Valentin Louis Georges Eugène Marcel Proust, the man perennially in search of lost time, was born on this day in 1871. The ruminative frenchman is of course best known for his mammoth seven-volume novel À la recherche du temps perdu, in which the taste of a madeleine, and the involuntary memory it provokes, becomes the catalyst for an excavation of the author’s entire life.
What better way to mark this auspicious anniversary—in a year when we are all, collectively, pining for the simple pleasures of the Before Time—than by baking up a batch of Marcel’s famous Memory Madeleines.
Marcel’s Lemon Memory Madeleines (with thanks to Rebecca Peters-Gordon and the Good. Food. Stories blog)
Prep time: 20 minutes
Total time: 2 hours, including 1 hour resting time
Makes about 24 full-sized or 48 mini madeleines; this recipe halves just fine, if you want to make fewer
8 tablespoons (4 oz.; 1 stick) unsalted butter + 2 tablespoons butter for greasing the pan, if desired
1 cup all-purpose flour
2/3 cup granulated sugar
Pinch of salt
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon lemon zest (the zest of about 1 lemon)
Powdered sugar (optional)
A madeleine pan (or two, if you want things to go faster)
Brown the butter by melting it in a small saucepan over medium-low heat and continuing to cook until the butter separates. The white solid bits that initially rise to the top of the liquid will fall to the bottom of the pan and start to brown, while the liquid will turn deeper golden and begin to smell gorgeously nutty. When this happens, remove the pan from the heat—you’re going for a very light brown here; make sure not to burn.
If you’re greasing your madeleine pans with butter, spoon 2 tablespoons of the melted butter into a prep bowl and set aside.
In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, sugar, and salt together. In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs, vanilla, lemon juice, and lemon zest together until the liquid is slightly foamy. Pour the egg mixture into the flour mixture, and stir with a silicone spatula until just combined.
Add the 8 tablespoons brown butter and gently but persistently fold it into the batter to incorporate. At first it will look like too much butter, but it will integrate. Stop stirring when it does.
Chill the batter in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour (and up to 24 hours, if you’d like to make the batter in advance). If you’re greasing your madeleine pans with butter, brush the reserved melted butter into the shells of each pan and place those in the freezer. [Editor’s note: modern nonstick madeleine pans do not need pre-greasing.]
When you’re ready to bake your madeleines, preheat the oven to 350°F and take your batter and pans from the cold.
Fill each shell in the madeleine pan with about 1 tablespoon of the batter for a standard madeleine pan, and 1 teaspoon if you’re using a mini-madeleine pan. If you overfill them, the batter will spread and you’ll get a little halo around the shell shape, which is not traditional, but I think looks kind of like a pretty frame.
Bake for 8-10 minutes and then rotate pans to assure even browning. Bake for another 2-5 minutes, watching carefully to determine doneness—mini madeleines may only need 10 minutes total, depending on your oven. Your madeleines are ready when the edges are browned and the middle feels firm and springy to the touch.
Let your madeleines cool for a minute or two before using the tip of a knife to lift them gently from the pan. If you’d like, once they’re cool, dust them lightly with powdered sugar.
Repeat with the remaining batter. Madeleines will keep for up to 3 days in an airtight container, but they taste best when eaten within a day.
No idea what I’m talking about? Never heard of Proust, involuntary memory, or the delicious continental cake/cookie that is a madeleine? Don’t worry about it. Tony Soprano was similarly ignorant. Here’s a primer on the whole business from Dr. Melfi: