The weather was dark and dreary when the February issue of Bon Appetit arrived in my mail box. My mood immediately became sunnier, when I opened the cover to find a tempting recipe for Madeleines with Lavender Honey. (I get my lavender honey from Olympic Lavender Farm.)
A reader requested a recipe for “the best Madeleines she ever tasted” on a trip to Avignon. I read the list of ingredients and imagined a golden sun-drenched day in Provence. In only minutes, I could virtually smell the evocative fragrance of lavender and my mouth watered as I pictured a plate of buttery Madeleines. Recipes offer instructions for creating sumptuous treats; they also spark imagination, launch us on a virtual trip to far away places and trigger memories of past pleasures.
Madeleines, like other culinary masterpieces, can’t be attributed to a single source. When I began searching for the name of the pastry chef who first thought to bake these small cake-like cookies with their signature seashell shape, I found several versions describing their origin.
One version, according to Larousse Gastronomique gives credit to a pastry cook named Jean Avice. In the 18th century, Avice baked left-over cake batter in shell-shaped aspic molds and named his creations, madeleines.
In another version, the credit for the invention of this classic goes to Madeleine Palmier, a French culinary superstar who worked for Louis XV’s father-in-law.
Yet one more story tells us the origin of the mysterious Madeleine may be traced to a convent dedicated to Mary Magdalen located in Commercy in the 18th century. “Madeleine” is the French form of the name “Mary Magdelen.” The madeleine cookie is thought to be a specialty of the nuns at that convent. When all monasteries and convents were abolished after the French revolution, the nuns sold their recipe to the local bakers.
Two things we know for sure: madeleines originated in the French town of Commercy and the novelist, Marcel Proust, immortalized madeleines in his novel, “Remembrance of Things Past.”
He wrote, “She (Marcel’s mother) sent for one of those squat plump little cakes called “petites madeleines,” which look as though they had been molded in the fluted valve of a scallop shell … 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 invaded my senses … “
When I want to create sweet and sensual memories, I serve madeleines with lavender honey.