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

 

 

 

Comments

  1. The only “off the shelf” food I bought was the fruit. It was really good, especially the plums. I think I probably ate more of them than my son. He never liked the pre-packaged food, so making it myself was the obvious answer. I made everything as close in size as possible to a miniature sausage that he could roll up and gnaw on. It must have been okay because he is HUGE. He did not starve after all 🙂

    • The size-comparison to the mini sausage is adorable, Marilyn! My son was a very picky eater and he’s the tallest of the family, by far 🙂
      Thank you for stopping by once again. I appreciate your visits.

  2. Evelyne, you are making me very hungry.

    Enjoy the weekend —

    Neil S. (Yeah, Another Blogger)

  3. Good to see the baker getting a treat. I’m not familiar with these, but they look pretty good. Then again, I am a fan of those too-sweet American desserts.

    • I’ve seen some of your favorite desserts through your blog posts and photos, Dan 🙂
      I like some of them too. But it’s true that we probably keep the early memories of the food we ate and this would explain why some of us favor spicy versus mild or sweet versus less sweet. These madeleines are sold at Starbucks and other cafés in the States. To be frank, I’ve never bought them since I can bake them.
      Thank you for stopping by. Have a great weekend.

  4. J’ai une bonne recette, mais je testerai la tienne, tiens, peut-être demain ! Et je te dirai, mais je ne doute pas du bon résultat. Mais qui arrive à garder les madeleines plus d’un jour, qui ???

    • Oh je ne dirais pas non à la tienne non plus 🙂
      C’est toujours intéressant d’essayer autre chose.
      Quand j’étais petite et que je faisais des madeleines avec ma soeur nous les mangions au fur et à mesure, si bien que notre maman n’en avait jamais. C’est ainsi que nous avons commencé à doubler la recette:)
      Bon weekend et à bientôt.

  5. Oh yum! Now I might have to invest in some madeleine pans . . . I’m another one who prefers baking to cooking: living in the UK for a year in the mid-1970s spoiled me for the store-bought bread of the time, so I taught myself to bake my own out of a paperback book and have been doing it ever since. (My mother and both grandmothers were, at best, reluctant cooks.)

  6. I love the way your doctor gave you such specific advice on what to cook! And I enjoyed your memories of what it was like to learn to cook in a different way once you came to the US. The madeleines look lovely!

    • He was a top pediatrician, no doubt about it, but his prescriptions were a little intimidating for a new maman. Needless to say, I took some liberty with my second child. I’m not telling you what I did with my fourth:)
      The madeleines are easy to make and always a nice treat. Super yummy with a cup of tea, my British friend!

  7. I’ve never made Madelines and today is a perfect day to try. Thanks for the recipe.

  8. Yum! The madeleines look great!

    (I remember pureeing baby food for the first child. After that, I got lazy and relied on packaged items.)

    • Knowing foodie you, I think you should give it a try, Jennifer:)
      I bought packaged or canned baby food too for trips or very busy days. But none of my kids liked it, so I had to do everything from scratch 😦

  9. Perhaps I will ask for Madeleine molds… *bookmarked*
    I made baby food, too. Not all of it, lol, but a lot of it.

    • Now you can find these molds pretty much everywhere. Maybe even World Market for a decent price. Really, madeleines are easy and since they are not too sweet they go well with coffee and tea or just a snack. They don’t make crumbs so I packed them in my kids’ lunch boxes. Easier than with pureed food 🙂

  10. Je les adore! Mille mercis!

  11. Alors je suis contente, Patricia. Merci!

  12. Behind the Story says:

    Like most people, I like madeleines. The beautiful name adds to their allure. I started baking cakes and cookies when I was a pre-teen. It was always a pleasant way to spend an afternoon in the kitchen with my mom nearby.

    Now that I live alone, baking for one person would be “dangerous.” I might eat the whole thing myself. When it comes to sweets, my self-discipline is in short supply. So when I’m in the mood for something sweet, usually I buy a single serving.

    • Like you I started to bake at a young age. Mostly the madeleines:)
      Then as a young adult I threw desserts nights. Very popular!
      To return to the madeleines, they are for you, Nicki. First of all, they are small and second of all, you can keep them in a container. Your only challenge will be to put the box on a higher shelf to avoid temptation. Thank you for stopping by.

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