This weekend, France celebrates Saint Madeleine’s Day on 22 July. I should confess to having a particular soft spot for madeleines; not only do I love eating the melt-in-the mouth cakes but my teenage daughter is called Madeleine. This first name seemed an obvious choice for a little Brit born and growing up in France as it was understood on both sides of the Channel… but back to the cakes! Legend has it that a certain ‘madeleine’ made the very first of the said cakes for pilgrims en route to Santiago de Compostela in Spain, and she used a scallop shell mould, the symbol of the route, to give the madeleines the distinctive shape they have to this day.
Normandy boasts its very own madeleine producer, the Biscuiterie Jeanette 1850. Based just east of Caen in Démouville, this company has been making biscuits since 1850 and, like most businesses, has had its ups and downs over the years. In 2015, the workforce together with the financial backing of a local entrepreneur Georges Viana, determinedly fought off bankruptcy to save its 150 years of traditional savoir-faire. The new company is now going strong and is a real local success story. One of the main reasons for this is their supremely yummy madeleines, which combine the traditional cake with quirkily modern flavours such as almond, chocolate, pistachio and citrus fruits. A luxury range of madeleines, created for Jeanette by the master chef, Philippe Parc, comes in flavours like Damas rose, Asian citrus fruits, chocolate with pistachio, rapsberry, mandarine and vanilla, and a range of organic madeleines is new for 2017.
And now I have whet your taste buds, would you like to know where to get hold of these madeleines?
- Visitors to the Jeanette factory can take full advantage of its shop, which is open on weekday afternoons from 1pm to 6pm and on Saturdays from 10am to 5pm
- Elsewhere in France, Jeannette madeleines can be found in many outlets across Normandy and in the surrounding areas
- Outside France, madeleine enthusiasts can get their fill by ordering via the Jeannette mail order service (shipping overseas is possible on request)
Now for a little cultural history with a madeleine moment. Marcel Proust, the author of A la Recherche du Temps Perdu, sets a key scene in the novel around the sensory experience of eating the madeleine and drinking the tea offered by his aunt, which makes the narrator go back to his childhood memories. Room 414 on the 4th floor of the sumptous Grand Hôtel in Cabourg was Proust’s summer home for seven summers in a row from 1907, where he retreated to Normandy from the heat and hubbub of the capital. It is here that he is said to have written much of the A la Recherche du Temps Perdu. If you would like to sip tea and nibble on madeleines like Proust’s character, why not treat yourself to a few days in the Grand Hôtel in the very room which inspired the novelist? Situated on the promenade, the Grand Hôtel is a wonderful place to stay, combining five-star glamour with the informality of a family-friendly, seaside hotel. The Sunday buffet lunch is a banquet fit for a king with its seafood spread being the highlight for me, together with the tinkling musical accompaniment from the regular pianist on the resident baby grand.
Finally, here is a short video which shows you how to make your very own madeleines if you would like to celebrate in spirit with me and my daughter this weekend: www.youtube.com/watch?v=fOIiR_zYbEc
And if your madeleines are a storming success, why not enter the amateur madeleine baking competition held in Cabourg this September at the tea room La Maison Dupont avec Thé?
Bon appétit et bonne fête Madeleine !
For more information on food and drink in Normandy, visit the Normandy Tourist Board website.
Photos © Biscuiterie Jeannette 1850 unless otherwise stated | Text: Alison Weatherhead