Vertigo: Bittersweet Chocolate Madeleine Recipe

Year Released: 
Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock
Starring: Jimmy Stewart, Kim Novak, Barbara Bel Geddes
(Not Rated, 128 min.)

"Blondes make the best victims. They’re like virgin snow that shows up the bloody footprints." Alfred Hitchcock

Kim Novak turns down the heat to become Hitchcock’s icy blonde, but she’s hot enough to melt Mr. Nice Guy, Jimmy Stewart, the ex-cop charged with watching over her. Rediscover why Hitchcock is the one everyone imitates as you are sucked into this vortex of lust, obsession, and longing in what some consider his finest film ever.

The opening sequence is as economical as it is breathtaking. John (Scottie) Ferguson (Stewart) and a fellow officer chase a suspect over the heights of San Francisco, but Scottie slips and is left hanging on to a rickety gutter as he looks down on the distant pavement below. When his fellow officer tries to save him, he falls to his death, and somehow, though it is never sufficiently explained, Scottie does not.

His body mends, but afterward Scottie is a shadow of himself, having quit the police force, aimless if not paralyzed by his guilt and fear. Having nothing else to do with his time, except trade old quips and memories with ex-sweetheart and now best buddy Midge (Barbara Bel Geddes), he reluctantly agrees to size up the mysterious wanderings of Madeleine Elster, the wealthy heiress married to an old college chum.

It seems Madeleine is given to dreamlike trances and strange visitations to museums, graveyards, and ancient hotels, and somehow slowly being taken over by the spirit of her great grandmother, a discarded lover who took her own life at age 26.

“Madeleine is 26,” a worried Gavin Elster intones.

Scotty’s first arranged sighting of Madeleine is from across the room in an elegant restaurant, her platinum coif and alabaster back about all he can see. Then she gets up from the table and almost floats toward him, a haunting ice princess vision in a flowing white gown, trimmed in green, her colors throughout the film.

As Scottie follows from afar in the next several days he at first remains discreetly distant, observing her from his car, and then through mirrors, doors and windows, all of these symbolic portals to an altered reality. One portal is too real, and lethal, though, and that is the cold water of the Bay just below the Famed San Francisco Bridge. After fishing Madeleine out and taking her back to his apartment, where Scottie must remove her wet clothes - don’t you always like that obligatory cinematic tradition - while she lingers between sleep and wakefulness, things obviously began to get a little more personal. 

Now, of course, Scottie is not falling from a San Francisco skyscraper, but this fall is even more powerful than one owing to gravity. The only break he and we - his fellow voyagers through the vortex - get are the brief visits to motherly Midge’s apartment, where sanity and normalcy are as real as her very practical glasses and the special uplift brassiere she sketches as a lingerie artist. Of course, we know she longs for Johnny –she’s the only one in the film who calls him that – and somehow we sense that there is a bit of a tiger beneath the sweet smile and camouflaged svelte form, but the closest Johnny ever gets to her lingerie is a bemused glance at the model she sketches. 

The film is filled with Freudian symbols and images, almost self-consciously so, what with the dreamlike trances, towering precipices, watery depths, as well as a plethora of windows, doorways, and mirrors, but one can make the case that behind all these deliberate psycho-props, Hitchcock is inadvertently revealing his own persona. As amply noted by critics, the blonde beauties that inhabit his films are generally unattainable, distant, deceitful, and usually get their share of well-earned humiliation. In Vertigo Madeleine is controlled not only by her haunting visions, but also by the very authoritarian men in her life, a complaint many a blonde starlet could and did make against the famed corpulent director.

Is it a far cry to wonder if behind the ironic and cynical Hitchcock there lurked a creature of desire and longing, a shunned fat boy who only in his voyeuristic cinematic adventures could get and then resoundingly reject the unattainable icy blonde?

