Pass The Recipe

Edmund Levin asks: Can you reverse-engineer Marcel Proust’s madeleine? Starting with the description of the famed cake in Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past, Levin tries to glean as much information as possible about how it was cooked.

Proust’s madeleine was quite dry. It demanded not just a quick dunk, but immersion to “soften” it (according to the new translation by Lydia Davis, said to be the most accurate). And, you’ll note, Marcel never bites the cookie. The memory surge is triggered by crumbs.

The Crumb Factor is the key to this culinary mystery. A close analysis of the text yields the following sequence: Marcel 1) breaks off and drops the morsel into the tea. 2) The madeleine piece then wholly or partially disintegrates during its immersion. 3) Marcel then fishes about with his spoon, yielding a spoonful of tea mixed with crumbs.

The question, then: What recipe would deliver this dry, extraordinary crumb-producer?

There are even black-and-white line drawings to accompany the argument. Is Levin a true literary sleuth? Or just someone with too much time on his hands?

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