Hyoju Park her first madeleine at the age of 14 in an elective high school baking class, with the small, spongy cake making an imprint on the budding pastry chef. Park spent years trying to persuade her parents to let her leave Korea and go to culinary school in London. Long story short, her determination paid off, and what followed was a qualification, a four-year stint at Attica, and the opening of Madeleine de Proust.

Park speaks to Hospitality about why she decided to make the madeleine the focus of her first business, paying homage to the flavours of home, and the efforts that go into making a madeleine look like corn — hint, it’s a three-day process.

Hyoju Park always wanted to be a pastry chef, but selling her parents on the dream took some time. They wanted her to have a back-up plan if a career in hospitality didn’t pan out, so Park attended university in Korea before she got the green light to study culinary arts and management in London.

After she completed her UK studies, Park decided to return to Korea to discover the desserts she grew up with. “I knew how to make Western desserts, but I didn’t know much about Korean desserts,” she says. “These are my roots, so I felt like I needed to learn more.”

Park was equally as interested in fine dining as she was tradition, and went on to secure a position at Mingles, a two Michelin star contemporary Korean restaurant led by Min-goo Kang. It was here where Park was able to fuse together the best of both worlds, plating desserts inspired by the royal court cuisine of the Joseon Dynasty teamed with a modern approach.

A move to Melbourne was next on the cards, with Park working at Ben Shewry’s Attica for four years. The Attica kitchen would be the final stop before she decided to open a venue of her own with partner Rong Yao Soh. The pair decided to focus the business on one of the all-time pastry greats — the madeleine.

It was a concept Melbourne had yet to see, which propelled the couple to move ahead with the idea. “At first I was thinking about doing a pâtisserie, but we wanted to do something different,” says Park. “We spoke to a design company about branding, and they came up with the name Madeleine de Proust which references ‘nostalgic memory’ in French. We felt like this matched with what I wanted to give people, which is desserts that make them think of happy memories when they eat them.”

It’s clear there’s more than meets the eye when you look at the display of madeleines in the Carlton store. There’s everything from a yuzu-glazed number topped with zest to a ssuk (mugwort) option and a Fleur de Mont Blanc filled with chestnut and rum ganache.

There are also madeleines in disguise, with the cakes concealed inside shapes of banana, cacao fruit, pistachio, and a husk of corn. “We wanted people to feel like they are eating edible jewellery,” says Park. “They can treat themselves or give them to other people as a gift.”

The current range of madeleines consists of 12 or so options, each of which has undergone a lengthy development process. “The recipes are very delicate,” says Park. “You always need to test five to 10 times … baking is very scientific.” Some take longer than others to make, with the more intricate designs created over a three-day period.

Take the corn madeleine, which was inspired by family holidays spent in Gangwang-do, which is famous for its corn. “We had sticky corn every time and it’s a happy memory I wanted to share with Melbourne people,” says Park, who was also inspired by the iconic Korean corn-shaped ice cream. “It has wafer on the outside and vanilla corn ice cream with pieces of corn on the inside.”

The process begins with baking the madeleines that are left to cool before they’re filled with a cream cheese mixture on day two. They are then frozen before ganache is applied and the kernels are individually piped on one by one. The madeleines go back into the freezer before they’re sprayed with chocolate on day three.

The pistachio is equally labour-intense. Whole nuts are roasted before they’re put into a stone grinder for six to 12 hours until a silky texture is achieved. The paste is seasoned with sea salt and complemented by raspberry jam and pistachio cream before the madeleine is dipped in white chocolate and sprayed in the colours of the original nut it was made from. “I have never tried something that has such a strong pistachio flavour,” says Park. “It’s very rich, but balanced.”

Interestingly, a more classic flavour profile has proven to be one of the top sellers — the brown butter and honey madeleine. “It is similar to a traditional madeleine,” says Park. But instead of burning butter, the team caramelises milk powders to create a nutty, milky flavour that’s combined with organic honey from Tasmania. “It’s very floral and not too sweet.”

Each madeleine is made from premium ingredients such as Maldon salt, New Zealand butter, Tasmanian leatherwood honey, Japanese flour, and Valrhona chocolate. Ssuk is imported from Korea and yuzu from Kochi, Japan. Showcasing these ingredients has provided an opportunity for the team to bring something new to a market that may not be familiar with these products, let alone in madeleine form.

But informing and pleasing people at the same time is a double-edged sword. “The hardest part is making sure all customers are satisfied,” says Park. “Some people have never tried mugwort before, so we always let them smell it first. Some customers also like heavier madeleines, and ours are much lighter because we don’t want them to be too full after having one. We want them to enjoy the other options. Educating people is one of the most difficult things.”

The store produces between 250–300 madeleines on weekdays and also bakes traditional madeleines on weekends for $4. “Some people think it’s expensive so we do this on weekends so everyone can come — customers like that we have different ranges and price points,” says Park.

Madeleine de Proust launched to much fanfare in November last year, with the business selling out every day since it opened. Park is well aware the store can’t keep up with demand, but is determined to stick to an ethos of quality over quantity.

“We want to keep a high standard, so we try to limit the numbers and focus on the details,” she says. It’s a thoughtful and considered approach that’s sure to inspire people to savour the moment, and a few madeleines, too.