—Kathy Borich

Film-Loving Foodie

What better delectable treat to nibble on as you watch Vertigo than the French biscuit that shares a name with Kim Novak’s Madeleine? Unlike other European biscuits, this is soft and cake like inside, not unlike the film’s Madeleine, aloof and formal outside, but vulnerable within. To French novelist Marcel Proust, just to taste the baked delicacies was to bring back childhood’s memories of loss and longing.

Bittersweet Chocolate Madeleines

“Madeleines were made famous by Marcel Proust in his novel 'Remembrance of Things Past' in which he wrote: "She sent out for one of those short, plump little cakes called 'petites madeleines', which look as though they had been moulded in the fluted scallop of a pilgrim's shell...... An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses....". Of course, after reading this passage we are all curious about and want to taste these little cakes. History dates their beginnings to the 18th century in the French town of Commercy, in the region of Lorraine. The story goes that a girl name Madeleine made them for Stanislaw Lezczynski, Duke of Lorraine, who loved them so much that he then gave some to his daughter, Marie, the wife of Louis XV. Their popularity grew from that point on and if we fast forward to today we know that they are now enjoyed in many countries around the globe. Madeleines are made with a genoise batter (sponge) which is a combination of butter, sugar, eggs, flour, and are traditionally flavored with lemon or orange flower water. What makes these little cakes so enticing is that the batter is poured into special oval shaped molds with ribbed indentations that gives them their classic shell shape. So whether you enjoy them plain or dipped in your tea or coffee, these small petit fours sec make the perfect afternoon treat.” Stephanie Jaworski

  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour

  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder

  • 1/8 teaspoon salt

  • 3 large eggs, at room temperature

  • 2/3 cup granulated white sugar

  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Note: If you make miniature madeleines, reduce the baking time to about 7-9 minutes.

(Bittersweet Chocolate Madeleines - Melt 4 ounces bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate (in pieces) in top of double boiler (stainless steel bowl over a saucepan) until melted. Let cool slightly. Follow the above recipe but add the melted chocolate to the batter after adding the melted butter. Proceed with recipe.) 

First, melt the butter and allow it to cool while you make the batter.

In a small bowl place the flour, baking powder and salt and whisk until well blended. 

In the bowl of your electric mixer, beat the eggs and sugar at medium-high speed until the mixture has tripled in volume and forms a thick ribbon when the beaters are lifted (about 5 minutes). Add the vanilla extract and beat to combine. 

Sift a small amount of flour over the egg mixture and, using a large rubber spatula, fold the flour mixture into the beaten eggs to lighten it. Sift the rest of the flour over the egg mixture and fold in being sure not to overmix or the batter will deflate.

Whisk a small amount of the egg mixture into the melted butter to lighten it. Then fold in the cooled melted butter in three additions. Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, or several hours, until slightly firm. 

Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Generously butter two 12-mold madeleine pans. Dust the molds with flour and tap out the excess. (Could spray pans with Bakers Joy instead.) (Make sure the pans are well greased or the madeleines will stick and be hard to remove.)

Drop a generous tablespoonful of the batter into the center of each prepared mold, leaving the batter mounded in the center. (This will result in the classic "humped" appearance of the madeleines.) 

Bake the madeleines for 11 to 13 minutes, until the edges are golden brown and the centers spring back when lightly touched. Do not overbake these cookies or they will be dry.

Remove the pans from the oven and rap each pan sharply against a countertop to release the madeleines. Transfer the madeleines, smooth sides down, to wire racks to cool. The madeleines are best served the same day but can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for 2 to 3 days or frozen, well wrapped, for up to 1 month. 

When serving dust with confectioners sugar. 

Other Variation: Lemon-Poppy Seed Madeleines - Substitute 3/4 cup (150 grams) granulated white sugar for 2/3 cup white sugar, substitute 1/2 teaspoon pure lemon extract plus 1 teaspoon finely minced lemon zest for 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, and add l tablespoon poppy seeds after adding butter. Proceed with recipe.

Recipe Source: