together the eggs and the sugar in a bowl until frothy. Lightly whisk in the remaining ingredients. Leave to stand for 20 minutes

3. Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas 6.

4. After 20 minutes, carefully spoon the mixture into the tray – a tbsp-ful does it for my trays.

5. Bake for 8-10 minutes, or until the mixture has risen a little in the middle and is fully cooked through. Transfer the madeleines to a wire rack and leave for a few minutes to cool slightly. These are best eaten within an hour of cooking.


Note: I used 30g/1oz of stevia to replace the sugar. You can see the difference in the picture - sugar version on the left. I thought I had a madeleine but couldn't find it so have one on order!

Writing this on Saturday, a perfect early summer day, I am popping in and out to sit and drink tea in the sun whilst listening to Matt Monro - a favourite of my mum (he used to be a bus conductor where she lived) and his voice always triggers memories of being in the house in Basildon as a young boy and her baking. The track On Days Like These brings the heat of summer onto my skin and a ride along an Italian mountain road when I was about 15 - I was in that open-top car at the start of The Italian Job (in reality in the back of a Land Rover!) with blue skies and snow-topped mountains.


Memory triggers have a connection to today's recipe so read on.

Involuntary Autobiographical Memories occur spontaneously without any deliberate intention to recall anything.

In À la recherche du temps perdu (translated as In Search of Lost Time and also known as Remembrance of Things Past), author Marcel Proust uses madeleines to contrast involuntary memory with voluntary memory. The latter designates memories retrieved by "intelligence", that is, memories produced by putting conscious effort into remembering events, people, and places. The former is a memory that occurs when cues encountered in everyday life evoke recollections of the past without conscious effort.

Portrait of Marcel Proust by Jacques-Emile Blanche - 1892


"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; or rather this essence was not in me it was me. ... Whence did it come? What did it mean? How could I seize and apprehend it? ... And suddenly the memory revealed itself. The taste was that of the little piece of madeleine which on Sunday mornings at Combray (because on 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. And all from my cup of tea."

IAMs, sometimes known as madeleine moments, are most likely to occur when individuals are engaged in regular, automatic activities that do not demand attention, such as walking, driving or eating. It is estimated that they occur on average three to five times a day, and up to three times as frequently as voluntary memories. So, for most people they are common, unexceptional occurrences, but occasionally they can be extremely meaningful, such as that described by Marcel Proust.

The madeleine (French pronunciation: ​mad.lɛn) is a traditional small cake from Commercy and Liverdun, two communes in the Lorraine region in northeastern France. They are very small sponge cakes with a distinctive shell-like shape acquired from being baked in pans with shell-shaped depressions. The flavour is similar to, but somewhat lighter than, sponge cake. Traditional recipes include very finely ground nuts, usually almonds. A variation uses lemon zest for a pronounced lemony taste - that is my preference.


Several legends are attached to the "invention" of the madeleines. They centre on a female character named Madeleine (!) who is said to have been in the service of an important character in the history of Lorraine – although there is no consensus over the last name of the cook nor the identity of the famous character!

One possibility is that the inventor was named Madeleine Paulmier, who is said to have been a cook in the 18th century for Stanislaus I, Duke of Lorraine and exiled King of Poland. The story goes that, in 1755, Louis XV, son-in-law of the duke, charmed by the little cakes prepared by Madeleine Paulmier, named them after her, while his wife, Maria, introduced them soon afterward to the court in Versailles - a royal endorsement always helps. Much beloved by the royal family, they conquered the rest of France in no time.

The way madeleines look is in the main due to the increasing use of metal molds in European baking in the 18th century. Several mentions of the madeleine are made by culinary writers during the Napoleonic era, in particular in the recipe books of Antonin Carême a French chef who served the royalty of Europe, wrote several classic works on cuisine, and advanced the notion of cuisine as both an art and a science. He was a pioneer of grande cuisine - what we know as haute cuisine. The coming of the railway to Commercy in 1852 meant the madeleine could travel anywhere.

Some deep thoughts today but interesting as many of us may be doing almost automatic activities and those madeleine moments may be sparked off. Of course, if you want to have a simple madeleine moment, bake up the recipe and remember that the key is that "They are best eaten within the hour."



Robert Macfarlane's Word of the Day is ...

"Buckrams - one of many common names for Allium ursinum, aka wild garlic, bear-leek, ramsons; filling forest floors with millions of white stars & forest air with garlicky scent. Ancient woodland indicator, bluebell co-conspirator, soup-maker... https://twitter.com/RobGMacfarlane

Photo: George Castle


ps: Stanislaus I of Poland, Duke of Lorraine (1677 –1766) was twice king of Poland and twice deposed - latterly moving to France and being given the Dukedom of Lorraine as compensation for the rest of his life. His daughter, Maria, was Queen of France - wife of Louis XV and grandmother to three kings of France: Louis XVI (1774–1792), Louis XVIII (1814–1815 & 1815–1824) and Charles X (1824–1830).


pps: I'm off to watch the Italian Job.


Quotes

Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength. “ - Corrie ten Boom
"The best portion of a good man’s life is his little, nameless, unremembered acts of kindness and of love." - William Wordsworth
"One must never miss an opportunity of quoting things by others which are always more interesting than those one thinks up oneself." - Marcel Proust
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