Mad About Madeline- Orange-Cardamom Madelines- 23 eggs, 15 1/2 cups of sugar, 11 1/2 sticks of Butter, and 17 3/4 cups of flour used so far- 162 recipes to go!

April 1, 2010


Martha's Orange-Cardamom Madelines

I forgot to take a picture of mine. Oops! Sue me!

She sent for one of those squat plump little cakes called “petites madeleines,” which look as though they had been molded in the fluted valve of a scallop shell … I raised to my lips a spoonful of the tea in which I had soaked a morsel of the cake. 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 invaded my senses … – Marcel Proust (1871-1922)

Not a bad endorsement for a really amazing cookie, huh?

The origin of the madeline is a little convoluted. There are multiple stories as to what circumstances first led to the invention of this marvelous tea cake. One story references 18th century nuns who sold the cakes to support their convent. Another tells the tale of a young girl named Madeline who baked these delicacies for a deposed Polish king, and yet, another story places the origin in the 19th century with a famous pastry chef who baked the little cakes in aspic molds.

What is aspic?- you may ask.

If you replaced the usual Jell-O flavors of Cherry, Lime, and Orange with Lamb Brains, Beef Cheeks, and Pork Maw you’d have aspic. Dee-lish! Duh-Rool!

On a recent trip to NYC I picked up a madeline pan in a really terrific kitchen store in Brooklyn. Madelines are really quite easy to prepare. It is a simple, buttery cake batter that is thrown together and baked in a generously buttered, shell-like form. The added surprise in this recipe was the addition of Cardamom. You can read my reflections on this spice in one of my earlier posts. A small amount of Cardamom goes a long way with these delicate and spongy cakes and adds an almost tropical tang to the cookie.

After they’ve baked, a simple glaze of orange juice, zest, and powdered sugar are whipped up and drizzled over the top to add a wonderful aroma and nice citrusy bite.

I love the name Madeline. Always have.

As a child I looked forward to The Carol Burnett Show on Saturday nights. I think this was where my affection for comedy and comics started.  Carol, Vickie, Harvey, Lyle, and Tim could always produce a chuckle. My mom and I would sit huddled on the orange shag carpet, surrounded by the dark wood paneled walls, her face lit only by the flicker emminating from the old Zenith.

We’d lay on our bellies in anticipation of the moments when Tim’s antics would make Harvey break character. Harvey would laugh. The studio audience would laugh. And my mother, would explode in one joyous, concise roar.

That’s how my mother laughs. Always has. Always will. I imagine the years of systematic Catholicism have instilled in Mom a sense of guilt around expressions of joy. So much so, that when her body wants to respond to hilarity, a tiny voice says, “Okay, Kitty, you have exactly two seconds in which to express your glee.” The result is a loud snarl consisting of unbridled happiness and aggressive restraint. It might, perhaps, best be described as the last sound a fox makes when it is caught in a trap.

My mother’s name is Kathryn, but most people refer to her as Kitty. I think that’s pretty awesome. Her friends and family have called her Kitty since high school. Each time I hear someone use Mom’s nickname it makes me smile. Nerdy girls rarely have nicknames like Kitty.

I miss our Saturday night Carol & the Gang ritual. I have to admit, when I see reruns on television, I will sit and watch them all the way to the end and they still make me laugh.

One of the regular guests on the show was Madeline Kahn. I was so enamored by her. She was tiny but as soon as she stepped into a scene she owned every moment. I remember a skit where Carol played a favorite character of mine, Eunice. Eunice lived in the suburb of a small Southern town with her henpecked husband and her disapproving mother. Eunice was the absolute definition of Camp. She had big dreams, enormous passions, outrageous ambitions, and not a scrap of talent or skill to her name.

Madeline Kahn was introduced to this skit in the role of Eunice’s acting teacher from the local community theatre. Hilarity ensued. After several failed attempts to get Eunice to relax and utter a properly emoted  gasp, she exits dropping all her theatrical affectations. In the doorway she turns with an arched eyebrow and utters a line delivered so coldly you could mix a martini on it.

“When I talk about this… and I will… I won’t forget to mention… your gasps!”

Many years later, while working a part-time job in a record and sheet music store in Times Square, I had the pleasure of waiting on Madeline Kahn.

She was so tiny, with the brightest red hair. Despite her lack of height, she commanded attention with her charm and her quirky stare.

I remember every word she said. It’s a script I’ve devoted to memory.

M- “Would you mind helping me locate a piece of music?”

A- “Oh, My God! You’re Madeline Kahn!”

M- “Yes, dear. I have been for quite some time. I’m looking for a piece of music called ‘Ben.'”

A- “The Michael Jackson song?”

M- “Yeah, the one from that movie about the rat.”

A- “I think we have it in an anthology. Let me check. By the way, I have to tell you that I’ve loved everything you’ve done, but my favorite was the Eunice sketch on Carol Burnett.”

She looked at me as if she didn’t know what I was talking about.

I located the anthology but with a fifty-dollar price tag, she decided to pass. I escorted her to the door.

She paused and spun angrily at me, and with a raised eyebrow said…

“When I talk about this… And I will… I won’t forget to mention…

Your smile!”

She gave me a peck on the cheek and with a giggle she was out the door.

Madeline died of ovarian cancer in December of 1999, a little over ten years after our sheet music incident. She was 57.

I’ll never forget my chance encounter with her, not just because she was a celebrity. You see, we all have a finite number of moments in our life where we can make others laugh. Madeline spent her moments on millions and millions of people but still had the generosity to save one just for me.

I’m not really sure if I understand what class is, but I’m sure it looks something like this.

Goodnight, Madeline.

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6 Responses to “Mad About Madeline- Orange-Cardamom Madelines- 23 eggs, 15 1/2 cups of sugar, 11 1/2 sticks of Butter, and 17 3/4 cups of flour used so far- 162 recipes to go!”

  1. Rachael Koske Says:

    What a fabulous encounter! I also love to watch reruns of that show and am always pissed that they are not on more often. I will even sit through the LPB fundraising commentary whenever they show them…

  2. Tommy Salami Says:

    Wow, I loved that show and Madeline Kahn was one of my favorites. I’ll never forget her singing “Ain’t Got No Home” on SNL. What a great story.

  3. Scott Buttefield Says:

    Andre, you have absolutely the BEST stories and you tell them so well.

  4. Mary Gemmell Says:

    Love your real life stories and I have had a lot of laughs. The story about Madeline is a memorable one.

  5. Russ Says:

    I never knew what aspic was. Now I do… and I can’t say I’m happy about it.

  6. Tommy Says:

    Here’s Madeline on the Carol Burnett show:


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