There was something about a train timetable, memories and a cake. I recall slow progress, and frequent reference to the Collins Robert Dictionary. I wonder when it became impossible to mention a madeleine without also referring to Proust.
My first madeleine was from a station vending machine on a Sunday in France where there are no other options. Tempted only by their value for money I ate twice as many grams per franc as a friend choosing Milka. The shell-shaped snack sat among 5 others on a clear plastic tray, in a stiff and colourful plastic wrap; a lamentably dense, cold, cakey mono-texture. I imagine witty railway employees providing these in retribution for school days of arduous prose from heptology À la recherche du temps perdu. I understand; I managed just a third of Volume 1.
In contrast, the real thing is truly wonderful. A crisp outside, a light and airy centre, and flavoured with a delicate touch of honey or lemon. Recipes differ, I believe Robuchon is best. With a morning coffee they will vanish in a trice. I should give Proust another try, perhaps this time in English.
Makes 24 medium-sized madeleines. From The Complete Robuchon (wording mostly changed)
These are equally good made in muffin tins.
200g butter + butter for greasing
80g plain flour
200g icing sugar
80g ground almonds, sifted (you may need to start with 100g before sifting, as often some are not finely ground enough)
6 large egg whites
1 tbsp strong honey
1. Wipe out madeleine moulds with a fine film of melted butter.
2. Melt the 200g of butter in a pan, add the honey, and put aside to cool.
3. Sift together flour, sugar and ground almonds
4. Beat the egg whites until slightly foamy, and whisk in the flour-sugar-almond mixture. Stir in the melted butter and honey, whisking until it forms a batter.
5. Spoon into madeleine moulds until they are 2/3 full. Refrigerate for one hour to firm up before baking.
6. After 30 mins, preheat oven to 200C
7. For an 8cm madeleine, bake for 12-15 mins. Adjust times depending on size of madeleine – keep checking as they can brown very quickly. They should be lightly golden and firm to the touch.
8. Tip madeleines onto a cooling rack, and hide them from others.
When made with a milder honey, they are wonderful with a sprinkling of orange blossom water, rosewater, a little melted dark chocolate, or lemon zest and juice. Mix any of these to the batter along with the melted butter.
For me, they are best eaten fresh from the oven, with the Sunday papers and a coffee. Preferably while others sleep.
NOTE: There is excessive debate between metal and rubber moulds. The rubber moulds colour the madeleines less evenly (you get a darker patch where the madeleine touches the baking tray – see above), but they don’t need greasing and never stick. My vintage Czechoslovakian moulds are a chore. Sadly I own nothing in between.