The macaron might have had most of the sweet spotlight these past few years, but that other classic French treat, the madeleine, should not be underestimated for its powers of satisfaction.
The madeleine is a little sponge in the shape of a scallop shell. Writer Marcel Proust transformed it into a cultural icon when he wrote about the cake in his epic In Search of Lost Time; early in the book, the narrator nibbles on a such a cake, soaked in tea, and the aroma and taste trigger a gush of memory, sending him in a sensorial time capsule back to his childhood, when he and his aunt Léonie would share her madeleine, dipped in lime blossom infusion. This lead to more memories still, pages and pages of them (over 3000, in fact).
For Proust, the pleasure of the madeleine was in the memories infused within. For the rest of us, our figurative madeleine might be something else altogether, but any of us can enjoy a literal madeleine purely for its light, lemon-laced loveliness. Especially when in Paris …
The Ritz Paris nook in which Proust ensconced himself, watching the Parisian social butterflies whom he’d ensnare in his thinly veiled memoir, is now Salon Proust, a delightful room of cushiony sofas, glass cabinets filled with old books and warm woodwork that glows in the soft golden light. Between 2.30 and 6pm every day, you can treat yourself to afternoon tea à la française, a generous selection of French biscuits, brioches, petits-fours and, of course, madeleines — which you can daintily dip in the Tante Léonie lime-blossom tea (among many other flavours). At 68 euros per person (88 with a glass of champagne), it’s a splurge — but the chic doggy-bag of leftovers you can request will keep you fuelled for the rest of the day (and possibly the following morning, too).
15 Place Vendôme 75001
Take a ten-minute walk east from the Place de la Bastille and you’ll find the best madeleines in town, according to numerous polls, as well as practically every foodie worth his or her fleur de sel. The magic of these particular madeleines is in their citrus glaze, which adds both subtle texture and zingy sweetness to the otherwise traditional recipe. Buy a pack of four and sit in the bandstand in the park opposite; these treats are too good to delay.
7 Rue Antoine Vollon 75012
This salon de thé was established in the nineteenth century by descendants of the Mariage brothers who had introduced tea to the court of Versailles. So, as you can imagine, it does the brew pretty well — in fact, there are over 500 concoctions to choose from, and a tea sommelier on hand to help. There are also all sorts of mouth-watering tea-friendly treats to choose from including, of course, the madeleine, reimagined in inspired ways — think pink and rose petal-infused, or Matcha-green.
30-31 Rue du Bourg Tibourg 75004; 13 Rue des Grands Augustins 75006
Grand Café Tortoni
The 3rd arrondissement, with its mix of cool bars and vegan eateries, is not at first the place where you’d expect to find a slice of glittering Belle Époque Paris, but that’s the magic of this rabbit’s hole of a district. Grand Café Tortoni, which shares a space with the second Paris outlet of the beauty brand L’Officine Universelle Buly, is a mini recreation of the legendary 19th-century Café Tortoni, one of the places to be seen on the city’s boulevards. Its modern manifestation might be smaller, but it has lost none of the celebrated Tortoni glamour. Pop in her for a shopping break, and prop yourself at the red-marble counter for a reviving cup of tea, served with a freshly baked madeleine.
45 Rue de Saintonge 75003