French Friday: Marcel Proust in my American Kitchen

Before giving birth to my first child I seldom cooked. My husband and I worked full-time and lived in Paris where we could easily buy our dinner on the way home from the office.

Our daughter didn’t transform us into accomplished chefs, but we could no longer ignore our kitchen. Feeding a baby is serious business in France. When our child was ready for solid food, her Parisian pediatrician wrote down menu ideas. They went something like this:

30 grams of green vegetables

40 grams of other vegetables

10 grams of fish or poultry, carefully deboned and very finely cut

Add a pinch of salt and a dollop of butter

We became experts at weighing and making purees and fruit compotes.

Moving to California, where I immediately noticed the abundance of packaged food, including for babies, could have reversed these skills. I must confess that I was tempted to buy baby food instead of making everything from scratch. But my daughter, already a true gourmet, had not only refused to eat cold puree on our long flight from Paris to San Francisco but also said no to store-bought baby food. This is why the first appliance we bought in America turned out to be a food processor. This is also why the kitchen scale my mother offered me when she hoped to transform me into a perfect housewife, came in handy.

In California, alone in my kitchen, lost among cups, spoons, ounces, and pounds, while I had known only the metric system, and owned one French cookbook I had almost never opened, I had little guidance. Even the oven acted weirdly. In France, my oven had three settings: Thermostat One, Two, Three. Preheating at 375F hinted at disaster.

My First Set of Measuring Cups and Spoons

When I realized that from now on I would have to feed not only my little girl but also soon another child, my husband and incidentally me, I improvised. In the end, I did like anyone else. I tried with more or less success. But no one starved.

I had always enjoyed baking more than cooking. But I found most American desserts too sweet. So I asked my mother for recipes of my favorite childhood treats. Over the phone but more often by snail mail, she gave me her recipes. I first used my French kitchen scale and one by one, often upon request from new American friends, I converted these recipes in cups and spoons.

My kids’ French favorites were (are) Crepes, Clafoutis, Pear Cake and Madeleines.

Madeleines remain the small French sweet treat most of my American friends mention at some point. When macaroons are all the rage in the U.S. and France gets gaga over cupcakes and mug cakes, madeleines remain timeless. Thanks to Marcel Proust who transformed this French familiar mini cake into an international literary classic.

So now, when I invite someone new at my home for coffee or when I’m invited to meet new people I almost always serve or bring madeleines.

Here is my recipe, specially dedicated to my blogger friend Kimberly who told me that her young son is a fan of madeleines and that she’d love to bake some with him. Let me know how it goes, Kimberly!

Getting Started

 

Ingredients for about 15 madeleines:

2 large eggs

½ cup sugar

5 Tablespoons unsalted and melted butter

¾ cup of flour

1 Teaspoon of baking powder

Zest of ½ lemon

¼ Teaspoon of vanilla extract

Note: Since a mold holds only 12 madeleines, you either need two molds or when the first batch is done you wait until the mold is no longer burning hot and butter and flour three of the tin shells. Et voilà!

Ready to Be Baked

In a bowl, whisk or blend the eggs and the sugar. I use an electric mixer on low speed until the mixture is frothy. Add the melted slightly cooled butter and blend. With the mixer still on low speed incorporate the flour, baking powder, zest, and vanilla until blended. Cover the bowl with a towel and let the batter rest for 1 hour.

Meanwhile butter and flour the mold. After 1 hour whisk the batter a little bit, then spoon gently in the mold, filling each shell ¾ full. Bake at 375F on the middle rack until the madeleines are risen and gold, about 10 to 11 minutes.

In the Oven

When the madeleines are ready, gently lift them from the mold. Serve immediately or cool them and store them in an airtight box.

Hot From the Oven

 

I don’t remember having once kept them for more than a day 🙂

This One is for the Baker

 

 

 

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