From the selection of curious and unfamiliar cheeses to the original deli items, there are few things I revel in seeing in a new country more than the shelves of the grocery store. For my Paris days, the Monoprix on Rue Du Temple in the Marais district was my go-to, the place I went for my awkward first night in the city to buy fruit, pasta sauce and the buttermilk I’d mistaken for milk that I would be stocking my one-month apartment rental with. I didn’t know it then, but there was nothing at Monoprix that would so single-mindedly come to tempt my palette more than the Bonne Maman madeleines that sat on the very bottom shelf among the packaged cookies.
To the French writer Marcel Proust, the madeleine was responsible for the involuntary memories that could be conjured up with taste and, in a similar way, the mere sight of a Bonne Maman madeleine has come to recall those Paris days for me. The red and white plastic package that contained twelve individually wrapped madeleines became a fixture of my Paris apartment, and there was never not a bag sitting atop my silver kitchen table. Whether covered in chocolate or heated and slathered in leftover butter, my love for them marked an obsession with a packaged cake that is unlikely to be matched again in my lifetime.
My first return to Paris after visiting the city five years earlier had been brought about by many things. I had already been planning a 6-month journey through Europe that would take me through France, but the idea of stopping over for an extended period in a city I already loved seemed too romantic to pass up. I wanted, again, to see the vast green parks and cafés with their outward-turned chairs, explore the markets and the English language bookstores, and reignite my love for a place that had so overwhelmed me upon our first meeting. Unexpectedly, it was early upon my arrival that searching for the very best of pastry offerings – from the best Rum Baba to the tangiest lemon tart – became my highest priority.