In fact, the Bon Ap recipe was for a small cake that was clearly related to the French financier, one of my all-time favorite pastries. I love everything about financiers, from their history and their name, to the way they’re made and the way they taste.
The financier is a pure-bred Parisian, having been created in the late nineteenth century by a pastry chef named Lasne, who had a shop on the rue Saint-Denis near the Bourse, the city’s stock exchange. Lasne had a bead on his clients: he knew that they were rich, discriminating and always in a hurry, so he designed his little unglazed cookie-cake so that it could be eaten without a knife, fork or spoon and without risk to suit, shirt or tie. It was an early and classy form of fast food.
Financiers are as rich as the bankers they were named for. They’re made from ground almonds, sugar, unwhipped egg whites, flour and an enormous quantity of melted butter, which is cooked until it is golden brown. And, in keeping with the theme, the cakes were originally baked in rectangular pans, so that they ended up resembling ingots.
These cakes are sweet, tender and beautiful in their simplicity. They have a nutty flavor from the browned butter and are perfect, served without any accompaniment or fuss, with coffee or tea.
And they’re amenable to additions. They’re great with berries (not strawberries, because they’re too watery) and they’re happy to be made in whatever molds you have available. You can make them bigger (I’ve made 8-inch round financiers, glazed them with ganache and called the dessert a torte) smaller, boat-shaped, square or round.
Actually, for years, before I invested in rectangular financier molds, I made the pastries in mini-muffin pans and pressed a sliver of fruit into the batter. Maybe I was Australian in another life because, as near as I can figure it, friands from Oz are made in small mini-muffin-like pans and usually have fruit in the batter.
If anyone from Australia wants to weigh in, I’d love to hear from you. In the meantime, here’s a recipe for a classic French financier, one I learned to make from Parisian pastry chef/bread baker Jean-Luc Poujauran. Feel free to play around with it or even to Australianize it.
Makes 12 cookies
1 1/2 sticks (6 ounces; 180 grams) unsalted butter
1 cup (200 grams) sugar
1 cup (100 grams) ground almonds
6 large egg whites
2/3 cup (90 grams) all-purpose flour
Put the butter in a small saucepan and bring it to the boil over medium heat, swirling the pan occasionally. Allow the butter to bubble away until it turns a deep brown, but don’t turn your back on the pan – the difference between brown and black is measured in seconds. Pull the pan from the heat and keep it in a warm place.
Mix the sugar and almonds together in a medium saucepan. Stir in the egg whites, place the pan over low heat, and, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, heat the mixture until it is runny, slightly white and hot to the touch, about 2 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the flour, then gradually mix in the melted butter. Transfer the batter to a bowl, cover with plastic wrap, pressing it against the surface of the batter to create an airtight seal, and chill for at least 1 hour. (The batter can be kept covered in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.)
Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C). Butter 12 rectangular financier molds (these were tested in 3-3/4 x 2 x 5/8-inch [10 x 5 x 1-1/2-cm] rectangular molds that each hold 3 tablespoons), dust the interiors with flour and tap out the excess. Place the molds on a baking sheet for easy transport.
Fill each mold almost to the top with batter. Slide the molds into the oven and bake for about 13 minutes, or until the financiers are golden, crowned and springy to the touch. If necessary, run a blunt knife between the cookies and the sides of the pans, then turn the cookies out of their molds and allow them to cool to room temperature right side up on cooling racks.