cookies en pointe, like proust’s madeleine ::::
As a child, my mother never enrolled me in dance classes. I really didn’t care. I had piano lessons; later, there was also violin. I liked to knit as a child, and produced many sweaters, scarves, and various knick-knacks. My friends would scurry off to dance classes after school, me home to watch 3-2-1- Contact on PBS and to knit a hat. I attended dance recitals of friends, some with numerous dance troupes from around the city, costume changes, dance numbers highlighting Country-Western jolliness, focused graceful reserve of ballet swans, and the clackity-clack of tap dancers in glittery bodysuits that were a little too skimpy. One close friend showed me her bruised, blistered feet, then handed me her bloodied ballet toe shoes to show me her progress. Being en pointe was a big deal, she explained. It meant that she was strong, advancing, and on her way to being a star. Despite her show of superiority, she expected way too much sympathy for her bloodied toes from someone who wasn’t all that interested in wearing skin tight bodysuits, showing a scrawny body devoid of breasts and full of rib. She then handed me, the non-dancer, the skinny late bloomer, a spent pair of toe shoes, dried blood on the inside matching her recent blisters. Here’s something to play around with, she said, as if it was suddenly a fun little jaunt to start en pointe, instead of the piteous wallowing she was subjecting me to.
I was disgusted. Her dried blood and sweat, pink satin rubbed dirty, and satin ribbons scruffy on the ends were all there in my hands, like a pair of someone else’s underwear. But curiosity got the best of me. I put on some tights, a turquoise one-piece swimsuit (I had no leotard — why would I?), and then put on the shoes, ignoring the brown spots against the ballet pink. I steadied myself with my bed banister, en pointe, arms raised in an overhead arc, my chin up. While my feet weren’t as bloodied and bruised as my friend’s, they were strong and made a perfect ballerina foot in those shoes. I felt like a graceful swan and a sugar-plum fairy, and maybe even a little less awkward in my teenaged body, with arms that seemed too long and legs that seemed more clumsy than graceful. I suddenly looked the part. That is until, I crumpled up on the floor, realizing that her dainty size 5 feet were nothing like my blocky size 8s. It was a fleeting grace, but grace all the same.
I have not spoken to my friend for many years, after we lost touch for many reasons, most of which are too damning and personal to describe here. One thing that I know, if she is anything like she was as a child now as an adult, is that she still loves sweets. She would do just about anything for chocolate, meltingly gooey with a caramel middle, or chocolate-chip cookies fresh from the oven. Any cookie fresh from the oven, in fact, buttery and sweet, would change her demeanor. Her eyes would glaze over, she would focus all her energy on how to take that first bite, and practically ignore any conversation going on, even if it involved ballet or boys.
These are the perfect cookie for my friend: buttery, sweet, and a little graceful. Madeleine cookies are heavy cookies disguised in a graceful scalloped swoop. Although these are meant to be dainty, like a ballerina’s arabesque, my eyes have easily glazed over and consumed many more than socially acceptable. The ingredients are simple, the preparation is quick, and the outcome is marvelous. You do need the special madeleine cookie pan mold to create these little shell-like cookies, but I expect using something of similar depth and size would work too.
Here’s to my childhood friend, her love of sweets, and hopes that she isn’t sharing her bloody shoes with other non-dancers. Or maybe she’s teaching them grace in another way.
- 4 large eggs
- 1⅓ cup sugar
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon grated lemon peel
- 1 pinch salt
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 12 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
- powdered sugar
- SPECIAL EQUIPMENT: madeleine cookie pan (see mine in the photo above). Mine made cookies about 3 x 1¼ inches in size.
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Generously butter and flour madeleine pan.
- Use mixer to beat eggs and sugar in a large bowl to blend. Beat in vanilla, lemon zest, and salt. Add flour; beat until blended. Gradually add cooled melted butter in steady stream, beating just until blended.
- Spoon 1 tablespoon batter into each indentation in pan. Bake until puffed and brown, about 10-16 minutes. Cool 5 minutes. Gently remove from pain. Repeat process, buttering and flouring pan before each batch. These can be made a day ahead.
- Dust cookies with powdered sugar.