Proust’s Madeleines and Literary Cookbooks: Delicious Holiday Gift Ideas

By Hannah White

One of my favorite parts of the holidays is baking delicious treats for my family and friends to enjoy. Though the holidays might look different this year, I think baking is still something that can bring us together. Whether it’s making your favorite cookies with roommates or family you live with, or recreating one of your grandmother’s recipes and dropping it off at her doorstep, there are still plenty of ways to enjoy the communion that food brings around the holidays. The holidays are also a time to reflect on the past year, and what better treat to make for the literature-lover in your life this holiday season than the sweet French confection made popular by Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time (also known as Remembrance of Things Past): the madeleine.

Many book-lovers have heard of this delicious French dessert, but if you have not, Proust uses madeleines to contrast involuntary memory with voluntary memory in this famous excerpt from his book.

“No sooner had the warm liquid mixed with the crumbs touched my palate than a shudder ran through me and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary thing that was happening to me. An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses, something isolated, detached, with no suggestion of its origin. And at once the vicissitudes of life had become indifferent to me, its disasters innocuous, its brevity illusory – this new sensation having had on me the effect which love has of filling me with a precious essence; or rather this essence was not in me it was me. … Whence did it come? What did it mean? How could I seize and apprehend it? … And suddenly the memory revealed itself. The taste was that of the little piece of madeleine which on Sunday mornings at Combray (because on those mornings I did not go out before mass), when I went to say good morning to her in her bedroom, my aunt Léonie used to give me, dipping it first in her own cup of tea or tisane. The sight of the little madeleine had recalled nothing to my mind before I tasted it. And all from my cup of tea.”

I had never tried one of these little shell-shaped famous cookies until I decided to bake them myself recently, and I was quite surprised with how easy they were to make considering their highbrow literary reputation. No special tools are required for this recipe aside from the traditionally molded pans which I ordered from Amazon. I followed this recipe for the most part, but used half the amount of lemon zest and substituted pairing the dessert with tea (as Proust does) for a strong cup of French roast coffee, and I was extremely happy with the result. This light and airy treat is like a cross between a sponge cake and a butter cookie and tastes wonderful fresh out of the oven, dipped in a hot beverage of your choice.

These beautiful cookies make for a great treat to drop off to friends or family in a decorative cookie tin for the holidays, or for you to enjoy on your own with a good book. And for the literature lovers on your holiday gift list who love to cook themselves, I’ve also curated a list of five literary cookbooks that make for great gifts:

A Literary Holiday Cookbook: Festive Meals for the Snow Queen, Gandalf, Sherlock, Scrooge, and Book Lovers Everywhere

This beautiful hardcover book doesn’t just look great on a bookshelf, but is filled with an array of recipes made famous by classic works of literature, from skillet cornbread from Little House on the Prairie, to the little cakes from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. There is a recipe in this book for every literature lover to enjoy this holiday season.

A Literary Tea Party: Blends and Treats for Alice, Bilbo, Dorothy, Jo, and Book Lovers Everywhere

From the same author of A Literary Holiday Cookbook comes this cookbook which was a finalist in the 2019 Goodreads Choice Awards: “Tea and books: the perfect pairing. There’s nothing quite like sitting down to a good book on a lovely afternoon with a steaming cup of tea beside you, as you fall down the rabbit hole into the imaginative worlds of Alice in Wonderland, The Hobbit, and The Chronicles of Narnia. Fire up your literary fancies and nibble your way through delicate sweets and savories with A Literary Tea Party, which brings food from classic books to life with a teatime twist.”

The Book Lover’s Cookbook: Recipes Inspired by Celebrated Works of Literature, and the Passages That Feature Them

What I love about this cookbook is that it cites the actual passages from these celebrated works of literature that feature these recipes, and it is sprinkled with anecdotes about writers and writing throughout.

Tequila Mockingbird: Cocktails with a Literary Twist

For those who aren’t so much into cooking, but enjoy a cocktail and a good book, this selection might be more to your taste. A 2013 Goodreads Choice Award (Food & Cookbooks) and Entertainment Weekly Great Gifts for Book Lovers, this guidebook makes for a unique gift for the literature lover in your life.

Dinner with Mr. Darcy: Recipes inspired by the novels and letters of Jane Austen

I might be biased with this one as a huge Austen fan, but this literary cookbook is especially timely with the recent release of the newest film adaptation of Emma. If you or someone you know loves Austen too, snatch this book up in time for all your holiday baking this year.

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