The Great Cupcake Extravaganza, Part Financier

20 06 2010

Fortunately, it turns out that the easiest cake in the French repertoire is also one of the tastiest.  I mean it.  In terms of the effort-to-reward ratio, this is absolutely one of the best recipes I know.  We make a version of this at work, for use as the base of a more complicated entremet, and had I known before just how little effort this involved, I would have started making it at home a long time ago.

Sifting the powdered sugar and cocoa powder

Financier is a classic French bakery treat, traditionally baked in little rectangular molds that are supposed to represent bars of gold.  The name means “banker,” which is either a reference to said shape, or the supposedly expensive ingredients that go into it.  I’m more inclined to believe the former explanation, because when have egg whites ever been considered a luxury item?  Usually it is made with almond meal, brown butter, powdered sugar, and the aforementioned egg whites.  This one has cocoa powder sifted in with the sugar, and since I really like the robust flavor of hazelnuts with chocolate, I switched out the almond meal for hazelnut.  Besides, I love the symmetry of using noisettes (hazelnuts) with beurre noisette (brown butter).  It just makes sense.

Just until foamy

The main reason I had to test this recipe was to see if it would work in cupcake form.  The one we do at work is baked in a thin sheet, so I didn’t know if it would puff up into an attractive cupcake shape or if it would bake through before the top burned.  One test confirmed that it worked beautifully.

a rainbow of cupcake liners

If you read my other blog, you’ve already seen the results of this first test.  I also tested them for next-day-edibilty (still bangin’), and even a more traditional version, with almond meal and a bit of fresh fruit (in this case, cherries) baked in.  Those, in fact, I whipped up at midnight on a Saturday, after a long day of exploring Paris by foot with some friends.  We all enjoyed our dessert, and my friends still caught the last Métro home.  If that’s not quick and easy, I don’t know what is.

cherry-almond financiers

What I’ve learned from all of this testing (apart from the fact that they disappear as quickly as they bake) is that as long as you repect the 1:1:1:1 ratio of butter, egg whites, nut meal, and powdered sugar, with 10% of one part  (by weight, bien sûr) something dry like cocoa powder or cake flour, this cake is almost infinitely adaptable.  So try this one.  Make it suit your tastes or your mood.  I guarantee you’ll want to make them again and again.

Chocolate-Hazelnut Financier Cupcakes

When I realized how easy this classic French cake was to make, I couldn’t help but tinker with the recipe a bit to see if it would work as a cupcake.  And as long as we’re changing things, why not switch out the almond meal for hazelnut?  If you can’t find hazelnut meal, grind the same weight of nuts with the powdered sugar in a food processor. And if you want to go cocoa-less, substitute 20 grams of cake flour for the cocoa powder.

200 g / 7 oz. powdered sugar
20 g / ¾ oz. cocoa powder
200 g / 7 oz. hazelnut meal (Or any other nut meal.  Peanut would probably be awesome.)
200 g / 7 oz. egg whites
200 g / 7 oz. butter, browned with ¼ of a vanilla bean (vanilla bean optional, but worth it)
Pinch of sea salt

  1. Preheat oven to 200 C / 395 F.  Grease a muffin tin or line it with paper liners.
  2. Sift the powdered sugar and the cocoa powder together.  Whisk in the hazelnut meal.
  3. In another bowl, whisk the egg whites with the salt just until frothy.  Whisk in the sifted sugar, then the browned butter.
  4. Fill the prepared muffin cups about ¾ full.  Bake 25-30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with just a few crumbs clinging to it.
  5. Cool about 10 minutes, then remove from the baking pan.  Continue cooling, or devour the cupcakes warm.  They will keep in an airtight container at room temperature for 2-3 days, but they’ve never lasted that long in my house.

Makes 10 cupcakes.

On this day in 2008: Apricots and Ginger and Butter, Oh My!

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





Two of a Pear

21 09 2009

Last week I teased you a bit with the mention of a tarte Belle-Hélène.  Of course it isn’t much of a tease if you don’t know what a tarte Belle-Hélène is.  Just to get everyone up to speed, Belle-Hélène on a French menu signifies pears and chocolate, be it a simple sundae or a fancy entremet.  A tarte Belle-Hélène is basically a variation on the classic pear-frangipane (almond cream) tart, with thick chocolate ganache spread over the pears on the baked tart.  It is one of those great desserts that manages to be both rustic and elegant at the same time.  So that’s what I wanted to make with my first batch of CSA pears.

Docking the dough

It turned out that we had a last-minute dinner invite that weekend, and, as usual, I volunteered to bring dessert.  (Nobody ever seems to mind being a dessert guinea pig.)  I started with a sweet version of the whole wheat pastry crust I raved about earlier this summer.  I parbaked it while poaching some pears in a mixture of white wine, water, sugar, lemon, and vanilla bean.

