City Food – Proust’s Madeleine Cake, Around Town
Experiencing a great novel.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Do you like the madeleine? The little cake makes for the most important scene in In Search of Lost Time, a novel by French author Marcel Proust that is universally dreaded for its super-long sentences and seven thick volumes.
Delhi has never warmed up to Proust. The proof of this assessment lies in Wenger’s. The capital’s iconic colonial-era bakery in Connaught Place has no place for the literature’s greatest tea-time dessert. But, do not stress. You may find the buttery cake in a bakery chain in the city that takes its name from a Paris landmark. A sachet of five madeleines at the L’Opéra patisserie is priced at 260 rupees.
There ought to be other places in the capital, too, to spot madeleines. Indeed, in 2017, Chittaranjan Park dweller Shreya Dhar Chowdhury opened a bakery in her home and named it Madeleine Patisserie. She makes Proust’s dessert on order, she confirms. (Google the bakery to find the phone number).
Paris-trained baker Liter Basar also used to make delicious madeleines at her homebakery in Nizamuddin East. Sadly, she recently dumped our city to open a small café in faraway Arunachal Pradesh. Whatever, the proper way to consume the cake is to have it with a cup of tea — just as Proust describes it in his great novel. Equally importantly, you must be accompanied with Swann’s Way, the first volume of the Lost Time. And, of course, you ought to read this passage in the novel where the narrator is having his tea-soaked madeleine:
“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.”
Ok, this is no airport-read. Indeed, the shortcut to experience Marcel Proust is by simply… well, dunking a madeleine into your chai. Happy reading and eating.