Thomas Keller’s Madeleine Recipe

Michelin-starred chef Thomas Keller provides a recipe for Proust’s memorable madeleine.

“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.” So thinks the narrator of Marcel Proust’s 1913 novel, Swann’s Way, as the taste of madeleine mixed with tea transports him back to his childhood.

In this moment, a literary device was born, and ever since, madeleines – “those squat, plump little cakes” – have symbolized the power of involuntary memory, the way in which taste acts as sensory time travel.

For the celebrated chef and restaurateur Thomas Keller, who holds five Michelin stars, the effect of Proust’s madeleine resonates with his personal food philosophy: that a great meal isn’t necessarily about the food, but about the emotional connection you forge as you eat. Eating a madeleine creates pleasure, says Keller, and so each new madeleine recalls a memory of pleasures past.

“When you eat a madeleine, it has a textural component, the temperature that you want, that balance of savory and sweet, and at the end of the day, when you eat one madeleine, you want to eat another. When that happens, that’s really the meaning of success.”

For those preparing to cook a madeleine for the first time, Keller has some advice. Be prepared to fail. Ensure you’re precise in your measurements. Make sure you have the right equipment –in this case, a madeleine form –and that your oven is correctly calibrated. And finally: “Make sure, once you cook it, that you have the opportunity to eat it fairly quickly, so it’s still warm. Because that truly, for me, is the perfect way to eat a madeleine: still warm, with a little powder sugar sprinkled on top of it.”

Place the flour in a medium bowl and sift in the baking powder. Add the salt and whisk together. Combine the eggs and granulated sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and mix on medium-high speed for about one minute, warming the bowl gently as needed to dissolve the sugar.

Increase the speed to high and whip for about four minutes, until the color lightens and the batter doubles in volume. Meanwhile, heat the butter, brown sugar and honey in a small saucepan over medium-high heat, whisking, to dissolve the sugar, about one minute. Remove from the heat.Remove the bowl from the mixer stand and fold in half the dry ingredients, then fold in the remaining dry ingredients until just combined. Scrape the bottom of the bowl to incorporate any dry ingredients that may have settled there. Pour the warm butter mixture over the batter, add the lemon oil, if using, and fold until the mixture is incorporated and the batter is smooth. Place the batter in a covered container and refrigerate overnight. Preheat the oven to 350°F (convection or standard).

Brush the madeleine pan with butter. Refrigerate or freeze the pan to harden the butter.Transfer the batter to the pastry bag or use a spoon. Pipe or spoon the batter into the molds (20grams/one generous tablespoon each). Tap the bottom of the pan against the work surface to smooth the top of the batter. Bake for seven to eight minutes in a convection oven, eight to nine minutes in a standard oven, until the tops are lightly browned and a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean. (The bottoms of the madeleines will brown more quickly than the tops, so keep the tops on the lighter side.) Immediately unmold the madeleines and cool on a cooling rack.

The madeleines are best the day they are baked, but they can be stored in a covered container for up to one day.

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