I took this photo the first time I saw la Tour Eiffel.
It was a grey afternoon in Autumn 2008 – my first time in Paris – and I was playing tourist on a two-hour bus ride taking in the highlights and monuments of the city. I thought it would help me get my bearings.
Instead I was giddy – partly because I was so excited to have finally ‘made it’ to Paris and partly because the never-ending rows of stone buildings, timber shutters and iron balconies had disoriented me. It was all monotone and I was struggling to identify a street or landmark to recalibrate my navigation. As I endeavoured to retrace our bus route on a paper map I just became more jumbled. Where was Google maps when I needed it? (iPhones were just on the market!) Slumping back in my seat I gave up on directions and distracted myself with the minutiae of the city. Paris was busy, with well-dressed workers returning to their offices after prix fixe lunch dates with colleagues. I watched the spent leaves of the changing season dance along the pavement in the squally wind. There were coats and scarves outside on that grey afternoon and I was a disoriented but cosy voyeur in my bus bubble.
Pressed up against the window, absorbed by the comings and goings of the sophisticated Parisians, the Eiffel Tower caught me by surprise. Our bus driver had, for some reason, deliberately paused in an intersection and as I stretched across the bus aisle to see what was going on, guessing a street march or protest, the Eiffel Tower materialised just a few hundred metres away. Now I was giddy from holding my breath! It was omnipotent – 81 stories of looming grey iron held strong with two and a half million rivets right there at the end of the boulevard of limestone facades. The stop in the traffic was just long enough for me to wrangle my camera to take this candid shot (no iPhone, remember?) It’s no work of art but it is special to me as it captures the precise moment when I first saw the Eiffel Tower in all of its grey metal glory.
The bus driver pushed on and as the tour continued we took in the street views of Notre Dame, the Arc de Triomphe and the Champs Elysées among other manmade icons. So much limestone – but a few touches of gilding too! And at the end of the round trip I decided two things were needed to mend my broken internal GPS and to celebrate my arrival in Paris – a sweet French treat and a coupe de champagne.
That afternoon I tasted my first Madeleine. For those of you who have not been introduced to these little rays of sunshine, Madeleines are small, sponge-like cakes baked late in the afternoon and enjoyed by children after school or grown ups at night with a cup of tea after the evening meal. On this grey afternoon my warm, golden Madeleine, flavoured with lemon rind and shaped in the tradition of a delicate seashell, was utterly restoring.
And as I stood on the edge of the Seine finishing the crumbs, the late afternoon sun peeped through the low clouds turning grey limestone all around me golden – like the colour of champagne. With the Tuileries Garden behind me I could see the Eiffel Tower in the distance over on the Left Bank, the flying buttresses of Notre Dame Cathedral on the Ile de la Cité and the gilded tip of the Luxor Obelisk at Place de la Concorde very nearby. It seemed I was beginning to get my bearings. Was it the Madeleine? Maybe it was the sugar hit? No matter – I was ready to find some champagne to celebrate!
The recipe (below) is borrowed from the Art of French Baking by Ginette Mathiot. I gave this book to my husband in Christmas 2011 when he was going through a baking phase – how clever of me! You will need Madeleine tins.
- 125g butter, melted and cooled plus extra for greasing
- 2 eggs
- 150g caster sugar
- 150g plain flour, sifted, plus extra for dusting
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract OR grated zest of 1 lemon (depending on what flavour you would like – I’m a vanilla fan!)
- pinch of salt
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius.
Grease your Madeleine tins with butter and lightly dust with plain flour.
Whisk the eggs and sugar with an electric whisk for 5 minutes until pale and tripled in volume (I use my whick attachment on the Kitchen Aid)
Slowly fold in the flour and butter, then the vanilla OR lemon zest and pinch of salt.
Chill the batter in the refrigerator for 2 hours before baking.
Gently spoon the batter into the prepared tins, half full and bake for 8-10 minutes.
Madeleines are at their best when enjoyed not long out of the oven!