Marcel Proust immortalized these plain French sweets in Swann's Way when he wrote of them evocatively in a poetic passage that begins: "My mother, seeing that I was cold, offered me some tea. . . . She sent out for one of those short, plump little cakes called 'petites madeleines,' which look as though they had been molded in the fluted scallop of a pilgrim's shell. And soon . . . I raised to my lips a spoonful of the tea in which I had soaked a morsel of the cake."
Yield: 3½ to 4 dozen
4 eggs, at room temperature
Pinch of salt
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup flour
¼ pound butter, melted and cooled
1. Grease well and flour pans for 4 dozen madeleines. If only half this many pans are available, cut the recipe in half and make it again. This is because the butter, on standing, settles to the bottom and causes a heavy rough layer. Place racks near the bottom of the oven and preheat the oven to 400°F.
2. Beat the eggs with the salt, adding sugar gradually, until the mixture stands in very stiff peaks. Add vanilla.
3. Sift about one quarter of the flour at a time over the egg mixture and fold it in until no flour shows.
4. Add the butter about a tablespoon at a time and fold it in as quickly as possible. Fill the prepared pans about three quarters full, place in oven immediately and bake until brown, about 10 minutes.