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Saturday, May 15, 2010
Madeleines, the famous magical 'cookies' that gave French author, Marcel Proust that shuddering moment of epiphany. This synopsis from Proust's 'Remembrance of Things Past' - Swann's Way has been so well published and referenced that the Madeleine has practically become Proust's cookie..
"She sent for one of those squat, plump little cakes called "petites madeleines," which look as though they had been moulded in the fluted valve of a scallop shell. And soon, mechanically, dispirited after a dreary 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 mixed with the crumbs touched my palate than a shudder ran through me and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary thing that was happening to me. An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses, something isolated, detached, with no suggestion of its origin. And at once the vicissitudes of life had become indifferent to me, its disasters innocuous, its brevity illusory - this new sensation having had on me the effect which love has of filling me with a precious essence; or rather this essence was not in me it was me. I had ceased now to feel mediocre, contingent, mortal. Whence could it have come to me, this all-powerful joy? I sensed that it was connected with the taste of the tea and the cake, but that it infinitely transcended those savours, could, no, indeed, be of the same nature. Whence did it come? What did it mean? How could I seize and apprehend it?"
The poetic and romantic part in me was immediately sold but the curious part in me was extremely skeptical - I had eaten the madeleine before - the famous little French cookie is pretty in its scallop shape but to me, it is not too different from a genoise sponge. Most recipes use ground almonds with flour but there are also recipes(such as this one) that uses just all purpose flour. Where indeed, did this all-powerful joyous stimulation come from? And it seems, concerted efforts and claims have been dedicated to re-create Proust's Madeleines but I believe that for those who are expecting to be jolted from their pensive moods by elated senses similar to Proust's, they will most likely be disappointed. Proust is a philosopher, a writer with sensibilities that demonstrate strange depth. Intensely introspective and sharply aware of his every fleeting thoughts, he is possibly extremely sensitive to external stimuli that would normally fly over our heads without warranting a second thought from us.
I enjoy the Madeleine but am not totally crazy over it. In fact, the dry crumbly texture Proust's descriptions alluded to does not get me excited. It is his subsequent verse that had me sighing dreamily... if you ask me, the good old Khong Guan/ Jacob's cream cracker soaked in Milo would probably bring me closer to that joyousness than the Madeleine. Such is the power of words - long and convoluted as they may be in Proust's style... nevertheless, it has inspired me enough to do 2 things : borrow Swann's Way from the National Library and start the Madeleine Medley series on my blog... I seek to experiment with different flavours for the madeleine striving for something different . The first in the medley is this Sesame Flavoured Madeleine. Adapted from Pierre Hermes's chocolate Madeleine recipe from Chocolate Desserts, I incorporated sesame powder and a hint of bamboo charcoal for drama... unfortunately the colour turned out more brown than black but overall, the fragrance of the sesame is lovely and with its light crust and tender crumb, it will certainly go well with tea.... without falling apart into crumbly bits, though, I am afraid...
70g All purpose flour
31/2 tbsp Black sesame powder
1/2 tsp Baking powder
2 large Eggs
100g Unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
1. Sift flour, sesame powder, baking powder together and put aside
2. Using a whisk , beat eggs with sugar, salt until mixture is well blended.
3. Add butter and beat until well distributed.
4. At low blending speed, add in flour mixture - stirring enough to blend the flour with the butter mixture.
5. Cover batter with a cling film and refrigerate over night.
6. Set oven to 200C.
7. Bake batter in buttered and floured madeleine mold at 200C x 15mins.
8. Remove from mold and cool down.