Klein’s Madeleine

By Ezra Klein


“One day in winter, on my return home, my mother, seeing that I was cold, offered me some tea, a thing I did not ordinarily take. I declined at first, and then, for no particular reason, changed my mind. She sent for one of those squat, plump little cakes called “petites madeleines,” which look as though they had been moulded in the fluted valve of a scallop shell. And soon, mechanically, dispirited after a dreary day with the prospect of a depressing morrow, 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 had invaded my senses, something isolated, detached, with no suggestion of its origin. And at once the vicissitudes of life had become indifferent to me, its disasters innocuous, its brevity illusory – this new sensation having had on me the effect which love has of filling me with a precious essence; or rather this essence was not in me it was me. I had ceased now to feel mediocre, contingent, mortal. Whence could it have come to me, this all-powerful joy? I sensed that it was connected with the taste of the tea and the cake, but that it infinitely transcended those savours, could, no, indeed, be of the same nature. Whence did it come? What did it mean? How could I seize and apprehend it?”

-Marcel Proust

I won’t pretend to match Proust’s hallucinogenic ecstasy at the taste of his mother’s madeleine. Frankly, I can do without madeleines. I’ve got something better: Bisquick biscuits. With jam.

My beloved mother has many virtues. She is a kind and loving and endearingly eccentric. She is not a great cook. For my 21st birthday, she made me a special dish combining many different ingredients I enjoyed: Lasagna, with tomato sauce, ricotta, alfredo, sauce, jalapenos, olives…

But on the first morning I’m home, she makes me Bisquick biscuits. With jam. And they are the finest of foods (she once topped them with Lindor truffles, again on the premise that I liked chocolate and I liked biscuits: FAIL. Do not fuck with my biscuits). They taste like comfort. And also like jam. I will not post a recipe, because I do not want to know how they’re made. Presumably they’re the simple¬† substantiation of maternal love and the dog hair that covers my house and the thousand pillows that obscure every bed and all the years I spent there and everything that home feels like, baked at 350 for about 20 minutes.

Since this is Thanksgiving week, and many of our dear IFA writers and readers are returning home, let’s open this up: What’s your madeleine?


10 responses to “Klein’s Madeleine

  1. We didn’t have a lot of money when I was little, and my mum couldn’t afford shop-bought food for our recess every day.

    Instead, she used to make this slice from the crumbs at the bottom of the Weetbix packet (an Australian breakfast food, much like weetabix). She’d get all the crumbs, combine them with coconut and flour and a few other things, then bake it and ice with chocolate icing and sprinkle desiccated coconut on top.

    The best bit was that, because it was so cheap to make, sometimes Mum would pack me TWO little baggies of it, so I could trade with the kids in my class. They loved it so much, I could manage to negotiate for a packet of crisps or a half-share in a bought lunch!

    My little brother made it for the first time when I visited him last weekend. One bite and I was 10 again…

  2. Mine? Duncan Hines brownies. My mom also was not a world class chef. But man, those brownies, hot out of the oven, that was bliss.

  3. My mother was a very good cook, but the most vivid comfort food memories I have come from my two grandmothers back in Montana. My father’s mother would make us cream of wheat cooked with milk, with currrants added. It was truly wonderful with brown sugar sprinkled on the top, and more milk poured over. I have served it to my kids with rave reviews. Breakfast at my mother’s parent’s house in eastern Montana sometimes included the trout my grandfather had caught the day before. My grandmother pan fried it in shortening in a cast iron pan, with the whole trout breaded in cormeal and seasonings. Even thinking about it after oh-so-many years I still salivate.

  4. Thanksgiving is a tough meal for me, because a couple of the things that were my madeleines are off limits now. Several years of experimentation (and temper tantrums at failed experimentation) have convinced me there’s no such thing as good gluten-free dressing. And dressing was probably my biggest thing. We’d make a big pan of it in the morning and it would sit there all day waiting for part of it to be put in the turkey and part to be put in the oven on its own, and I’d just snack out of that pan. Wouldn’t eat lunch, just grab some dressing every time I passed through the kitchen. One of my favorite, favorite foods, and not having it made Thanksgiving absolutely the hardest day of the year to be celiac. I’ve more or less dealt, but it still makes me a little sad.

  5. MissLaura: certainly you know much more about dealing with Celiac Disease than I do. But let me offer two suggestions in the hopes that you’ll explain why they don’t work:

    1. Cornbread stuffing? Some quick googling indicates that corn is probably okay for you. And while a lot of cornbread incorporates wheat flour, not all of it does.

    2. Chestnut stuffing! My mom makes this, and while breadcrumbs factor in, they’re a relatively minor part. I’m guessing that they could be replaced by something else without attracting too much attention. It’s a bit labor-intensive to shell the chestnuts, but the results — when combined with celery, raisins, onions and other delicious goodies — is incredibly good. I’ll try to dig up the recipe and post it.

  6. My mother weilds a cornacopia, Rambo style. Last year at Christmas there were 17 distinct things to eat on the table. For 20 some guests. She owns two ovens, three freezers, two food processors, close to 500 cookbooks and a gizmo that mists stuff at different intensities. A bold sojourner in exotic cuisine, my mother imparted a sense of adventure onto the concept of comfort for me. She also imparted her passion. When I go home for the holidays my comfort comes from mom handing me a sheaf of recipies and a bunch of onions to caramelize. “Come early,” she told me today, “this year we’re doing 18.”

  7. When I was a kid I used to spend a couple of weeks each summer with my grandmother in her house by the sea. She had a big yard with apple trees and plum trees – and in a corner, there was a huge patch of rhubarb. When my brother and I were there, she would make rhubarb pie almost every day. We would eat it with vanilla custard – and then, write reviews. My grandmother passed away ten years ago: to me, rhubarb pie still tastes like summer.

  8. That was some illuminating writing

  9. I don’t disagree with this blog!

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