Thursday, April 5th, 2012...10:24 am

Pistachio Financiers

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It’s no secret by now how much I love cake. Cupcakes, muffins, teacakes, cakey breads, coffeecakes; iced, frosted, buttercreamed, or any which way, cakes are all good. They’re delicious and never fail to hit the spot (when done well anyway).

One of my favourite teacakes, though, is the financier. There’s a little bit of debate going around as to the origins of their names – some say it’s due to the traditional rectangular mold used to bake them in which makes them resemble gold ingots, others say it’s because the cakes became popular around the financial district of Paris, as finance-types found it easy to grab one of these very portable cakes on the way back to the office after lunch or meetings.

Whatever the etymology of its name, I personally remember wheedling my mum into a pit stop whenever we would pass by a Delifrance when I was a kid. Now, I know as well as you do that Delifrance really isn’t the gold standard one measures Parisian pastries against, but those financiers were (and still are) irresistable to me. I’d take a box of 6 home, and toast them one by one until piping hot and slightly crispy around the edges, and enjoy them in my room, as I took a break from homework or studying, with a glass of cold milk.

And the best part? The batter really couldn’t be easier to assemble. The basic financier comprises powdered sugar, egg whites, browned butter and almond flour (held together with a little extra cake flour), but there’s no beating to stiff peaks, creaming, or any elbow grease involved. This is, in fact, a perfect recipe for those without stand mixers in your kitchen. I did tweak my go-to recipe a little to incorporate my favourite nut, and it does add in an extra dimension of fiddliness since you need to grind the pistachios quite finely or the texture of the teacakes won’t be right. (The key to this is to do it in small batches so your grinder doesn’t overheat and the nuts don’t turn to a nut butter.)

The one thing you do have to pay attention during though, is the browning of your butter. There’s about 10-20 seconds tops that separates browned butter from burnt butter. And having learnt the hard way that there are some times when one shouldn’t multitask in the kitchen, keep an eye on your butter once it starts to bubble and foam. The moment you start smelling hazelnuts and the milk solids in the bottom of the pan have turned a deep brown, remove the pan from the heat and scrape the butter out into a cool bowl. (The residual heat from the pan – especially if you’re using a thick-based one – could easily bring your butter past the point of no return.)

Pistachio Financiers
(adapted from Sherry Yard’s The Secrets of Baking)

230g unsalted butter
55g almond meal
55g shelled pistachios, plus more to garnish
90g cake flour
280g powdered sugar
8 large egg whites, at room temperature

Melt the butter in a heavy-based saucepan over medium heat. Cook until the solids separate and brown to a dark golden colour, 7-10 minutes. Immediately pour off into a clean bowl, scraping out all of the browned bits at the bottom of the pan, and let cool at room temperature until it reaches around 20ºC. Be sure not to chill it, as it needs to remain in liquid form (but it also can’t be hot when you add it to the rest of the ingredients or the cake will turn out gooey and clumpy).

Preheat your oven to 180ºC. Adjust the rack to the centre of the oven. Spray or grease your moulds, and dust lightly with flour, tapping out any excess flour.

Finely grind the pistachios in a food processor, in batches if necessary. Toast the extra pistachios for garnish in the oven for 5-10 minutes, then pulse in the food processor to roughly chop, or crush with the base of a heavy skillet.

Sift together the almond meal, ground pistachios, cake flour and powdered sugar into the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Turn the machine on low and mix the dry ingredients for 30 seconds. Add the egg whites all at once and mix on medium speed for 3 minutes.

Add the cooled browned butter all at once, including all of the browned bits. Mix for 3 minutes on medium speed, scraping down the sides of the bowl well (the butter tends to sink to the bottom). Financier batter will keep in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. When using refrigerated batter, be sure to bring it back to room temperature, then stir the entire mixture from the bottom up to the top to reincorporate any separated butter.

Fill each mold about two-thirds full, top with a little of the roughly chopped pistachios, and bake, rotating once halfway through for even browning, for 12-15 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean. Let cool in the pan on a rack for 5 minutes, then invert the financiers onto the rack and cool completely before serving. Financiers taste best on the day they’ve been baked, but, wrapped airtight, will keep at room temperature for up to 2 days, or in the freezer for up to 2 weeks.

Yield: around 30 financiers

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