Madeleines and Memories


This week seemed to be about memories. So it felt fitting that my next cake bake should be madeleines, with their Proustian association with memory. I have to say I have never actually read any Proust, apart from extracts. Maybe that’s because I studied English literature and history. Or maybe I am just too lazy – Remembrance of Things Past (or In Search of Lost Time) is 6 volumes and over 4,000 pages…?! Anyway this extract tells the story of how eating a madeleine transported Proust back to his childhood and evoked a whole scene in his memory of people and places. While I agree that material objects, tastes, smells and sounds can certainly bring back a sense of what was and is no longer, I disagree that It is a labour in vain to attempt to recapture it: all the efforts of our intellect must prove futile. The past is hidden somewhere outside the realm, beyond the reach of intellect.  I think that there are other ways of getting a sense of the past, and that includes talking about it with others that shared the same experiences. No individual experience will be the same as another’s and that is what makes the events feel real and almost 3 dimensional again. It’s not quite the same as what Proust was writing about but it’s a bit depressing to think that it depends on chance whether we come upon it (the material object that will transport us back in time) or not before we ourselves must die. Surely we can conjure up some memories and feelings in other ways.

Proust – in a memory reverie

I spent some time this week with friends I have known for 40 years. It was a sad occasion, but we did manage to laugh – and some of that laughter was about sharing memories. Keep good memories alive – talk about them!

I have a very early memory, a snippet in time, of sitting on the back step of our house on a spring morning eating a banana while we waited for the chimney sweep to come and do the chimneys. Everywhere was covered in dust sheets. I was probably about 3. I have lots of memories about playing outside. It’s hard (almost impossible really!) to imagine now but my sisters and I aged 5, 6 and 7 (I am the eldest) used to go to the local park on our own all the time and fish for sticklebacks in the pond, climb trees, cycle and generally have a good time. We sometimes used to get into arguments with other children (also out on their own) but I don’t remember ever being really scared. I think the three of us were probably quite intimidating 😉 Maybe my outdoor childhood is responsible for my love of running and walking in the great outdoors now!

Why are madeleines called madeleines? No one can remember. Why are they shell shaped? Who knows. I couldn’t find any useful or believable stories around that. Maybe because they just look pretty?

A lot of melted butter goes into madeleines

Anyway – back to baking! I used this recipe from Michel Roux Jnr (he’s French so it must be the best right?) but instead of lemon I used orange to flavour it. Orange seems to be flavour of the month (I shall be making more marmalade this weekend too). Another time I might try Felicity Cloake’s Perfect Madeleine. Today’s batch of madeleines came out quite well. Only quite – I have definitely made better ones, and like poor old King Alfred I got distracted reading Proust and the second batch of 6 got a bit overdone. (Of course King Alfred wasn’t reading Proust….) Also a lot of people say that it is only a madeleine if there is a distinctive ‘bump’ on the top – and today mine were distinctly missing the bump. Oh well, never mind they taste great!

The browner ones are nice and crispy round the edges

I am so grateful for the donations to JDRF that you have already generously given. Today I signed up for the March run – a trail run in Princes Risborough. If you would like to donate to fund research into a cure for Type1 diabetes click here. Thank you!

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