Let's talk financiers

Financiers are one of my favorite things, both to make and to eat.  The classic base is made with egg whites (you don't even have to whip them!), almond flour, all purpose flour, powdered sugar and browned butter (which gives these delectable treats a lovely nutty taste).

I've been using the recipe from Le Cordon Bleu in Paris for a number of years now, although, as is true with sooooo many things, you can find all sorts of recipe variations in pastry books or online.

The story goes that, back in the late 1800's, a pastry chef in the financial district in Paris (la Bourse) created a small rectangular (think gold ingot-like) cake that could be easily carried back to the office or eaten out of hand without any muss nor fuss.

The petite cake is classically baked in a shallow rectangular mold (lots of images available on the web), but I love the fact that it can be baked in any shape or size your little heart desires.  And the base batter can be made ahead and refrigerated for several days, allowing you to bake different flavor variants throughout the week if you're so inclined.  It's a true artistic palette for the creative baker.

Substitute ground hazelnuts, pistachios or walnuts for the almonds?  You bet!

Add your choice of citrus zest?  Bien sur!

Fold in or top with almost any fruit imaginable?  Absolument!

Garnish with ganache or mascarpone cream?  I think you know the answer!

The preparation is simple, with the most difficult (not really) step being browning the butter.  I can freely admit that I had never browned butter until making financiers in class at LCB.  I have since come to understand how it works, having done it over and over and over again.

For me the key is listening - yes, you heard me - lis-ten-ing.  When you're working in a pastry kitchen and have a bunch of things going on at one time, your senses are your friend.  Use them all!

Put the butter in a saucepan over low heat to start, then crank it up once the butter has melted.  Then let it go.

As the butter cooks the bubbles will start to become more foamy, take on a finer appearance and start rising up in the pan.  Even if you're on the other side of the kitchen, you should be able to hear a change in the sound of the bubbling.  Once you hear it, pay attention!

You'll start seeing those brown bits on the bottom of the pan, and that means it's time to take it off the heat.  There's nothing worse than burned butter, believe you me!

Now on to the preparation!

When making financiers, the amount of batter I make depends on the egg whites I have on hand.  Typically, if I'm making a custard or crème pâtissiére that calls for egg yolks, I save the whites with the singular goal of making financiers.  You can keep the whites in the fridge for a number of days (remember, some macaron makers want their egg whites to be aging in the fridge for a week or so before using them).

What could be more perfect?

A reasonable base recipe uses 240 g/8 egg whites (you can use liquid pasteurized whites without any problem) and will give you two dozen or so small 30 g/1 ounce cakes.  You can adjust your recipe by dividing or multiplying your ingredients based on the weight of egg whites you have. Without getting too technical here, once you've gotten used to weighing ingredients and adjusting your recipe to suit your needs, you're golden.

So, here goes.  Place 240 g/8 egg whites in a bowl, add a splash of vanilla extract and set aside.  In a separate bowl, large enough to mix all the ingredients, whisk together 260 gm/ 2 2/3 cup powdered sugar, 100 gm/1 cup almond flour and 100 gm/3/4 cup all purpose flour.  Brown 150 g/11 tablespoons unsalted butter and pour it over the dry ingredients (I scrape all the brown bits into the mix too).  Let it sit for a minute or two, then add the egg whites and blend it all with a whisk until everything is incorporated.  It may be a bit lumpy, but that's OK.

The batter should be refrigerated before use.  I pour it into a container, place plastic wrap directly on the surface, cover and refrigerate for at least an hour or up to several days.

When you're ready to bake, be sure to stir up the batter before piping or pouring it into your molds.  The longer the batter sits, the more the butter has a tendency to settle to the bottom, so just give it a good stir to reincorporate it.

I happened to have some silicone canelé flexi-molds with me during my recent visit with my mom and used those to bake up some financiers natures - just plain, no additions, no thrills, no chills, no frills.  Pipe the batter, filling the molds about 3/4 full.  Bake at 350º for about 20 minutes.  Your baking time will vary depending on the size of your cakes (and your oven!), so, as always, pay attention to what's going on in there.

Here are just a few examples of what you can do with financier batter. Before I really got into using silicone molds I baked financiers in buttered and floured mini-muffins pans.  This version has a dollop of jam (peach, apricot or whatever) and some blueberries placed on top before baking.

Here you go!

The jam settles into the center and the berries stay on top - cool!

Here's a medley of pear ginger, pistachio orange crumble and matcha raspberry - some of my faves!

This one is dried cherry . . .

and this is cocoa hazelnut . . .

and I think this one is cranberry hazelnut.

Or you can bake the batter in loaf pans comme ça . . .  These are peach and blueberry mini-loaves.

I've also baked financier batter topped with plum slices and walnut crumble in a blind baked tart shell.  Or use peach slices or cherries. Delicious!

I could go on and on about financiers, but, alas, I must cease and desist.

But wait . . . just a few more parting thoughts.

How about adding lemon zest and berries (blue, black or rasp - you choose!) to the base batter, or drizzle finished cakes with caramel after baking and pop back into the oven for a few minutes to set the caramel.

Or fold in some pumpkin puree and spices like nutmeg, ginger and allspice to the base batter.

For some savory options fold in some grated cheddar and diced apples, or top with goat cheese and herbs of choice before baking.

OK enough.  Get in the kitchen and make your own special versions - you can do it!