March 10th, 2012 | Category: food

I made these madeleines for reading group recently; they are easy peasy. You do need a madeleine mould, though. I got an uncoated one, because it delivers a tiny bit more capacity and sharper detail in the moulding shape.

Despite a huge number of cook books in the house, a few of them specifically French, I could not find a madeleine recipe – very disconcerting – so I trawled the net and put together this one after reading about a dozen. It worked well.

It is such a pleasure when the form of food is not only pretty but functional – like a spiral pasta shape that invites sauce to cling to it. In this case the scallop-shell madeleine shape delivers fine crispy edges and a plump, buttery centre. Delicious.

100g plain flour + extra for dusting (tin, not cakes)
three quarters of a teaspoon baking powder
100g castor sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon very finely chopped lemon or orange zest
125 grams unsalted butter, melted, cooled + extra for buttering tin
1 – 2 tablespoon icing sugar

Sift flour, baking powder with pinch salt.
Beat sugar and eggs till thick and fluffy.
Gently fold in the flour, vanilla and zest.
Gently fold in the melted, cooled butter.
Cover with gladwrap and chill mixture for 30 minutes.

Heat oven to 200/C fan forced.
Butter well and lightly flour the madeleine tin.
Spoon mixture into mould (small tin: approx one heaped teaspoon per madeleine.)
Bake for 6 – 7 minutes, until golden, and springy to touch.
Tap tin firmly to loosen; tip onto cake rack.
Dust with sifted icing sugar and serve warm.

The chilling step is important: the mixture thickens and aerates during this time.

The occasion for making madeleines was a long-delayed discussion of our reading, and rereading, the first volume of Proust. It was so interesting to read a different translation this time around. Twenty odd years ago I read the C.K. Scott Moncrief translation revised by Terence Kilmartin (Remembrance of Things Past), this time the recent translation by Lydia Davis (The Way by Swann’s).

Here, from the first translation, a little of the famous ‘petites madeleines’ dipped in lime-blossom tea passage:

‘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 from Lydia Davis’s:

‘But at the very instant when the mouthful of tea mixed with cake-crumbs touched my palate, I quivered, attentive to the extraordinary thing that was happening in me. A delicious pleasure had invaded me, isolated me, without my having any notion as to its cause.’

Such different interpretations – in the first passage, the isolation relates to the nature of the pleasure itself; in the second, the pleasure isolates the ‘I’ narrator. What a daunting number of choices must be made on every single page. I preferred the more recent translation, and its editor’s and Lydia Davis’s introductions provide a fascinating discussion of translation in general, and her approach to Proust’s language compared to that of Moncrieff in the earlier translation.

10 responses to “madeleines”

  1. Looks yummy. Must try some time, when my oven recovers. I LOVE baking. There must be something about writers and cooking. Did you know Sophie Masson has a recipe blog? And invites guest posts from other cooking writers? 🙂 I just share my recipes with family, friends and workmates, but it’s nice.

    • fiona says:

      I do read Sophie Masson’s blog, and really enjoy it – I particularly like reading about her very bountiful garden, and the way in which her food preparation reflects the season’s produce. Charlotte Wood is another writer who blogs about food at How to Shuck an Oyster. I recommend it. Her food writing is almost as compelling as her fiction writing, and that’s saying something.

    • fiona says:

      Sorry, Sue, some glitch meant I answered you without your comment appearing!

  2. DoctorDi says:

    YUMMY. I’d like to take delivery of a plateful of these right this instant… they look delectable, Fiona! And I completely agree about Charlotte’s blog, it’s as addictive as baked goods.

    Fascinating comparison between the two translations. So nuanced an area and yet I don’t think I reflect anywhere near enough on the impact of translation when I read a book originally written in another language. I accept the given translation as THE text, because I have to, in a sense, but your post reminds me again how much wilier the entire enterprise is – plus this is an AWESOME topic for a Varuna Alumni News feature, so BIG THANKS for the idea!

    • fiona says:

      They were yum, Di, and very easy to make. I always love visiting How to Shuck an Oyster – and there’s some great back-list browsing there for new visitors. Translation is an amazing art, and would be a boggling responsibility, particularly for poetry, wouldn’t it? Imagine! I recently bought ‘The Poetry of Rilke’ translated by Edward Snow which is beautifully conceived and designed with the original poems in German and the English translations on facing pages throughout the book. Great topic for a Varuna piece!

  3. Matt Armstrong says:

    Hi Fiona, sorry to be a bother.

    But is there a template for writing H&A and Neighbours scripts. Is that copyright as well or is there a chance you could email me those?


    • fiona says:

      Hi Matt, You are not a bother, but all of that stuff is owned by the producers, not the writers, so I can’t email you any of it. The thing is, you don’t need it unless you are commissioned to write an episode of the show, and then they supply it to you. If you wanted to send material to a tv show, you just need to lay it out so it looks like a script. The international standard script software is called Final Draft. It costs about $250, but I think they have a free demo, so you can take a look at how the page is formatted in a professional script, and submit script material that is set out in a similar way. When you finish school, if you are still interested in tv writing, shows like Neighbours and Home and Away have internships from time to time which you can apply for. A good way to find out about them is to join the Australian Writers’ Guild as an student member. I hope that is helpful.

      • fiona says:

        ps. The Australian Writers’ Guild (AWG) has just announced the this year’s Neighbours traineeship, Matt, if you want to go onto the website and have a look at the guidelines. It is something you might think of applying for after you have finished school. They run it every year.

  4. Matt Armstrong says:

    Thanks Fiona.

    I’ve got Final Draft, got it over the holidays.

    Thanks for the AWG thing. I’ll have a look.


    I finished my pilot of my drama. I hope it’s good. Fingers crossed.

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