The financier (pronounced fee-nahn-see-AY) is a simple style of French cake. It is typically made with ground almonds. I have tweaked the classic French pastry today for the final entry in my series of small plates with wine pairings. Mine is reminiscent of the original, but it’s made with pistachios. We paired this delicately flavored cake with an Emilio Lustau Reserva Capataz Andres Deluxe Cream Sherry.
If you have ever had a good financier you know their simple allure. The best of them have a springy, sweet texture, not unlike a sponge cake. They’re made with ground nuts which helps give these little cakes an exterior that’s a bit crisp. But don’t let the straightforward nature of this classic French pastry fool you. It can be exquisitely refined.
In France, financiers have been a staple of fine pastry shops for more than 100 years. They have only recently begun making their way into restaurants in America. For the home cook, they’re something of a mystery: most of the classic French baking tomes fail to include recipes for financiers.This may account partly for its anonymity, but it’s also true that they are sometimes hard to define. There is not a lot of continuity beyond nuts and butter. In some cases, the shape may be round, rectangular in others. It has been that way for more than a century.
These facts have left the financier in a more obscure role than so many of the other great French pastries. But unlike many of those famed sweet treats the financier is actually quite easy to master at home. All you need is a whisk, a bowl, a pan and a bit of finesse.
A few steps make or break the cake. The first, the browning of the butter, is what defines its flavor and adds depth to the nuts. You need to heat the butter over medium low heat until it begins to brown and smell nutty. It’s best to do this slowly and to keep a careful eye on it. Once butter begins to brown, it burns easily. Remove it the moment it attains a golden hue. Undercooking it is equally damaging, because the end result will lose that rich nutty fragrance.
The second trick is to mix the batter as little as possible. I shouldn’t even say mix, because it should be folded until just combined. Streaks are fine, because if you work the batter too much, the glutens will stretch and the cake will be tough.
The batter then has to rest before baking. A few hours in the refrigerator, and the flavors will come together and the batter will become more dense, making it easier to spoon or pipe into molds.
The one decision you need to make regards texture. If you use a commercially processed nut flour, the cake will be finer but denser, more like what you’d find in France. But the truth is American butter and flour are not the same as in France, so you’re never going to get the same exact thing anyway. So I prefer the more rustic presentation that comes from grinding the nuts yourself.
Financiers do have one obvious drawback. They must be eaten on the day they’re baked. Their texture deteriorates quickly. But I have to ask. Is this really so much of a bother?
- 1 c 10x sugar, divided
- 1 c water
- 3 bags black tea, such as earl grey
- 30 pitted prunes
- 1⁄4 c orange flavored liqueur
- 6 T unsalted butter, sliced
- 1⁄4 c all-purpose flour
- 1⁄2 c shelled pistachios, ground into a course meal
- 3 large egg whites, lightly beaten until frothy
- 1⁄2 c honey
- 3⁄4 c shelled pistachios, lightly crushed
- pistachio ice cream (optional)
Poach the prunes: Combine one-fourth cup of the sugar with 1 cup of water in a small saucepan, add the tea bags and bring to a gentle simmer, stirring so the sugar dissolves. Add the prunes and continue to gently simmer for about 10 minutes until the prunes are tender. If your prunes are large or quite dry, they make take longer. If necessary, add a bit more water to keep them covered.
Once the prunes are tender, remove them from the heat, adding the orange liqueur. Remove the tea bags and gently squeeze them to extract additional flavor before discarding them. Using a slotted spoon remove the prunes and set aside on a plate. Reduce the poaching liquid by about 1/3, until slightly syrupy. Turn off the heat and return the prunes to the pan. Set the prunes aside in their liquid). May be made up to 3 days ahead.
Prepare the Financier: Heat a heavy bottomed skillet over medium heat. Add the sliced butter, whisking frequently and watching carefully. You will notice the butter will get foamy, and then the milk solids will begin to brown. Once that starts, remove skillet from the heat. The butter will go from brown to black quickly, so set the skillet on a cool, heat proof surface to slow cooking before the butter turns black. Smell the butter; it should have a nutty aroma, and be caramel in color.
Whisk remaining sugar, flour and ground pistachios together in a medium-sized bowl.
To these dry ingredients begin to add the wet ingredients, alternating between the browned butter and the egg whites. Use a a lerge flat paddle spoon to insure that the wet ingredients are folded into the dry without over-mixing. Cover and chill the batter overnight.
Preheat a convection oven to 375 degrees F. Spoon the batter into a lightly greased 6 portion flexible financier pan (alternately you may use mini tart pans). Financier pans come in a variety of sizes and shapes. Mine were about 3 inches round and took 15–18 minutes to bake. The financiers are done when they are dry and bounce back when pressed in the center. Allow them to sit for a few minutes and carefully remove them from the pan, setting them, upside down on a wire rack set over a baking sheet.
Heat the honey over medium-low heat until it becomes less viscous. Do not allow it to scorch.
While the financiers are still warm, brush them generously with some of the warm honey. Top them with the crushed pistachios, and another drizzle of honey. Let cool. The financiers may be made no more than one day ahead.
To serve: Lay the financiers in the center of individual serving plates. Spoon a 5 prunes on top of each one and drizzle with some of the poaching liquid. A scoop of pistachio ice cream may also be served on the side.
SERIOUS FUN FOOD