Do not underestimate a tiny cake. French financiers are simple, luxurious two-bite pastries. They are meant to be eaten as a teacake or an after-dinner sweet, but frankly, they can be enjoyed at any time of day. Their name reflects the small rectangular molds in which they are traditionally baked, resulting in a gold-tinged cake resembling an ingot.
Financiers may be petite, but they do not fail to deliver flavor. They are sweet and delicate, composed primarily of ground nuts, egg whites and sugar. Their crisp exterior gives way to a soft and light interior redolent with brown butter.
Brown butter, or beurre noisette, is a baker’s secret weapon. When butter is melted and cooked, the milk solids separate and brown; the butter takes on a golden hue and toasty flavor that adds rich nuttiness to baked goods and sauces. It’s no surprise brown butter is nicknamed liquid gold, which is especially befitting for a cake named after a gold bar.
Browning butter may sound intimidating, but it’s a quick process and worth knowing for its delicious flavor (you will likely become a convert). It’s important to keep an eye on the butter throughout the process. Once it begins to change color, it can quickly change from brown to burnt. When the milk solids at the bottom of the pan are dark brown, the butter is ready. Do not let the solids turn black, or they will be burnt. (If this should happen, do not worry. Simply toss it out and try again.)
Financiers are very simple to make. In this recipe, a mini muffin pan provides an easy alternative to the traditional ingot mold. Fresh raspberries are added for a pop of tart brightness to balance the sweetness of the cake. Note that whole berries will sink into the cakes while baking. If you prefer not to have the berry in the center of the cake, halve the berries and place one half, cut side down, on top before baking. The lighter half-berry will sink less into the batter.
Raspberry Brown Butter Financiers
Yield: Makes 16 (1 1/2-inch) cakes
1/2 cup unsalted butter, divided in 3 to 4 pieces, plus additional butter for greasing the pan
1 cup almond flour (almond meal)
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
4 large egg whites (about 1/2 cup)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Brown the butter: Arrange the 1/2 cup butter in a stainless-steel or light-colored saucepan over medium heat. (Do not use a dark or cast-iron pan, which will prevent you from seeing the color of the butter as it cooks.) Melt the butter, stirring occasionally. Once melted, let the butter cook undisturbed. It will begin to sizzle at the edges and bubble, then the bubbles will begin to subside. At this point, the milk solids will sink to the bottom of the pan. Watch closely; the butter will turn golden brown with tiny dark brown milk solids at the bottom of the pan. Once the butter is golden brown and the milk solids are dark brown (not black), immediately remove the pan from the heat and pour the butter into a heatproof bowl to stop the cooking process. The entire browning process will take 5 to 7 minutes. Let the butter cool slightly.
Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Generously butter a mini muffin pan.
In a medium bowl, whisk the almond flour, sugar, all-purpose flour and salt. Stir in the egg whites and vanilla, then add the butter.
Spoon or pipe the batter into the prepared muffin tin cups, about two-thirds full. Place a raspberry (or raspberry half) in the center of each cup.
Bake in the oven until golden brown at the edges and a toothpick comes clean when inserted in the cake, 14 to 15 minutes. Transfer to a rack to cool for 15 minutes, then remove the cakes and cool completely.
Note: For an almond variation, substitute almond extract for the vanilla extract, and garnish with sliced almonds instead of raspberries. Hazelnut flour can be substituted for the almond flour.
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