There is a game that people play in which they confess that they have never actually read a famous book or literary classic. It’s a curious game since it involves an admission of failure, and to win, you must have not read something that everyone else in the room has read. There are many books that I haven’t read, or ones that I have picked up and attempted and then simply abandoned, splayed on a side table, or rediscovered with a bookmark placed a telltale eighth of an inch inside, waiting patiently, as books do, for your return, only to be put on a shelf or recycled to the Oxfam bookshop.
One of these books is Proust’s ‘A la recherche du temps perdu’. When I studied French at school I told myself that I would one day read this book in its original language and that would be the pinnacle of my studies. I think I managed all of five pages in French and then read a synopsis. I was completely mystified by the reference to tilleul (limeflower tea) and madeleines and fantasized wildly as to what it could possibly taste like to arouse such memories. I tend to confuse that book with Madame Bovary, which I did read and so I have a vision of Madame in that carriage with a little cup of tilleul in hand, drops of palest green liquor spilling onto her skirts while tiny crumbs of buttery madeleine cling to her lips, as the carriage rattles around the streets, a conflation of French literature, food and tea…. (I can see those of you with good memories shaking their heads and tsk tsking…)
It’s high summer now in England. The lime trees stand leafy and proud in the public parks and estates in Bristol and on many city and small town streets all over the country. The ones on the streets tend not to swoop down to the ground as their lower branches are cut away and they have their tops reduced but the ones in the parks grow unchecked and are quite magnificent. They are the family of trees called in Latin tilia, (not the citrus lime) of which we have three species here.
When the sun comes out, the honeybees work their way from one cluster of blossom to the next; standing under the drooping flowers, breathing in the wonderful smell of lime-blossom and listening to the busy scratchy hum of the bees you can be quite transported to another world – one of green sweet scent and dappled light.
A while ago I read a recipe for madeleines and had a go at making them. They all stress the importance of getting the ‘nipple’ or hump in the back of the madeleine which is part of its traditional shape. Shell like on one side and looking like it fits inside your mouth on the other. I failed miserably and my madeleine pans went back into the garage, much to Brian’s sadness as he is terribly fond of little buttery sponge cakes.
I had collected some lime flowers and dried them to keep for tea as I imagine is still done all over central Europe and thought I should have one more go at making madeleines, how hard can it be after all?
I drowned quickly in madeleine recipes (too much information out there on the ‘net) and picked this one to try from Joy of Baking. I have altered the proportions slightly as I used medium eggs instead of large ones and reduced the amounts of sugar and butter slightly but it is obviously not that crucial because you know what? I did it. Luck maybe – but for the first time my madeleines have nipples!
To celebrate we took the newly arrived dragonfly Korento cups and saucers out into the garden, made a little pot of limeblossom tea and decorously sat and dipped and sipped and tried to fathom the mystery of food photography with my new camera.
Here is my version of these madeleines – I haven’t cracked how to stop them sticking in the moulds completely, the one thing I would say is try to get them out of the moulds as quickly as possible as they seem to stick more as they cool!
Madeleines (adapted from Joy of Baking)
- 4 medium eggs
- 160 g vanilla sugar (or plain sugar and a teaspoon of vanilla extract)
- 145 g flour (plain or all purpose) I used T45 from Shipton Mill
- ½ tsp of baking powder
- ⅛ tsp of salt
- 110 g melted and cooled butter plus another 25 g for greasing the Madeleine pans
- First melt butter gently in a pan, don’t let it boil up or go brown. Allow to cool.
- If you melt a bit more, say another 25 g or so then you can use this to generously butter the insides of 2 x 12 Madeleine trays. put these in the freezer to chill. (I confess I didn’t chill the pan again when I made the last batch, didn’t seem to make much difference)
- Whisk the eggs and the sugar for at least five minutes, till the mixture is a creamy colour and falls from the whisk in thick ribbons, best done with an electric whisk or stand mixer.
- Sift the flour, baking powder and salt together.
- Sift a spoonful of the flour on top of the the egg/sugar mixture and fold it in gently with a spatula. Then sift the rest of the flour in a couple of additions over the mixture and fold it in. Be gentle and don’t over mix as you will lose air.
- In a separate bowl, add a spoonful of this mixture to the cooled butter and whisk it in to ease the mixture. Continue to add the butter mix to the main bowl in three or four additions, folding the butter in after each addition, until it is all mixed in. Put the final mixture in the fridge for 30 minutes or longer to thicken up.
- Preheat the oven to 190 C or 375 F.
- Spoon the chilled batter into the madeleine moulds, trying to keep the batter mounded in the centre of the moulds as this will help with nipple formation.
- Bake in the middle of the oven for 11 – 13 minutes until the edges of the madeleines turn a golden-brown colour and they are springy to the touch. Don’t overbake them, they carry on cooking in their tins while you are struggling to winkle them out. I find it quite hard to get them out of the tins, but I’m never very adept at that sort of thing.
