Another year is just slipping by. Before you know it it’s Christmas. That time of the year when you have the chance to change your attitude and shrug away the less exciting bits of the year. Well, Almost. I need the change. And as I put up my tree in the studio, I decide to make something that will fill the air with Christmas spices and ginger and all things nice – Ginger Bread. I can’t think of a better way to bring in the Christmas Spirit. I want to make it everyday through this season. Here’s a recipe adapted from Nigella Lawson, but since I don’t like my bread too sticky it’s more my version of a cake which I can dunk in my tea.
Eat it as soon as it’s out of the oven. And watch how the year gone suddenly seems to be ending on a high.
I love Pears! They bake so well. They don’t fight for attention in a cake, they pair so well with chocolate…well, I can go on and on. In Mumbai I find them all year round so that makes it an important fruit for bakers to work with. Try this recipe it won’t disappoint.
The financier (pronounced fee-nahn-see-AY) often shows up on petit four plates all over France. There are many stories about how the financier got its name so I’m sharing just one of many. The financier was created by a baker named Lasne, whose bakery on the Rue St. Denis was near the Bourse, the financial center of Paris. Presumably, the rich little cake was named for the rich financiers who frequented his bakery. The cake was baked in rectangular molds, the shape of gold bars. I like this story!
It’s deceptively simple, but perhaps like all things French, so damn refined! It’s a staple at almost all the fine pastry shops across France and now they seem to be pretty popular almost across all the fine pastry shops in the world. It seems like an ordinary little tea cake but that’s why I said it’s so deceptive; it’s so different from a cake.
For one it appears in all kinds of shapes – round in some places and rectangular in the others (see the molds I found on my trip to France).
Second it’s so damn versatile – you can make them all so entirely different; drop pistachios in some, pecans or strawberries in others, dark chocolate nibs in some or mix and match in some…
Refined as it may seem it is relatively easy to make. A few tricks to keep in mind and you are home.
What you need is a whisk, a bowl, a pan and some French wine and some Jazz. The last two ingredients are not for the financier but for your soul.
A few steps make or break the cake. The first, browning the butter is what defines its flavour and adds depth to whatever the base nut you are using (almonds are the most traditional but hazelnuts or even cashews work just as well). You need to heat the butter over medium low heat until it begins to brown and smell nutty. Undercooking it is equally damaging for it will lack the necessary aroma.
The second trick is to mix the batter as little as possible. It should be stirred until just blended. If you stir too much, the gluten in the flour will get overworked and the cake will be tough.
The third trick they say is to rest the batter before baking. A few hours in the refrigerator and the flavours will harmonize. I have never been able to wait.
And one last bit; you have to eat them fresh. Now that’s not much of a problem, is it?
Recipe adapted from Bouchon Bakery by Thomas Keller and Sebastien Rouxel
120 gms icing sugar
40 gms flour
60 gms almond meal
100 gms egg whites (egg whites from about 3 large eggs)
100 gms unsalted butter (browned)
Preheat oven to 180 degrees.
Butter 12 financier molds or a mini-muffin tin. Refrigerate buttered tin.
Sift together sugar, flour and almond meal into a medium bowl.
Create a well in the center of the dry ingredients and add in previously beaten egg whites; whisk together by hand until ingredients have been combined.
To brown the butter, melt butter in a sauce pan over low to medium heat until bits begin browning. Continue whisking slowly to prevent browned bits from settling. Strain melted butter through a cheesecloth.
While still hot, slowly pour browned butter into batter, simultaneously whisking the batter until combined.
Evenly distribute batter among molds or mini-muffin tin wells, leaving about ⅛" of space from the rim.
Lower oven temperature to 170 degrees, and bake on the center rack for about 20 minutes or until golden brown and a tester comes out clean.
A scone can be described as a single serving cake or a quick bread. It’s a traditional English tea time treat; I like them for breakfast though. You can call it a kind of pastry since they are made with the same ingredients as short crust albeit with different proportions.
But really scones are so versatile. You can add your favourite ingredients to them. Most dried fruits pair well and so does chocolate. But, when I started figuring out the best way to make them I came across at least 15 different versions – add buttermilk, no butter milk, add egg, no egg, self raising flour, regular flour… it’s really endless. I tried a few variations myself and settled for this.
I didn’t have clotted cream at home so I just ate them up with butter – a generous dollop of it – and some jam.
If you want something warm, not too sweet, and made from scratch this is the recipe. The classic combination of apple and rosemary marries in a buttermilk and olive oil batter lightly flavoured with a hint of warm spices. Don’t want a loaf? You can bake it in muffin tins for muffins or, dollop it in a hot pan coated with oil and make pancakes. This batter will work for all three. I highly suggest trying it as pancakes.