This smelled absolutely divine!

Prior to the pear prep, I was wishing I had a melon baller (ironic other name: Parisian scoop) for coring the pear halves.  After a few days searching came up fruitless, I realized that with pears as juicy and ripe as these, I could probably get away with using my teaspoon to core them.  And I was right.  Yay for multitasking kitchen tools!  The peeled and cored pear halves were then gently simmered for about 5 minutes, until they were completely tender.  I carefully removed them to a rack to drain.  (I saved the poaching liquid to use again.)

Poached pears all in a row.

Then I set about making the filling for the tart.  Traditionally, it is made with almond frangipane, but I thought that hazelnuts would be a delicious twist on the classic.  So I made hazelnut cream – a straightforward ratio of equal parts butter, sugar, hazelnut meal, and egg – instead.  I spread it into my baked, cooled tart shell, and sliced up the pears in order to fan them out in an attractive manner over the tart.  Like so: Read the rest of this entry »





Rendez-Vous Bars

12 03 2009

(Let’s just see what kind of search engine terms that one gets me!)

I can't help but think they look a little like cockroaches.

I’ve told you of my love of dates and date bars before, I know.  Well, there have been a few happy coincidences in recent weeks that made some appear in my very own kitchen.  While trolling the market on my lunch break, I saw a guy selling plump, shiny dates for a euro a kilo!  How could I resist?  I briefly considered just getting half a kilo, but then I tasted one and I threw caution to the wind.  Later, I was faced with a linzer dough that refused to behave – possibly because I tweaked the recipe a little too much – instead of making cute little tartlet shells, I ended up with tartlet-shaped cookies.  They were tasty, but hard to fill with ganache.  I decided to let the dough rest overnight, in hopes that it would settle down.

In the morning, I was telling Nick my plans for the dough.  “If it doesn’t work this time, I’m turning it into date bars.  Slam it in a pan, cover it with puréed dates, make some crumble topping… I almost hope it doesn’t work!”  So of course the next batch of tartlet shells came out perfectly, but the date bar idea had taken hold.  I used way more dates than I thought I needed, but I was pleased with the result: a firm hazelnut crust on which to spread a thick layer of sticky purée, with a crumbly, hazelnutty topping.  This goes a step beyond bar cookie into dessert territory, although I keep telling myself that all the fruit, fiber, and nuts make it a perfectly virtuous breakfast.

Needs no accompaniment

(Click through for the recipe.)

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Muffins aux Carottes

26 01 2009

I woke up on Sunday thinking about carrots.  I don’t know why.  As luck would have it, we happened to have some in the root cellar, courtesy of the CSA.  We had eaten a fabulously indulgent dinner the night before at Astier (more to come on that, I promise), so we weren’t particularly hungry, but I thought something healthy might help overcome the guilt that always seems to follow an especially gluttonous evening.

Carrot meets grater

Carrot muffins sounded like the perfect antidote.  I wanted crunchy nuts, rich molasses, and whole grains.  A glance through my bookmarked recipes yielded nothing like what I was looking for, but a molasses and whole wheat muffin recipe from Paul Prudhomme by way of Cooking Books and a zucchini bread from 101 Cookbooks via Hopie’s Kitchen looked like good starting points.  Of course, Prudhomme’s recipe had no carrots (nor eggs, which I found troubling, and what looks on paper like WAY too much baking powder), and the zucchini bread had no molasses, though I did like the idea of incorporating crystallized ginger into the mix.

Noisettes grillées

Flipping back and forth between the recipes trying to figure out the correct amounts of baking powder and soda was giving me a headache, and I was getting steadily hungrier.  Ultimately, I guessed at the leavening amounts since I was changing the recipes so drastically anyway.  Enough math and chemistry, it was time to start baking!  Neither recipe had as much whole grain as I wanted, so I threw in some rolled oats for their heart-healthy properties, and I thought that the sweet crunch of hazelnuts would compliment the carrots and ginger nicely (also, that’s what I had lying around).  While mixing up the batter, I realized I didn’t have any milk, so in a very WWPPD moment, I added cream.  And then a little more.

MacGyvered muffin cups

I don’t have a regular muffin pan, but I do have some silicone molds in about the same shape.  Trouble is, I hate the way things baked in silicone molds come out with weirdly rubbery exteriors.  (Custards are an exception, as are pudding cakes and their saucy ilk, but anything with more flour than liquid comes out strangely.)  Lacking muffin cups, I fashioned some out of squares of parchment paper, which worked better than I expected or even hoped.

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