“There is no man however wise”, he said to me, “who has not at some time in his youth said things or even led a life of which his memory is disagreeable and which he would wish to be abolished. But he absolutely should not regret it, because he can’t be assured of becoming a sage – to the extent that that is possible – without having passed through all the ridiculous or odious incarnations that must precede that final incarnation” Marcel ProustÀ la recherché du temps perdu (vol 2. 1926)

Well one lives in hope I guess.

Given the restrictions we have observed during the last year, with almost unlimited time on our hands and an unrequested chapter of anchorite isolation, imaginations have run riot with the prospect of accessorising our ongoing enlightenment. If the broadsheet press were anything to go by, 50% of the nation quickly cleared out the all the flour mills and bakeries in the UK in order to take up Zen and the Art of Sourdough Baking (with apologies to Robert M. Pirsig). The more esoteric candidates frequently chose to master Mandarin Chinese or Mongolian throat singing online, others to hunker down and grasp the rules of Go, and finally, the aspirant literati chose to reach out once again to War and Peace, A Brief History of Time or À la recherché du temps perdu. For those that stayed their chosen course, I salute you. For the rest, I for one never want to see an explosive sourdough starter decline and fall so quickly ever again. The emotional expenditure is just too great.

And as for Go, I’m still coming to terms with the nuances of Draughts, let alone Chess. War and Peace I did once manage to complete and A Brief History of Time brings on an irrevocable coma, but I manged to relaxedly skim the pages of Marcel Proust’s mighty tome. But of course, I got stuck with the exalted cake incident. In my search for a Proustian fugue – that marriage of past and present, and one that all cooking shares – I ended up assuaging my evident literary shortcomings by baking Madeleines.

“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”. Marcel Proust

Wouldn’t you reach for a Madeleine mould with such a seductive summary?

Madeleines from The Best of Jane Grigson. At Home in France (1992)

100g unsalted butter, plus a tbsp of melted butter for greasing
125g caster sugar
3 large eggs
125g self-raising flour, plus a little extra for flouring the tin
I tbsp. orange-flour water

Grease a madeleine tin with melted butter, and gently flour, then place in refrigerator for ten minutes
Cream butter, add sugar and cream again
Beat in eggs, one at a time alternating with the flour
Stir in the orange-flower water
Fill buttered, floured tin/s to their rim, then bake until golden brown, about 5 minutes, in a pre-heated oven 220°C/475°/Gas Mark 7
Dust with icing sugar and eat soon after