City Food – Marcel’s Madeleine, Khan Market
The great literary cake.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
The plump little cake looks as though it had been “molded in the fluted valve of a scallop shell.”
Madeleine makes for the most important scene in In Search of Lost Time, a seven-volume novel by French author Marcel Proust, the first volume of which celebrated its hundredth anniversary in November 2013.
Delhi, however, has never warmed up to Proust. The proof of this conclusion lies in Wenger’s. The capital’s Colonial-era pastry shop in Connaught Place has no place for the literature’s greatest tea-time dessert. But – entre nous — you may find the buttery cake in a French bakery that opened its first outlet in the city in 2011.
Delhi’s oldest L’Opéra is situated in the posh Khan Market. A bundle of five madeleines in the patisserie is priced at Rs 215.
The proper way to consume the cake is to have it with a cup of tea — at the same time you must also be accompanied with Swann’s Way, the first volume of the Lost Time. In my copy, the madeleine scene falls on page 51.
The venerable culinary encyclopedia Larousse Gastronomique, which contains descriptions and cooking techniques of French dishes, describes madeleine as “a small, individual, French sponge cake shaped like a rounded shell, made with sugar, flour, melted butter and eggs, flavoured with lemon or orange-flower water. The mixture is cooked in ribbed oval moulds which give the cakes their shell-like appearance.”
This cake should not be confused with an English sponge cake of the same name that is baked in a dariole mould and then coated with jam and desiccated coconut and further topped with candied cherry – that madeleine has nothing to do with the madeleine of our Lost Time.
As a special consideration to my devotion to Proust, the kind management at the L’Opéra agreed to share its recipe of the cake with me:
Ingredients: 250 gm castor sugar, 500 gm artisan flour, 150 gm melted butter, 4 eggs, a pinch of salt, vanilla extract or flavouring of your choice.
Method: Place the sugar, flour, eggs, salt and flavouring in a bowl and mix until the mixture is smooth. Fold in the melted butter gently. Prepare the madeleine moulds by coating them with butter and flour. Pour in the mixture up to two-third level and bake for approximately 17 minutes at 155 degree celsius in oven.
In the Lost Time, after the narrator remembered a moment from the past when he sipped a spoonful of the tea in which he had soaked a morsel of the madeleine cake, he recorded the following sensations:
“No sooner had the warm liquid mixed with the crumbs touched my palate than a shudder ran through my whole body 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.”
Well — what remains to be written after that?
Where L’Opéra, Shop 5 B, Khan Market Nearest Metro Station Khan Market Note The bakey has outlets in DLF Promenade Mall (Vasant Kunj), Select Citywalk (Saket), Ravissant (New Friends Colony), French Embassy, Hauz Khas Village, Epicuria (Nehru Place), Galleria Market (Gurgaon), DLF Golf & Country Club (Gurgaon)