Monday, 1 September 2014

Redcurrant Financiers

I love small cakes and buns – little sweet delights that can be eaten in one bite or (when I’m feeling more sophisticated) nibbled on with an elegance I don’t really possess! I love macaroons, fairy cakes, madeleines and all manner of single portion sized bakes, but to be honest, I had never made financiers before.

Financiers are small little sponge cakes which hail from France. They usually contain ground nuts, with ground almonds being the most commonly used. The dry ingredients in the mixture are bound together with egg whites and melted butter and the batter is then baked in small little moulds or tins. What I found particularly interesting about most of the recipes that I came across is that the egg whites are not whisked prior to being introduced to the dry ingredients but are instead mixed in as they are. Mostly where egg whites are divorced from their yolk partners in recipes, they are whisked in order to incorporate air into the finished product. Despite the fact that this is not the case here, the cakes are surprising light with a slightly springy texture and are not at all heavy to eat.

Most recipes also call for the butter to be heated and allowed colour to the beurre noisette stage. Essentially you heat the butter over a gentle heat until it starts to brown and smells slightly ‘nutty’. You have to watch over the butter like a hawk, because it is easy to overdo the browning and if it occurs it tastes bitter and burnt. There is no doubting that browned butter does add an extra dimension to the finished cakes, but I also came across recipes, where simply melted butter was used. In the recipe that I give here, I wanted my finished financiers to have a very pale colour and a purity of taste which I felt would work better with the redcurrants that I had chosen to use. I experimented using butter that had been just melted and also butter that has been brought to the beurre noisette stage. My suspicions regarding the finished product were correct and I must admit that I much preferred, from a taste perspective, the version that used plain melted butter.

I often feel sorry for redcurrants… they so often seem to be used merely as decorative afterthoughts rather than as an ingredient in their own right. Whilst there is no doubt that a sprig of redcurrants in all their jewel-like splendour are beautiful, they also have much to offer in terms of taste. The thing that I always find surprising about them is that they are far sharper and tart tasting than their iridescent red colour would lead you to believe. This is one reason why I think they worked particularly well in this recipe; these financiers ARE sweet, but the sharpness of the redcurrants cuts through the sweetness to create a little bite-sized cake that was well-balanced and just heavenly to eat.

This is an incredibly fuss-free recipe to make; the only tiresome aspect is that the moulds do have to be well prepared before the cake batter is added to them. This means that each individual one has to be brushed with very soft butter and then floured. I hate tedious jobs like this, but I am a seasoned enough baker at this stage to appreciate that so often with cooking and particularly with baking, proper preparation is the key to success.

Following on from my great success with these financiers, I decided to take the plunge and ordered some proper financier mould on the interweb thingy! In the photos that accompany this post, you will see that I used mini-muffin tins and this is what I suggest you do, if you don’t happen to own financier moulds. I will post the recipes from my other financier experimentations over the next couple of weeks.
 
 
 
 
 
 

Ingredients:

75g ground almonds
100g icing sugar
50g plain flour
4 large egg whites
¼ tsp almond extract
75g unsalted butter, melted and allowed to cool a little
75g fresh redcurrants
 

Method:

1. Using a pastry brush, butter 22-24 holes of a mini-muffin tin and then flour them, shaking out any excess. Set aside.
2. In a medium mixing bowl, sift together the ground almonds, icing sugar and flour. Add the egg whites and almond extract to the dry ingredients and using a wooden spoon, mix together until well mixed through. Next, add the melted butter and mix again until it is fully incorporated. Cover the mixing bowl with some cling film and refrigerate the cake batter for at least 30 minutes.
To bake the financiers:
3. Preheat the oven to 180C/Fan Oven 160C/Gas Mark 4. Spoon or pipe the cake batter into the prepared tins, filling each about 2/3 full. Pop 3 or 4 redcurrants on top of each financier and then bake in the preheated oven for 12 minutes until well risen, slightly springy to the touch and just beginning to colour around the edge.
4. Remove from oven and allow to cool in the tins for 10 minutes. Remove from the tins and allow to cool completely on a wire rack.
 
Makes 22-24.