Summer is the season for reading, a swell time to indulge in page-turners that you might otherwise dismiss. But for others, summer is the best season to buoy our ambition to read a work of Serious Literary Weight. In honor of you brave souls, let's celebrate Marcel Proust and the cookie he immortalized, the madeleine.
It's hard enough to get through a Proust volume (has anyone really? Besides Sting, maybe--and you know he read it in French), let alone write one, so it's easy to see how madeleines would have found their way into Proust's prose.
Madeleines are small lemon sponge cakes molded in a shell shape. Pudgy and moist, they'll cushion you through the hardest passages in your chosen Big Work. (Sometimes they're dipped halfway in chocolate, a modern practice Proust would surely have approved.) Whether you're reading Proust or Austen, Franzen or DeLillo, a madeleine or two at your side is sure to, as Proust said, "invade the senses with exquisite pleasure."
This being Seattle, just about any pastry, including the madeleine, pairs well with coffee. But for longtime Paris expat Patricia Wells, author of The Food Lover's Guide to Paris, madeleines are ideal with afternoon tea. She recommends the lime-flavored tea called tilleul to brighten the cookie's lemon tones.
You can find homemade madeleines in bakeries such as Café de Lion in Queen Anne, the namesake Madeleine Bread & Desserts in the U District, and Inès Patisserie in Madison Valley at 2909 E. Madison St. (available in bags of five or six). And if you're far from home and have a fix, Whole Foods and Starbucks carry them as well. Even if you don't get through War & Peace by summer's end, at least you'll have enjoyed these remembrance of things past along the way.