- Dust lightly with icing sugar.
- Test several times while fresh and warm or let cool on a wire rack.
Make tea, put on your crinoline and hat and find a horse and carriage, hop in with a friend.. no? OK well just make the tea and get out in the garden and dip the cakes into your tea and pretend….
Thank you Marcel Proust and Gustave Flaubert for colouring my memories with limeblossom and delight and to Skandium and Signe Johansen for the charming iittala Korento cups with their dazzling colours and dragonfly motif. I might have to treat myself to a matching plate for my next batch of madeleines, or maybe I should make some Swedish cardamon buns or some other delicious recipe from Scandilicious. Watch this space! In the meantime I have some limeblossom tea of my own picking to share with any visitors.
Who is the little gnome? She was made by my sweet friend Brydie at CityHippyFarmGirl, isn’t she a delight?
I am envying you your delightful afternoon tea as I huddle over the fire and listen to the wind and rain that have been whirling around my house for days. I’ve never tried to make madeleines as I haven’t a mold and really don’t need another thing in my kitchen cupboards, but yours look very delicious.
I thought it was still sunny in Australia, I was just looking at Debra’s blog on Brisbane city beach. I woke up this morning to find the garden shining with rain, heavy showers passing through all day today and the temperature has dropped back again.
I wish I could share a plate of madeleines with you and everyone else who is in winter now :)
How lovely! How English! How perfectly formed and buttery! Gorgeous post which has filled me with lightness of spirit, in the midst of our winter cold snap! Thank you.. :)
Clever Brydie, what a cute little gnome! And that first bee shot is superb!
Vive la France en Angleterre! Glad it has lightened your spirit Celia! Summer always seems so far away in the middle of winter and vice versa. Though I think madeleines can equally be well be consumed in front of a warm fire. The bees were all desperate to be photographed – there were loads of them out that day ;)
Did you follow the JoB instruction to flour the moulds and tap out the excess? I find this helps greatly. And unmould them immediately otherwise they definitely will stick, so don’t be afraid to give the tin a firm whack on your countertop.
Not sure I approve of the use of baking powder in the JoB recipe, though… but that’s a whole other can o’ worms!! :)
Hello Lester thanks for commenting!
In answer to your questions: I floured the moulds the first batch and not the second and it made no difference that I could see so I didn’t include it when I wrote the description of what I did. And I tried the firm whack, some popped out ok, some stuck a bit more. Speed is of the essence I think. Baking powder? I used an aluminium free one that doesn’t have a strong after taste. I don’t know what the can of worms is that you mean I’m afraid, do you mean it is not traditional in madeleines or that it has some other problem? There were so many recipes and methods to choose from and the last time I tried my madeleines were very flat so I thought I would just work through a few different recipes and see how they turned out. Have you got one that you recommend?
I’m in the anti baking powder camp for no other reason than it feels like a cheat in order to achieve the hump. I figure that whatever air I can incorporate into the batter with good old elbow grease should suffice. The basic recipe I finally settled on is similar to Dorie Greenspan’s, although, let’s face it, there’s only a limited number of eggs, sugar, flour and butter combinations to achieve Proustian perfection. I use 100g plain flour, 90g caster sugar, 2 large eggs, 85g buerre noisette, plus flavourings.
If I fancy a change, I occasionally make one of Julia Child’s madeleine recipes which results in a denser, more cakey texture which is magnificent for dunking!
Great links thanks! I will try and rise to the challenge of the baking powder free madeleine next time I make them :)
Oh, this was such a delightful post to read!
I actually read Proust while I lived in France, in part because I had a French boyfriend and was trying to get as deep into his culture as possible. That guy turned out to be “very non-right for me”, or, to put it more bluntly he was a jerk ;-)
He never tainted my image of Proust, though – and I am very ashamed to confess that I have a madeleine pan, sitting in my cabinet for 3 years. Virgin. Why, oh why?
I am very impressed that you read Proust, I suspect I probably never will now. As to that unloved Madeleine tin, the process does involve a lot of whipping and folding, and then some swearing when they stick in the pan, not the easiest fairy cake in the world to make, with that weight of history leaning on its shell-shaped back. Make them on a day when it doesn’t matter if they don’t work ;)
Those madeleines look delicious. I have not tried making them, but I will. I have that Iittala cup, I bought it on my last trip to Helsinki.
Thanks Debra ! I enjoyed reading about your trip to Finland :)
I love madeleines- I have the pan- and haven’t made them for ages. I don’t like to share them when I do make them as I’m not really sure others enjoy and treasure them quite enough! I love the look of those dried lime tree flowers- and would love to sit down to a cup of tea with you!
However- I am finally HOME this summer and need to finally get out and do some work in the garden!
Alas- no time to bake the madeleines and no time for a cuppa- just dirt, Dirt, DIRT! for me today!
