Biscuits fondants amande et fruits épicés

After a bit of a hiatus (King Arthur bread class, holidays, travel and all that!) I'm turning back to more of the enticing recipes in Philippe Conticini's book La Pâtisserie des Rêves.  Even though I've discovered a variety of inconsistencies and some errors in the recipes I've made so far, I'm nonetheless eager to continue on.  You know me - always up for a challenge!  Plus I get to work on my French!!

My focus is not to regurgitate the exact recipe but to explain processes and techniques and talk about how the recipe works (or doesn't).  But that doesn't mean I won't throw in some quantities and instructions as I go!

This time I'm focusing on the Biscuits Secs (dry biscuits) section which particularly intrigues me as I develop my afternoon tea menu.  It's not only the recipes in this book and the end results that hold my fascination, but the delicious colors and photos.

A "word" about the word biscuit.  In America we all know this as a flaky, unsweetened, shortcake-y type of "quick bread" made with baking powder, whereas in the UK it is the general term for cookie.  In France it has a couple of meanings - cookie OR sponge cake.  In this case, when referring to cookies sec, we're talking crisp, light goodies, not the soft, chewy, cake-y stuff.  So I expected the Biscuits Secs recipes to be the buttery, crisp sablés types.  

But . . . the first recipe in the section is biscuit fondant, which brings to mind a soft, melting type of cake.  Artistic license, I guess.

I went back to my recipes from Pâtisserie de Base at Le Cordon Bleu and found the petits-fours secs/petits-fours biscuit recipe group, which includes things like tuiles, langues-de-chat (cat's tongues), cigarettes and duchesse (basically the French version of Pepperidge Farm type milano cookies).  Then comes the petits-fours moelleux/ meringue petits-fours group, with macaron, éponges, miroirs and bâtons de maréchaux.  All of these are soft, chewy, spongy types of goodies.  Nothing like a little review, eh?

Anyway . . .  now for the biscuits fondants amande et fruits épicés!

the recipe

One component of this recipe is tagine de fruits, an apple-citrus-raisin compote-like mixture which has to be made ahead - just another example of the importance of planning and doing one's mise en place, no matter how simple or complicated the recipe might be.  So off I went on the day-before preparation.

(Quick side note - I've always found it fascinating that the French include both nuts and dried fruit in the category fruits secs.)

The fussiest part of the recipe is prepping the fruit, and, in reality, it really didn't take long at all.  Once you've peeled, cored and diced apples (2 here) and sectioned citrus (2 oranges and 1 grapefruit here) a bunch of times, it's a breeze.  For this recipe when segmenting the citrus, save all the juice you can from that process.

All the ingredients for the tagine . . . .

I began by making le beurre mousseux et citronné.  Simply put - melt 30 gm butter in a saucepan, add 50 raw sugar and one scraped vanilla bean, then deglaze with 35 ml lemon juice, stirring to homogenize the mixture.

Now add 2 Golden Delicious apples (peeled, cored and diced) . . .

adding the apples

then 65 gm golden raisins and 25 gm whole almonds.

raisins added
Cook that mixture about 3 minutes then add 175 gm each of orange (about 2 oranges) and grapefruit (about 1 grapefruit) segments and cook another couple of minutes.  You really can fudge on these quantities - everything gets cooked together and reduced so it doesn't have to be terribly precise.

Now add half of the reserved citrus juices, a teaspoon of vanilla extract, 10 gm minced crystallized ginger, 40 gm raw sugar, a pinch of cinnamon and a pinch of épices à pain d'épices.

Just a note about that last pinch - this spice is quatre-épices which is a mixture of 4 spices (or sometimes more).  I did a little research and found different formulas, most commonly including white or black pepper, ginger, nutmeg and cloves.  Some might contain cinnamon or allspice too.  At any rate, I didn't have quatre-épices on hand, so I used just a pinch each of ginger, black pepper, allspice and nutmeg.  Works for me!

starting the reduction

Now cook the mixture over 20 minutes or so, adding the remaining citrus juice as you go.  The idea is to reduce it until you have a nice compote like mixture.  At the very end add 10 leaves of fresh mint.

c'est fini!
Not all of the compote is needed for the final cake baking step, and it should keep well in the fridge for several days.  So, of course, Steve and I plan to serve it warm with some delicious grilled pork tenderloin - Mmmmm!

Another prep-ahead component in this recipe is some additional (60 gm) golden raisins marinated in 110 ml of rum.  This can sit in the fridge overnight.  Since I am not a rum fan, I substituted about 80 ml of hazelnut liqueur, feeling I didn't need as large a quantity as the recipe called for.

Now it's time for cake baking day!

The ingredients should be at room temp, so I did my mise en place and let things sit while I did a little house cleaning.  Pourquoi pas?!

les ingredients

Here goes nothin'!

Cream 170 gm soft butter; add 140 gm sugar and 60 gm almond flour and beat just to lighten; add 2 eggs and 2 yolks, mixing to incorporate, scraping down the sides of the bowl as you go; add 25 ml of milk and 75 ml of heavy cream and then the marinated raisins with their liquid; finally add 110 gm of sifted flour in 2 additions, just blending until incorporated.

ready to pipe

I baked these in my favorite silicone flexi-mold (Silikomart SF098; is a good source), a straight sided cylinder mold that yields such a lovely, simple shape.  I use it for financiers all the time too!

Fill the molds about 1/2 full and then top each with a small spoonful of the tagine mixture.

ready for the oven

True to the recipe, it made 20 cakes, although the baking time at 400º was closer to 15-20 minutes in my convection oven, rather than the stated 8-10 minutes.  Another example of paying attention to what's happening in your oven!

just out of the oven

I left them in the molds for 10-15 minutes before popping them out to finish cooling.  They un-molded very easily, no sticking, no muss, no fuss!

looks pretty good

Of course I had to taste one while it was still warm - a very moist, tender, yet dense crumb with a subtlety of spice, and just the right proportion of fruit.  However I was left with a not so pleasant hint of greasy "after-coating" (did I just make that up?) on my lips.  Steve's reaction was "I like your financiers so much better!"  And I wholeheartedly agreed!!

Now I will admit that I've become less and less inclined to bake with raisins over the years, but I at least wanted to give the recipe it's due.  I used to love my mom's Boston brown bread and her sweetened rice with raisins and brown sugar, and I certainly wouldn't refuse them if they were put in front of me now.  But tastes change, and I'd much rather use dried tart cherries, cranberries or even apricots in my baking.

In the final analysis I'm glad I made the compote since we'll enjoy the leftovers with savory foods, but it seems a lot of work simply to add to a handful of small cakes.  Having said that, there is something about creating all the components for your baked goods with your own two hands.  There is that, after all.

I think I'll just stick with financiers and add my choice of fruit and/or confiture.

And there you have it!