60. The History of Madeleines


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By Diana Stegall. Discovered by Player FM and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not Player FM, and audio is streamed directly from their servers. Hit the Subscribe button to track updates in Player FM, or paste the feed URL into other podcast apps.
“A party without a cake is just a meeting.” – Julia Child

It’s our birthday!! Today, The Land of Desire kicks off its fifth year and what better way to celebrate than with a little cake? This week, I’m focusing on the history of one of my favorite French treats: the humble, beloved madeleine! “One could almost call the madeleine France’s national cookie” wrote Patricia Wells in the New York Times back in 1983. She didn’t know about the endless macaron obsession that was still to come, but I think she has a point. This week, pull up a chair, pour a cup of tea, and definitely make sure to sign up for the newsletter (hint: I’m sharing my favorite recipe!!!) while we celebrate the life and times of the French madeleine.

Episode 60: “Madeleines”

Madeleine miscellany:

Plate of madeleines with cup of tea
This podcast host’s own recent batch of madeleines, steaming hot out of the oven, paired with French tea, pour faire goûter.
Picture of scallop shell
A scallop shell on display at Santiago de Compostela’s Museo de las Peregrinaciones (Pilgrimages Museum), dating to prior to 1120.

Signpost with engraved seashell
Signpost on the Camino de Santiago de Campostela, with the iconic seashell engraving indicating that pilgrims were on the right path.

Traditional box of madeleines de Commercy
Traditional oval box of Madeleines de Commercy, in a fir box from the nearby Vosges forests.

Women standing next to train station selling madeleines in Commercy.
Women of Commercy selling their traditional local madeleines to a new kind of pilgrim: railroad passengers.


Further Reading:

  • I made a whole list on Bookshop of my favorite French food books!
  • Sigh. Sometimes you finish putting your finishing touches on an episode…and discover an entire treasure trove of rich information about your subject that you somehow failed to uncover after weeks of research. This would be a different episode if I’d come across the following (brilliant) essay earlier: How Marcel Proust killed the Commercy madeleine
  • Cake: A History by Nicola Humble is FASCINATING. She made me re-think the entire idea of what it means for something to be a cake. Super recommended, discovering this book was one of the highlights of researching this episode.
  • Turns out I wanted to know more about antique French copper cookware? Maybe you do, too.

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