"Food: Science, Art, Passion, Pleasure, Adventure & Exploration"

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Baking Adventure 12: Muffin-Styled Vanilla Bean Financiers

Financiers are little French cakes, often shaped like bars. The traditional bar shape and the golden brown coloring of the cakes are meant to give the cakes the look of small gold (currency) bars. They are dense, mildly sweet like teacake, and they make perfect pairings with ice cream, fresh fruit, and dessert sauces. The recipe is based on the use of almond flour or meal and the distinctive addition of brown butter and powdered sugar.

Speaking of brown butter, brown butter has the most intensely addictive smell and flavor! It adds a deep, heady, buttery-nut flavor to dessert recipes, and its sensual aroma can fill an entire household for hours. This proves what I've believed all along, that smells can also be aphrodisiacs.

What Do You Know?: What is brown butter? Brown butter, also known as beurre noisette or "hazelnut butter" (due to the nutty scent and taste) is simply butter heated on a stove until the milk solids darken, thus turning the butter into a toasty brown hue. Brown butter is often used in French pastry-making and some savory dishes. Regarding the former, financiers, some caramel sauces, and madeleines are some examples of brown butter recipes. While butter melts in a pan, milk solids and the butterfat separate, as water evaporates. The milk solids fall to the bottom of a saucepan and will brown and it is common and normal for foam to appear on top. The clear part of the butter, butterfat, is called clarified butter, or "ghee", which is heavily used in Indian cusine for many curry dishes and as garnish brushed over naan breads. It is also used in Egyptian and Ethiopian cusine.
I began this baking adventure by clearing off my counter and gathering all of the ingredients and supplies needed. In the above photo, you'll see eggs, butter, a few vanilla beans, Madagascar bourbon vanilla bean paste, measuring spoons, Pyrex measuring cups and bowls, a metal bowl, almond flour, wheat flour and powdered sugar. What you don't see here is the baking tray I used. It's a muffin pan. As mentioned above, financiers are usually shaped like gold bars, which is traditional, so they are often baked in silicone financier molds. The second most popular shape is the muffin-round shape that I've chosen to give them.

Financiers are easy to make, but because of the addition of almond flour, they can be somewhat expensive to make. I decided to buy my almond flour, rather than making it myself. I am absolutely fascinated with nut flours and would love to try experimenting making flours out of various nuts for different flavor results.

Here are more of the results and the recipe I used for the financiers:

Vanilla Bean Financiers

1 and 3/4 cup powdered sugar
2/3 cup almond flour/meal
1/2 cup + 1 tsp flour
5 egg whites (room temperature)
5.5 oz butter (to brown)
1 vanilla bean 
1 tsp vanilla bean paste or extract

  1. Get a small saucepan and melt the butter on medium-low heat, stirring occasionally to keep the butter from scorching at the bottom
  2. As the butter continues to melt, split open the vanilla bean pod with a knife, to expose and scrape the seeds, and place both the seeds and the entire pod in the melting butter to begin infusing the butter with vanilla flavor. (This will begin to fill the surroundings with an intoxicating fragrance.)
  3. Take the butter off the heat and set it aside, once it reaches a toasty brown color, not "black" (If "black", this is called beurre noir or black butter, when milk solids turn a very dark brown, which is used in some savory dishes such as pasta).
  4. Put all of the dry ingredients into a mixing bowl and whisk together for even distribution - almond flour, flour, powdered sugar.
  5. While whisking, add egg whites to dry mixture, one at a time.
  6. Add the vanilla bean paste of extract
  7. Stir the brown butter into the mixture and fully incorporate
  8. Keep the mixture in the bowl and refrigerate for 1 hour, covered.
  9. Preheat the oven at 300-400 toward the end of the refrigeration period
  10. Once set, take the mixture out of the refrigerator and begin spooning evenly into the slots of a muffin pan or bar mold sheet, or any baking tray or mold of your choice. (No need to butter the molds as this will cause your financiers to cook too quickly and burn on the bottom, since they have a lot of butter in the batter already. I certainly know this by trial and error, as my first batch came out this way and I had to redo them) 
  11. Bake the financiers for 8-18 minutes, depending on your oven, the depth and size of your molds, and/or the position of your oven rack. (I found that I had to lower the temperature of my oven to evenly bake my financiers and prevent the bottoms from browning much quicker than the tops. I set my oven at 320 and baked them for 15-18 minutes and kept a close watch as they baked, until they were a perfect golden brown)
These are the best, eaten warm and just freshly baked. They are very hard to stop eating because the flavor creates an obsession.

You can serve these with fresh fruit, whipped cream, caramel sauce, chocolate ganache, jams and jellies, honey, ice cream, or Luxardo cherries.

Bon appétit!

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