Love the pictures and the beauty of your tea in the garden, Joanna- Thanks!!!!
Thanks Heidi – I’m glad you liked the post. Enjoy the garden work – I can’t wait to hear what you are growing this season :)
Oh, oh, oh, love this post Joanna. Love the teapot, love the cups, love the tea, love the gnome, envious of your Madeleines (which I haven’t actually tried making yet) and with you on the books. I didn’t manage either of these in French and only one in English.
I think I love you Choclette :)
What a great game idea! And thanks for making me think of madeleines – my sister bought me a pan for them last year and I haven’t used it nearly enough!
Lovely to hear from you Ruth! Dig out that pan and put it to work :)
the closest i’ve come to reading proust is alain de botton’s book ‘how proust can change your life’..and by the way madelaine and linden are a great couple..madelaine can be a bit stubborn but she has a soft heart and linden tends to get pretty fiery but he cools down quickly..so they get along really well..jane
After ‘publishing’ this yesterday I had a look around to see what references there were to Proust and found so many I flinched a little. Loads of bloggers (of course) Monty Python’s summarise Proust seaside competition (again something I don’t remember). If I’d read all that first I probably wouldn’t have had the gall to write anything. I will look up Alain de Botton now. Thanks Jane!
I was very impressed that you read the first five pages in French. I can remember trying to learn to read books all in Spanish in school and I hated it, because it took all the fun out of reading. Too much work!
I love your madeleines!! I’m salivating right now and would love to have one with some tea before bed. I don’t have a pan, but I’ve always kind of longed for one. I think I remember seeing Ina Garten, or Barefoot Contessa make them on her foodnetwork show.
I always love watching the bees in the flowers. Aren’t they amazing? Great picture of the one on the blossoms!
Oh Mel, I am fast losing the bits of language skills I had when I was younger… It does slow you right down if you are not fluent in the language,I usually sat there with my dictionary in one hand, more like doing a crossword puzzle than taking pleasure in the joy of reading. Like a lot of things it’s all about putting in the practice hours, I never tried hard enough. I am very fond of bees, they have a magical quality to them. Maybe you should treat yourself to a pan or put it on a wish list… ;)
Those little cups are gorgeous! I wondered which ones you got after I looked through their online loveliness. Musssst resssstrain myselfffff.
I haven’t read Proust but I finally just finished Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, many years later than the rest of the world…and I’m beginning to suspect Swedish cardamom buns would go down particularly well while reading the next one. Please make them!
(and the little gnome looks right at home :-)
Swedish buns it will be…. I love the little people on your recent post, they are good folk to share a kitchen with x
Love the idea of collecting lime flowers to make tea! Glad I read this in time for this summer.
I notice how most photos of Madeleines are taken ‘shell-side’ up:I assume partly to showcase the pattern, but more to disguise lack of nipple! (my hand has to go up for that – Guilty!). Read somewhere the other day that a dab of butter on the top of each – in a non baking powder method – is the key. Fiddly, but at some point will give it a go.
Looking forward to finding the cardamom buns! (advantage of reading a post well after it’s written) I think cardamom is my favourite ingredient… X
Thanks for visiting me and for your lovely comment North19 !
I saw the butter tip is in Dan Lepard’s Short & Sweet for his Madeleines de Commercy, but that has a little b p in it.
i didn”t make any more cardamom buns after writing this one, but I did make them a while back and wrote a rather disorganized post about them that had Celia’s helpful photos added to it, here’s a link http://wp.me/pSFVI-cH
Yes! You’re right – it was indeed Dan Lepard’s book – forgot I read about them there. Hmmm… didn’t realise it also had BP. Well I’ll test the butter with my favourite Joel robuchon madeleine recipe (uses almond flour), and also try a set with added baking powder. Then hopefully I’ll be able to show a picture as pretty as yours ;-) if neither work, I’ll blame the moulds…
Mmmmm – owls!
This is a long time after the original posts on lime-flower tea and madeleines and the role they played in Proust’s life. Americans, of which I am one, might be confused by the use of the word “Lime”. They should know that the “lime” trees mentioned are called linden trees, and have nothing to do with the citrus fruit. The blossoms are pale green and I expect this is how they got their British-Aussie name. Latin: Tillea Cordata, and French of course, “Tilleul”. There are several kinds of madeleine; the one with the “hump” is called Commercy. I don’t like them because they don’t lie flat and present well.
I have found the best recipe to be Joel Robuchon’s as interpreted by Patricia Wells in the book “Simply French.” I have a huge old linden tree in my garden which makes mess from May to November; first the blossoms fall off after first dripping sticky sap on our cars, (I have made tea in the past with these dried blooms but it was not as flavorful as professional tea); then the seeds and “wings” that take flight and then of course the leaves themselves. Luckily the seeds do not germinate as indiscriminately as maples.
Thank you for your comment, you are right this is an old blog post. I hope you enjoyed reading it.