Working on recipes over the summer holidays, I made what was possibly the ugliest dessert of all time. It didn’t taste terrible but it looked a mess. It reminded me of being an apprentice, trying to cut corners to go faster and having to start again entirely. Short cuts take twice as long, I learned. And I could feel the ghost of our strict French chef breathing over my shoulder as I attempted to pipe this monstrosity.
My friend was polite about it: I’ll save half for breakfast! No, it was nice, honestly. But she was betrayed by her comparative enthusiasm for the second thing we made that day, these simple, little plum and hazelnut cakes. We made them in cupcake pans with sliced plums on top, and in little moulds the size of corks that we ate hot as soon as they came out of the oven, not even a mouthful.
The financier is a cousin to the madeleine, and a superior cousin at that (though I share a name with the latter). (I’m also the oldest cousin in my English family, so.) Both are little buttery snack-cakes, but financiers are made with browned butter, what the French call beurre noisette, so they already have a toasty aroma that is only enhanced by the ground nuts, in this case hazelnuts. They stay fresh for a few days too, unlike madeleines which are best eaten on the first day. Plums are a perfect autumn accompaniment, the thin slices turning jammy in the oven, with a few halved hazelnuts on top for crunch.
Apart from browning the butter, the preparation is pretty easy. Stir, chill, bake. Ideally the mixture should rest in the fridge for a few hours to properly chill for the perfect texture. It will keep for a few days refrigerated, so if you have more mixture than tins, you can make a second batch later on.
Plum and hazelnut financiers
adapted from Hugues Pouget in Fou de Pâtisserie 12. It is an easily customisable recipe – substitute almonds or walnuts; add spices, citrus zest, vanilla or even finely ground tea for different effects; use seasonal fruits like raspberries, apples, pears…
80g plain flour
120g ground hazelnuts
200g caster sugar
215g egg whites (about 7-8)
pinch of salt
3-4 ripe plums
whole hazelnuts for decoration
Sift flour, hazelnuts and sugar into a large bowl. In a small saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat and keep going until it starts to foam and sizzle, then subside. After a couple of minutes, you should smell the milk solids in the butter toasting, similar to hazelnuts. This is easiest in a light coloured pan, as you can see them turn brown (but not black!). If you have a thermometer, cook the butter to 145C. Remove from the heat, add honey and allow to cool. Mix egg whites into flour/nuts/sugar, then stir in the cooled butter, nutmeg and pinch of salt. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours (up to several days).
Grease cupcake moulds or line with papers. Fill each mould about 3/4 full. Finely slice plums and halve hazelnuts and arrange 2-3 slices of plum and 2-3 hazelnut halves on each financier. (This step can be done straightaway if preferred and then refrigerated in the pans).
Preheat oven to 170C and bake for 12-15 minutes. They should be golden all over and brown around the edges. Will keep for 2-3 days in airtight tin.