Carrot Cake is not my Madeleine

“An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses, something isolated, detached, with no suggestion of its origin. And at once the vicissitudes of life had become indifferent to me, its disasters innocuous, its brevity illusory – this new sensation having had on me the effect which love has of filling me with a precious essence; or rather this essence was not in me it was me. I had ceased now to feel mediocre, contingent, mortal. Whence could it have come to me, this all-powerful joy? I sensed that it was connected with the taste of the tea and the cake, but that it infinitely transcended those savours, could, no, indeed, be of the same nature. Whence did it come? What did it mean? How could I seize and apprehend it?” – Marcel Proust

Ever since I discovered the meaning of a Proustian Moment, I have wanted to experience one. When I stumbled upon my old carrot cake recipe, I thought perhaps I hit paydirt. About ten years ago I went on a quest to make the best carrot cake possible for my husband’s 30th birthday. Through an amalgamation of recipes, I came up with what I believed to be the best. I remembered it as gooey and sweet, an ambrosia of carrots, pineapple, and coconut under a thick blanket of cream cheese frosting.

When I bit into the cake, no memories rushed back to me. The rich, sensory overload of early love did not infuse my mind. I did not remember the unencumbered, pre-children days where I could be eating cake at two in the morning with a group of friends with nothing on my horizon but a lazy Saturday and Sunday. Instead, I bit into the cake and thought, too much carrot.

The recipe calls for three cups of carrots and usually I used the Bolthouse Sweet Petites to grind up in my food processor. Instead, I was seduced by the sale price of some organic matchstick carrots at Meijer’s. Lesson one: you cannot get the same cake with different ingredients. Yes, there is a metaphor embedded here.

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I had also forgot the extravagance of the ingredients: two cups of white flour, two cups of granulated sugar, one and a half cups of vegetable oil, and four eggs. It seemed treasonous to cover and soak my organic carrots in this. Oh, to have the metabolism of my 20s again!

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Clearly, Proust was not worried about his waistline when he was dipping the infamous madeleine in his tea. He certainly did not practice moderation in his sentence lengths:

“And as in the game wherein the Japanese amuse themselves by filling a porcelain bowl with water and steeping in it little pieces of paper which until then are without character or form, but, the moment they become wet, stretch and twist and take on colour and distinctive shape, become flowers or houses or people, solid and recognizable, so in that moment all the flowers in our garden and in M. Swann’s park, and the water-lilies on the Vivonne and the good folk of the village and their little dwellings and the parish church and the whole of Combray and its surroundings, taking shape and solidity, sprang into being, town and gardens alike, from my cup of tea.”

What decadent syntax!

Back to my unproustian moment: I remember that the cake took a full hour to bake at my old house before the toothpick would come out cleanly. Here, at 40 minutes, it showed signs of being overdone.

The best cake moment came not when I tried to reproduce the past but to improve upon it. I found cream cheese frosting recipe, so good, eating it could be called a religious experience: http://realhousemoms.com/best-cream-cheese-frosting/

My taste buds sang like the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

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“But when from a long-distant past nothing subsists, after the people are dead, after the things are broken and scattered, taste and smell alone, more fragile but more enduring, more unsubstantial, more persistent, more faithful, remain poised a long time, like souls, remembering, waiting, hoping, amid the ruins of all the rest; and bear unflinchingly, in the tiny and almost impalpable drop of their essence, the vast structure of recollection.”

In conclusion, even if I used the same carrots and baked the cake in the same oven, I do not believe I would have experienced a Proustian moment. I suppose the years altered me in such a way that not even tastes arouse the same visceral actions.

My unproustian carrot cake recipe:

  • 3 cups grated carrots (I recommend sweet petite baby carrots)
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups white sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 4 eggs

  • 1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 (8 ounce) can crushed pineapple with juice
  • 1 cup shredded sweetened coconut

Bake for 40 minutes at 350 degrees.

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