In my unwritten manual for writing about food, the first page will be blank but for one line in large, bold, underscored caps: do not mention Proust. For mentioning him, his madeleines and his search for lost time tends to be done without much comprehension.
Few of us have actually read In Search of Lost Time and fewer still can say they grew up eating madeleines. Most of us come to them later in life, by which time they’re burdened with more cultural baggage than any bakery item can be expected to bear.
If you once tried madeleines and felt underwhelmed, it could be due to the impossible expectations their literary connotations create. Or perhaps the ones you had were not that good. Well made and freshly baked, they are delightful. Not biscuits, they are unequivocally and unashamedly cakes, albeit small ones, with a buttery crumb, vanilla sweetness and fragrant citrus zest. The shell shape is not strictly essential, but it is important. Without it they’re just tiny cakes that aren’t so nice the day after.
This version is in fact very nice the day after. Replacing the more traditional burnt butter flavor with the tang of pistachios lends a hint of luxury and color. The sweet sharp glaze not only adds a lively sour tang but also forms a delicate, crystalline crust.
You can bake these in a muffin tin (just do not fill the cups) but, if like us you find it romantic having kitchen utensils with one use only, the shell-shaped trays will not set you back more than a tenner.
Our best madeleine moment would be after dinner, fresh from the oven, served with unsweetened whipped cream and a digestif. They are also terrific with a pot of tea and a good book, which does not have to be by Proust.
Pistachio and lime madeleines
To make 24 large madeleines
For glazing the madeleines
Using a small food processor, blitz the pistachios to fine crumbs. Add the sugar, flour, baking powder and salt, and pulse to mix. Add the eggs and lime zest, and mix to combine. Then slowly pour in the melted butter and pistachio butter, if using, and blitz to a very smooth paste. Let rest for about 20 minutes. Heat your oven to 200C (fan assisted).
Lightly grease a traditional shell mold or small muffin tin (we use a butter spray, but you can also brush with melted butter), and dust with a little flour.
Fill each hole about three-quarters full to allow for expansion. Bake for seven minutes until golden. Remove from the oven and let rest in the tray for five to six minutes before tipping on to a cooling rack.
You can eat them as they are or make a quick glaze by mixing the icing sugar and lime juice. Brush the glaze generously on one side, leave to set for a couple of minutes then flip and brush the other side, again leaving to set. You can store the madeleines in an airtight container for three to four days, if you do not eat them all at once.
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