The Craft of Food Writing: The Madeleine

In the past week I started taking a couple of new classes, feeding my lifelong addiction to education.

On Tuesdays, I’m taking The Craft of Food Writing with fourteen-time James Beard Award winning writer, Alan Richman, at The International Culinary Center (yes, where I work). I’ve been wanting to take this class for many years and am very excited to finally get started. Since Richman’s emphasis is on journalism, it is probably best that I waited until my days of mandatory academic writing style were over – it would have been too difficult to go back and forth.

Our first assignment was an in-class exercise in describing food, and what better food to begin with than the subject of the most famous food writing in history – Proust’s madeleines. For its notoriety, you would expect Proust’s to be the most evocative description of a madeleine ever written. What you don’t expect is that he does not actually describe the madeleine itself at all. Hence, our assignment. Describe madeleines. Of course, we had the help of the chefs from our Pastry Arts program to aid our imaginations! Here’s what I wrote (unedited):

The door opened and the smell rolled in just ahead of the wicker baskets being carried into the room. Warm madeleines. The aroma of nut-brown butter and delicate vanilla fogged the memory of the screaming crazy man outside the window. Firm, still warm on my lips. Lacy caramel crunch gives way to toothsome yet delicate cake. The aroma of butter and vanilla are joined by the subtle floral scent of lime – or is that just my imagination? I’ve always wanted to like madeleines. I guess I wanted to know what it was that excited Proust (and the world) so much. I still don’t get it. To me, they are small bits of dry, un-iced sponge cake… too cakey for cookies, too dry for cake, and in need of a tarty-sugary-lemony glaze.

On Thursdays, I am taking a professional certification class in spirits (yes, booze – it’s good to be me!) through the Wine and Spirits Education Trust (WSET) at the International Wine Center.  More on that soon.

2 thoughts on “The Craft of Food Writing: The Madeleine

  1. I took Allan’s class, it’s really great. We did the Madeleine thing too. I think the key to liking them is having them very fresh. It was amazing to have the bakery class next door bring them in right out of the oven. One of the benefits of having the class at the ICC. Enjoy yourself.

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