Monday, September 7, 2009

Proust Revisited: Madeleines and Lime Blossom Tea

The only thing that came between the narrator of Remembrance of Things Past and his madeleine was lime blossom tea. It seeped into buttery crevices, engorging the sponge-like texture of the petite scalloped tea cake before exploding into precious pearls of memory on the tongue. Finding a great madeleine recipe can be as challenging as sourcing artisanal lime blossom tea, but the effort is worthwhile. There's no substitute for indulging in a freshly baked madeleine dipped in a cup of genuine Carpentras tilleul. Glass Petal Smoke shares a personal madeleine recipe and a reliable tea source so Proustian ecstasy can be yours.

Lime blossom, also known as linden blossom or tilleul in French, is a source of tea and monofloral honey. The best tilleul comes from the village of Carpentras in Provence and has become difficult to procure due to a decline in production. Cheap and poor quality tilleul produced in China and Europe continues to threaten French cultivation and harvest, and has resulted in substandard lime blossom tisanes in the marketplace. (A poor example is Pompadour brand with notes of astringent hay and a flat, urine-like bouquet.) Harney and Sons Teas carry genuine Carpentras tilleul which is conveniently packaged in bags or loose in tins. The tea has woody notes of chamomile, honey and a nascent white floral note that is distinctly reminiscent of spring.

The sensation of drinking hot tea is universal. One feels the infusion gliding down the throat, warming the body in a shroud of comfort. Imagine the sensation of Proust’s tilleul against this description of eating a madeleine in Swann's Way, the first book in the seven-volume set of Remembrance of Things Past:

“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, and the crumbs with it, touched my palate than a shudder ran through my whole body, and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary changes that were taking place. An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses, but individual, detached, with no suggestion of its origin.”

One taste of a fresh madeleine dipped in a cup of Carpentras tilleul and communion with the narrator of Swann's Way is imminent. Orange Blossom Madeleines have a gentle touch of floralcy that complements a variety of black teas so feel free to experiment with beauties like Darjeeling and Keemun.

Orange Blossom Madeleines
Recipe by Michelle Krell Kydd
Yield: 24

· 2 ½ cups Arrowhead Mills Whole Grain Organic Pastry Flour
· ½ tsp. baking powder
· ½ tsp. sea salt
· ½ tsp. Ceylon “true” cinnamon (milder than cassia cinnamon, very important)
· 1 ½ tbsp. Cortas® Orange Blossom Water
· 5 threads of saffron bled in one teaspoon of warm water
· 4 large organic eggs (room temperature)
· 4 large organic egg yolks (room temperature)
· 1 ½ cups of organic cane sugar
· 2 tsp. vanilla extract
· Grated zest of 1 large organic orange
· 2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter (melted and cooled to room temperature)

· Divide oven racks into thirds.
· Using an oven thermometer to ensure proper temperature, preheat oven to 375 degrees.
· Lightly brush two madeleine pans with melted butter or grapeseed oil.
· Sift flour, baking powder, salt and cinnamon in a small bowl. Set aside.
· In a large bowl mix whole eggs, egg yolks and sugar (thoroughly by hand or with a mixer set on medium speed). Incorporate vanilla, orange blossom water and saffron.
· Gently fold the flour mixture into the egg mixture.
· Add melted butter and incorporate.
· Using a tablespoon fill each mold until three-quarters full.
· Set one tray on each rack and bake for 15 minutes, gently reversing trays from top to bottom and front to back after 7 ½ minutes to ensure even baking. When done, madeleines will be golden brown and spring back when you touch them.
· Allow cookies to cool on a wire rack. Any remaining batter can be baked using re-prepped cookie trays.
· Serve madeleines immediately or store in an airtight container and consume within three days.

The Spice House in Chicago carries a wonderful Ceylon cinnamon that is rich in citrus tones. Cassia cinnamon, which is commonly sold in supermarkets across the U.S., is much stronger than the Ceylon variety called for in the Orange Blossom Madeleines recipe. 

Kelly Gibson wrote "On the Trail of Tilleul" in the Spring 2009 edition of Gastronomica. You can read it for free on JSTOR if you sign up for a free account.

Photo of linden blossom by Ariane Cauderlier of Giverny News.