Freshly baked madeleines in a pile.
The Small, Delectable French Cakes That Inspired Marcel Proust
By Roger Adler
Marcel Proust's seven-volume masterwork, "In Search of Lost Time," is set in motion when a taste of tea-dipped madeleine cake releases a flood of memories. Proust was initially inspired in preliminary drafts of the novel by honey-covered toast and a biscotto before settling on the madeleine, and here's why. 
Though the treat's origin is murky, the most common story is that madeleines were created in 18th-century France by a kitchen servant named Madeleine Paulmier. The Duke of Lorraine dubbed them madeleines, and France's King Louis XV and his wife so loved the gateaux she introduced them to the French court.
The cake achieved widespread popularity in the 19th century and began to appear in cookbooks and be sold at train stations. Other stories claim that the initial madeleine recipe was devised in Spain and brought back to the Lorraine district or that pastry chef Jean Avice created them in the 1800s.
Marcel Proust's favorite butter cake has two signature characteristics: a scallop shape and pronounced ridges. A perfect madeleine will also have a spongy and soft interior contrasted with a brown and crispy exterior, and popular flavor additives include chocolate, raspberry, almond extract, or honey.