"And these too," I said, grabbing a package and waving them at the barrista.
I was with my best friends Matt and Vanessa that night. We had been walking home from a movie and stopped in to escape the bitter winter cold. Crowded around one of those little round tables decorated with pseudo-poetry and pictures of mermaids, we talked about the film while I nonchalantly ripped into the package and took a bite.
My reaction was immediate. No sooner had the cake touched my tongue, than (like Proust before me) "a shudder ran through my whole body."
"These are amazing!" I exclaimed. "Oh my God. This is the most delicious thing I've ever tasted! They must be new!" I held the little cakes up to my face, examining the buttery nooks and gently squeezing the perfect little mound on top.
Matt, no stranger to a pastry himself, gave me a bit of a bored look.
"Well, I've never seen them before," I replied, and promptly went to purchase a second package to take home with me for further evaluation.
That night, I Googled madeleines and discovered things that as an English major I should have probably already known. The next day I went to the bookstore and bought a book on French baking and the first volume of In Search of Lost Time. The subsequent weeks were spent reading Proust, skipping class, and baking dozens of batches of madeleines. I've since worked out my own recipes for both traditional and flavored madeleines, but I admit that I still can't pass up those tasty prepackaged Starbucks ones. I can't pinpoint why, but they make me feel good; perhaps a case of involuntary memory?
The second teacake entered my world by way of an entirely different sense: sight. For weeks, I lusted after the petite little golden cakes in the display window of the patisserie near my old office. They were tiny, oval-shaped treats with just a dot of chocolate in the center and a funny little name (the financier). A devoted fan of the pistachio macarons at this same cafe, I had to make a choice and the macarons always won. It was a couple months before I decided to finally indulge my curiosity. I bought two, and could barely wait to get back to the office before tasting it.
I should have waited.
I'd never been so disappointed in something that looked so good. I'd expected almonds, a nutty butter flavor, and a light spongy texture. What I got was bland, oily, and oddly crumbly. This financier could not have been further from my fantasies. I could not shake the idea, however, that something was wrong and made note to look into it further.
Fast-forward one year. My recent culinary acquisition, my Cuisinart ice cream maker, has made for some fantastic experimentation, but has left me with one problem: extra egg whites. Searching online for answers besides the obvious (egg white omelets, angel food, meringue), I discovered a recipe for financier. The ingredients were fairly straightforward; in addition to the whites, the recipe called for ground almonds, beurre noisette (melted and slightly browned butter), confectioner's sugar, and just a hint of flour. It was the perfect solution to my delicious problem.
Not one to stick to the rules, I decided to swap the almonds (which I don't have) for dessicated coconut flour (which I do). Financier are traditionally baked in special molds, which are rectangular in shape (thus explaining the name: the traditional financier looks like a bar of gold, hence "banker's cake"). I don't own these (yet), so I decided to use my madeleine pan. I'm sure they would work perfectly in muffin tins, as well.
A few helpful tips:
- Make sure to use the melted butter/freezer method of buttering the pan, as opposed to simply spraying or spraying and flouring the pan. The solidified butter helps the cakes pop out easily and imparts a lovely golden crust.
- Immediately after taking the tray out of the oven, use a butter knife to push any little crust that has risen over the edge away from the pan and towards the cake. As they will still be a little soft, the crust will become part of the cake and not harden onto the tray. You should notice the madeleines loosening in the shell when you do this.
- Resist the temptation to remove from the pan right away, but if you do, place on a tray shell-side down. The top part is still very sticky at this point and will stick to whatever plate/tray (even each other) it touches. Once cool, you can arrange them with the pretty shells above for presentation purposes.
- Dip them! These little teacakes were made for dipping. Coffee, tea, hot chocolate--it soaks them up and they seem to melt in your mouth.
These are best eaten freshly baked, but can be brought back to life with a quick zap in the microwave. Please note that the baking time will have to be adjusted depending on the size and depth of the mold that you use. In patisseries, financier are traditionally sold with a dot of fruit,chocolate, or an almond tucked in the center. Mine are plain so as to not compete with the fluted pan, but feel free to decorate as you'd like!
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, for buttering
2 madeleine or financier trays
1 cup unsweetened coconut flour
1 2/3 cups confectioners sugar
1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
Pinch of salt
1 tablespoon almond extract
6 large egg whites
3/4 cup beurre noisette or regular unsalted butter, melted and cooled
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.
1. With a pastry brush, use the 2 tablespoons of melted butter to thoroughly butter the madeleine pan then place in the freezer to solidify the butter.
2. In a large bowl, combine the coconut flour, sugar, flour, and salt. Mix a few times to combine thoroughtly. Add the egg whites and mix until completely blended--this part will take a bit of elbow grease as the egg whites have a tendency to slip around all over the place.
3. Add the extract and the 3/4 cup butter, and mix until completely blended. No butter should be visible on the sides. (Note that the batter will be pretty thin.)
4. Spoon the batter into the madeleine shells about 3/4 of the way up, leaving just a tiny bit to rise. Place the filled pan in the center of the oven. Bake until the financier just being to rise, about 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to 400°F. Bake until the financier are a light, golden brown and begin to firm up, about another 5 minutes.
5. Turn off the oven heat and let the financier rest in the oven until firm, about another 5 to 7 minutes.
6. Remove the baking sheet from the oven and let the financier cool in the molds for 10 minutes. Unmold.
The financier may be stored in an airtight container for several days, but really do taste much better right away (even if they're still a little bit warm!)