It took over thirty years to reverse the trend but we finally had a girl born into our clan. Few and far between are the girl babies so her birth created no small event for us. Our new arrival was cute, sweet and female. Given my mother’s name as her middle name, she was christened Madeline Helen in perfect French form.
The Madeline books by Ludwig Bemelman were among my childhood favorites. The escapades of that spunky little French girl ignited in me a dream to one day explore the magical “City of Lights” for myself. Forty years later as I scanned the city from atop the Eiffel Tower, I felt just like Madeline, fearless and giddy.
Paris doesn’t disappoint. The buildings are grand, the art is in a league of its own and the food more beautiful than anywhere I’ve ever been. Paris is a city of culture, and the cuisine is one of their best offerings. From chocolatiers that adorn their windows with intricate displays of decadent sweets to rotisseries rolling with fat buttery hens, Paris is a feast for all your senses.
Nearly every eatery in the city has some type of madeleine, a smallish cake baked in a shell mold. Some sweet, some savory, and all elegant and light, they embody the perfect small bite. I fell hard for them at a Paris Tea house where their madeleines were crunchy on the outside with a pillowy crumb on the inside, and were subtly scented with floral notes that paired perfectly with the tea. Nothing evokes memories of Paris quite like these tiny gems.
Marcel Proust, (1913-27) an early French writer described this feeling best in his volume Remembrance of Things Past. In the chapter called The Cookie he recounts the phenomenom of involuntary memory as he bites into a madeleine only to be flooded with a sense of a past place and time. Food really is a sensory and emotional experience. A plate of petite madeleines may not take you back to your childhood, but make enough of them and they will turn your thoughts to things that only something sweet can bring.
Recipe for Blue Madeleines