I love Paris! I really, really do. I had been dying to go there for as long as I could remember. Last Summer, after almost twenty years of begging, whining and cajoling, I finally talked my husband into making the trip. I mean, it’s not as if we never traveled. We’ve been cruising in the Caribbean, skiing in the Rockies, soaking up local color in Santa Fe and Taos and a lot of other interesting places in between. We’ve even been to Europe…..twice. But, never Paris – until last summer, that is.
I spent many months planning our trip. I figured that everything had better be perfect in case it took me another twenty years to get back there! I bought every guide book I could find, including Fodor’s and Frommer’s, to name a few. I combed the Internet for travel and French culture sites. I spent hours upon hours on Trip Advisor reading hotel and restaurant reviews. I even bought a subscription to Bonjour Paris, so that I would be “in the know”. Well, our trip was all I ever dreamed of, and more! It will definitely be the topic of a future post. Not only was my passion for Paris reaffirmed, but lo and behold, my husband’s love affair with the City of Lights was born. A welcome phenomenon to be sure.
Of course, one of the best ways to experience Paris is to eat your way through it, which is exactly what we did. We sampled the fois gras and pommes frites of every cafe, bistro and restaurant we stepped into, and were intrigued by how deliciously different they all were. Ditto for the sublimely delicate macarons in a rainbow of colors displayed at every patisserie. We devoured buckets full of les moules, greedily sopping up every ounce of broth with bits of crusty baguettes. And, don’t even let me get started on the mind-numbingly marvelous chocolates!
One evening, as we strolled along the Seine in the 6th, with our gooey, Nutella-filled crepes in hand, I had a little mental chat with myself. I resolved that, when we returned home, I would do my best to keep a little Paris in our lives.
Once back on native soil, one of the first things I did was pick up some really great French cookbooks. I bought Patricia Well’s The Paris Cookbook and Simply French, as well as Dorie Greenspan’s little gem, Paris Sweets. The dizzying array of mouth-watering choices on those pages was exciting, but a bit intimidating. I decided to start small. I needed a recipe that wasn’t too complicated, but still whispered “Paris” in my ear. I chose madeleines, specifically the madeleines from Paris Sweets. I loved the idea of baking madeleines not only because they are so quintessentially French, but also because my daughter’s name is Madeleine. I also loved it because of the Proust connection. In his novel, Remembrance of Things Past, the narrator of the story has an almost out of body experience upon tasting one of these buttery, shell-shaped morsels.
“She sent out for one of those short, plump little cakes called petites madeleines, which look as though they had been moulded in the fluted scallop of a pilgrim’s shell. And soon, mechanically, weary after a dull day with the prospect of a depressing morrow, I raised to my lips a spoonful of the tea in which I had soaked a morsel of the cake. No sooner had the warm liquid, and the crumbs with it, touched my palate than a shudder ran through my whole body, and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary changes that were taking place…at once the vicissitudes of life had become indifferent to me, its disasters innocuous, its brevity illusory…”
–Remembrance of Things Past, Volume 1: Swann’s Way
I picked up a madeleine pan at Williams-Sonoma. Then, armed with a block of Celles sur Belle butter from Whole Foods, I created a memory. I used Dorie’s recipe from Paris Sweets. The recipe was pretty straightforward and the result was magnifique! The madeleines were buttery and slightly lemony. They were moist and cake-like, but not crumbly. They were scrumptious.
All I can say is, that Proust really knew what he was talking about!
Here is my Madeleine, at the top of the Eiffel Tower.
Adapted from Paris Sweets
3/4 c. all purpose flour
1/2 tsp. double-acting baking powder
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1/2 c. sugar
Grated zest of 1 lemon
2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
5 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted and cooled
Sift together the flour and baking powder. In a mixer with a whisk attachment, beat the eggs and sugar together at medium-high speed until they thicken and lighten in color, about 2-4 minutes.
Beat in the lemon zest and vanilla. With a large rubber spatula, gently fold in the dry ingredients, followed by the melted butter. Cover the batter with plastic wrap, pressing it against the surface to create an airtight seal. Chill for at least 3 hours.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. If your madeleine pan is not nonstick, generously butter it and dust with flour. Set the pan on a baking sheet for easy transportability. Spoon the batter into the molds, filling them almost to the top. Don’t worry about smoothing the batter. It will even out as it bakes.
In the center rack of the oven, bake large madeleines for 11-13 minutes, and small ones for 8-10 minutes, or until they are puffed and golden and spring back when touched.
Remove the cookies by either rapping the pan against the counter or gently running a butter knife around the edges of the cookies. Cool on a cooling rack.
Serve warm or at room temperature.