What kind of recipe can you make for a book about the holocaust? I was tempted to skip the food this week and just go with the review, but then I realized Madeleines would be appropriate for Sarah's Key. The book, by Tatiana de Rosnay, is about the Vel D'Hiv roundup in Paris in the summer of 1942, where French police arrested over 13,000 Jews living in Paris and held them at the Vel D'Hiv, a cycling stadium. Eventually, the French police loaded them on trains which eventually took them to Auschwitz and the gas chambers. Sarah's Key tells the story of Sarah, both a ten year old girl whose family is arrested in the Vel D'Hiv roundup and Julia, an American journalist living in present day Paris and writing an article on the Vel D'Hiv roundup on its 60th Anniversary. The book switches between chapters from Sarah's perspective in 1942 and Julia's perspective today (detailing both Julia's own personal life as well as her investigation of Vel D'Hiv). Madeleines seemed the appropriate recipe for Sarah's Key because (a) they are French and (b) of what they symbolize - remembrance. Madeleines, as you can see, are fairly simply little tea cakes. They were made into a literary icon by Proust in his book, Remembrance of Things Past - a massive novel I have never attempted to read. In the book, the little Madeleine cookie Proust dips into his tea serves as an instant trigger for him to remember his childhood, and hence became a symbol for memory and our unbreakable link to the past. Here, let them serve to remind us to never forget the victims of Vel D'Hiv.
I thought half of this book was really moving and the other half was like watching the Lifetime Movie Channel. Obviously the parts of the book told from Sarah's perspective during the 1942 Vel D'Hiv roundup were heatbreaking and gripping. De Rosnay did a wonderful job telling the story through Sarah's voice in a way that was both profound and believable. Unfortunately, the portions of the book about Julia, which include the whole second half of the book, were so lightweight in comparison it was hard to want to keep reading. De Rosnay does capture the readers attention in the second half of the book by creating connections between Sarah's story and Julia's, but these connections seemed far fetched and in the end were unsatisfying. Even though I did not love the Julia portions of the book, I am glad I read Sarah's Key because I was not really aware of the Vel D'Hiv roundup and had not read much in the past about the Holocaust in France. I do recommend it for this reason.
Madeleines Adapted from Dorie Greenspan's recipe in Baking From My Home to Yours Ingredients
2/3 cup all purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
Pinch of salt
1/2 cup sugar
Grated zest of 1 lemon
2 large eggs, at room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3/4 stick (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
Confectioners' sugar for dusting
Directions: Whisk together the flour baking powder and salt. Working in the bowl of a mixer or a regular bowl if you don't have a mixer, rub the sugar and lemon zest together until the sugar is moist and fragrant.
Working with a whisk attachment of the mixer or a handmixer, beat the two eggs and sugar togeyher on medium high spped until pale, think and light colored, about 3-4 minutes. Then beat in the vanilla. Admission here, I totally forgot the vanilla. And I didn't even realize it till I was typing this recipe! So, the cookies taste great without it. But I think now they would certainly have been better with the vanilla, so don't forget it!
With a rubber spatula, gently fold in the dry ingredients, followed by the melted butter. Be sure to really incorporate the butter. Press a piece of plastic wrap on top of the batter and refrigerate the batter for at least 3 hours or up to 2 days.
Dorie says the long refrigeration helps the batter form the hump that is characteristic of madeleines. Prepare a madeleine mold (I used Pam, you could also butter and flour. Be meticulous here, it is necessary). Preheat oven 400 degrees. Spoon batter into molds almost to the top. I went ahead and filled them to the top, and as you see below, this was too much batter. So don't fill the mold to the top!
Bake until golden and the tops spring back when you touch them, about 11 - 13 minutes. Remove the madeleine from the mold (tap the pan on the counter then gently pry out) and let cool on rack. Dust with confectioners sugar before serving. This is the first time I made madeleines, they were much easier than I thought and a delicious little tea cake.