Madeleine cakes started as toast?

PARIS • The "madeleines" - little French sponge cakes - that writer Marcel Proust made famous in his book In Search Of Lost Time might first have been toast, according to uncovered manuscripts published in France on Thursday.

A first draft of the novel dating from 1907 had the author reminiscing not about madeleines, a sensory trigger for a childhood memory about his aunt, but about toasted bread mixed with honey.

A second draft had the evocative edible as a biscotto, a hard biscuit.

It was only in the third draft that Proust wrote that he had bitten into a soft little madeleine.

Saint-Peres, a publisher in Paris, showed the shifting food references in three handwritten manuscripts by Proust that it will print as a three- part notebook for sale.

The madeleine anecdote is one of the key passages in In Search Of Lost Time (known as A La Recherche Du Temps Perdu in French) and underlines the work's major theme of involuntary memory, in which an experience such as an aroma or a taste unexpectedly unlocks a past recollection.

Proust is considered one of France's most influential authors of the 20th century and the French today still use the expression "Proust's madeleine" to refer to a sensory cue that triggers a memory.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 21, 2015, with the headline 'Madeleine cakes started as toast?'. Subscribe