Before moving to Rome I had never made financiers let alone consciously eaten one. Then I bought a book on French baking by Ginette Matthiot and, looking for recipes to use up egg whites left over from making a batch of ice cream, I stumbled upon her recipe for financiers. I adapted the ingredients slightly and made a batch of buckwheat and cocoa nib financiers – soft little cakes, a bit nutty from the buckwheat, moist and, in one word, delicious.
More ice cream batches resulted in many more leftover egg whites. I started dreaming up different flavour ideas and wanting to experiment with different types of flours. Researching online made me realise just how different recipes for financiers can be, and how different most instructions were from the recipe I had used for my first attempts. While Ginette Matthiot’s book specifies beating the egg whites until they form stiff peaks before folding in the remaining ingredients, the recipes I came across elsewhere provided somewhat different instructions:
– Lenotre, the famous french patissier whose books taught my dad how to bake, only asks for the egg whites to be beaten lightly (‘fouettez-les légèrement’) with an electric mixer followed by energic mixing (‘mélangez énergiquement’) of the batter with the help of a spatula once the remaining ingredients have been added;
– Pierre Herme, the god of unusual macarons, simply asks for the egg whites to be mixed together with the rest of the ingredients, without a separate beating of the egg whites; and
– Dorie Greenspan, a trusted source on French baking, specifies that the egg whites get heated together with the sugar and ground almonds until hot and runny before folding in the flour and butter (interestingly she also recommends chilling the batter for at least 1 hour before baking, something I did not see in any other recipe).
Out of curiosity, I also had a look at Clotilde Dusolier’s blog (Clotilde translated Ginette Matthiot’s book from French into English). Interestingly enough, a recipe for financiers on her blog simply requires the egg whites to be mixed together with the remaining ingredients until the batter is homogenous, no separate whisking of the egg whites (let alone to firm peak stage).
I have not yet been able to look at the French language version of Ginette Matthiot’s book but I do wonder whether the specification of beating egg whites until they form stiff peaks in my English language version of the book could be a translating or editing error or whether Mme Matthiot did in fact have a different way of making financiers from the more commonly available recipes.
Suffice it to say that while it is certainly fascinating that these small cakes which, at their most basic, contain four ingredients only (egg whites, browned butter, sugar and flour (in some cases nut flour)) have yielded so many different ways of preparation, it also became clear that stiff peak egg whites seemed to be the exception rather than the rule when making financiers.
Armed with some more in-depth knowledge about their preparation, my next attempt at making financiers had me stop beating the egg whites long before even the soft peak stage, whipping the egg whites briefly only, just enough to make them frothy and increase only ever so slightly in volume. And the end result? A set of delicious nutty little cakes with a bit of bite, a bit moist and almost a bit sticky (which I think is why most recipes recommend removing financiers from their tins fairly quickly after removing them from the oven). In fact these financiers had the same consistency of the little raspberry financiers I enjoyed at the Wild Honey when I was in London in June and the chocolate financiers I munched on while Alessandro and our friends went up to the viewing platform at Marina Bay Sands in Singapore (while suffering from a mild case of vertigo sometimes means I miss out on stunning views I like to think I used my time wisely by doing some more practical research on financiers).
I have yet to experiment with Dorie Greenspan’s recipe of heating the egg whites or resting the batter before baking but I am curious to see how (and if) the end results differ. Have any of you tried this?
Before this post gets any longer, all I want to say you should go and make some financiers, especially these carrot and mace financiers. While some women have an addiction to buying shoes, I have an addiction to buying new-to-me baking ingredients. On my way to the church where the cathedral choir I just joined rehearses, I walk past Castroni, an old delicatessen that is a bit of an institution here in Rome. While certainly not cheap, it is one of the few places where I am sure to find ingredients that can be a bit hard to track down in Rome. Invariably I will wander in if I have some time to kill before rehearsal and I rarely leave empty-handed. The other day that was a small bag of mace and while it has the same warming notes as nutmeg, it is a bit more pungent which works really well in what are otherwise quite rich little cakes. And while grated carrots in financiers might be unusual, it has a similar effect to using ground nuts, keeping the financiers moist and with a bit of bite and, in one word, mooreish.
Carrot and Mace Financiers
Makes 6 financiers using a medium muffin.
Note: Feel free to double the batch if you have more egg whites to use up (I know most ice cream recipes will leave you with 6 egg whites) but bear in mind that financiers are best the day they are made. By all means use nutmeg instead of the mace if that is what you have. Now that the first pumpkins have started appearing at the market, you could also sub in grated pumpkin or even grated courgette in place of the grated carrot – in one word, feel free to use whichever root vegetable or squash you have to hand (a parsnip and cardamom version sounds wonderful too), just make sure you squeeze out any excess moisture before adding the grated vegetables to the batter.
3 egg whites
75g light muscovado sugar
1 small carrot, grated finely
90g wholemeal spelt flour
1 large pinch of mace
90g unsalted butter, browned and melted
1. Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius and grease 6 medium muffin tins with some butter or oil.
2. Using an electric mixer whisk the egg whites until frothy (the mixture should have turned white and grown in volume but the air bubbles in the egg whites will still be fairly large), whisk in the sugar.
3. Add the grated carrot to a clean tea towel and squeeze out any excess juices. Weigh out 20g of the grated carrot and discard the rest.
4. Dump the grated carrot, flour and mace into a bowl and stir to combine, ensuring the grated carrot is evenly covered by the flour.
5. Pour the butter over the egg whites, add the flour mixture and stir everything together carefully. Distribute the batter evenly among the muffin tins and place in the oven for 20 minutes until the financiers are golden and a wooden skewer inserted into the middle of the financiers comes out clean.
6. Leave to cool for a couple of minutes before carefully removing the financiers from the tins (waiting any longer could mean you will struggle to remove the financiers from the tin as they can stick to the tins a bit).