Baking with jam

July 12, 2014 § 1 Comment

Strawberry jam

I have a bit of jam fetish. At the present moment, my fridge contains homemade strawberry jam, marmalade and lemon curd, as well as bought apricot and lingonberry jams. In the cupboard is more marmalade, as well as Christine Ferber’s Mirabelle, more strawberry jam and apple butter. So I keep an eye out for recipes that show off jam and help me to deplete my stock. One great use is to make a Victoria sandwich. Here the sweet cake and the bland cream form a perfect contrast with a fruity jam. But I don’t make a Victoria sponge very often, because it needs to be eaten the same day, and with two of us in the house, that’s a tall order. It’s useful to have some recipes for using up jam on hand, whether to use up a jar, or to show off a good pot of the homemade stuff (if you’re not into eating it with a spoon!).

Here I have gathered together four different takes on the idea of a jam bake, contrasting different types of pastry or dough with a jammy centre.

Jam tarts

The classic route is a simple jam tart. This is one of those simple, classic recipes that needs all of the ingredients to be impeccable – it can be done cheaply and be ordinary, or done with care and quality, and be delicious. I like Dan Lepard’s recipe that bakes the tart cases blind, and then boils the jam separately before filling the cases, avoiding the problem of jam boiling over and cementing the tarts into the tins).

Greengage jam tarts

 

Jam scones

I’ve come across two recipes that use jam along with something between a pastry and a scone dough. The first was these walnut jam ‘scones’ from LA baker Zoe Nathan. Scones is a bit of a misnomer, as the dough is rich with butter, along with ground nuts. In fact, it’s so rich that you need to freeze the shaped dough before baking so that it will keep its shape in the oven. But what you get for all that butter is a really delicate, crumbly texture around the jam, so the central puddle of jam almost holds the whole thing together. Also, freezing the dough means that you can bake them in small quantities at a time and eat them fresh.

Hazelnut jam scones

Jam thumbprints

The second variation on this theme is a recipe for Linzer thumbprint cookies that appeared in Yotam Ottolenghi’s column a few weeks ago. Here he specifies something between a shortbread and scone dough, flavoured with citrus zest, fennel seeds and spices, and adding crunch with flaked almonds in the dough. I made the ones below with lingonberry jam and lemon curd – the lemon worked particularly well with the fennel seeds.

Ottolenghi Linzer thumbprint cookies

 

Jam crumble bars

Finally, using the soft set strawberry jam in the last post, I made a recipe from Kim Boyce’s brilliant book ‘Good to the Grain’, which showcases different grains and flours. This is a shortbread base, made with rye flour, topped with a good layer of jam, and then covered in a rye and oat crumble topping. Although the crumble was a bit too crumbly for me – I would probably add a spoonful of liquid next time to create bigger crumbles – this was delicious. The toasted, round flavour of the rye contrasted beautifully with the sweet jam. She suggests apple butter as a winter version, and I think that would be delicious too.

Strawberry crumble bars from @KimBoyceBakes recipe - using my homemade jam

 

 

Soft set strawberry jam

June 18, 2014 § 4 Comments

Strawberry jam

I have a very neglected strawberry patch. When we first changed our garden to create space to plant vegetables, I planted five Cambridge Favourite strawberry plants along with the lettuces and tomatoes. Since then, I have been very inattentive and have let them multiply all over the place until they take up a good third of the growing area. This year, because of pregnancy and baby, I have been particularly neglectful, but despite that, and the efforts of some greedy local wood pigeons, there has been a bumper crop.

Strawberry-mint syrup underway for @JenniferPerillo roasted strawberry frozen yoghurt

I put the first batch into roasted strawberry syrup and strawberry frozen yoghurt, following Jennie’s recipes. Then as another batch started to look neglected in the fridge, I knew the only way to hang onto their fragrance and flavour was jam.

Strawberry jam

Strawberry jam has a particularly tricky reputation. This is because strawberries contain very little pectin, the sticky substance that makes jams thicken, and so need lots of encouragement to set. It’s easy to end up with strawberry soup, which slides and drips off scones and toast. To combat this tendency, recipes typically include lemon juice, lots of sugar and added pectin, either from a bottle or using jam sugar.

I wanted a fresh tasting jam, without excessive boiling, and something I could do quickly (babies require you to shorten all tasks as much as possible). Many recipes ask you to macerate the fruit and sugar overnight, so they were out. I decided on Kim Boyce’s recipe in ‘Good to the Grain‘. This one is unusual in a few ways. First, it asks you to cook the sugar with water into a syrup before adding the fruit. My guess is that this allows you to cook the berries for a shorter time. It also contains much less sugar than other recipes: a cup for 3 lbs of fruit (or 230g sugar to 1.3kg fruit).

I liked the idea of this recipe, but was a bit scared that it would produce a soup, so I made the following changes:
– although I had only 900g (2lbs) fruit, I kept the sugar quantity the same
– I added the juice of half a lemon
– I then chopped the rest of the lemon half into slices and boiled it in water with the pips for 10 minutes. I then strained this into the pan with the berries.

This is a quick way to extract some pectin, and if you have more time, can be done more thoroughly, with the pieces squeezed through muslin (see marmalade post). This is loosely adapted from a June Taylor method, and a Christine Ferber recipe. As well as helping the set, I find adding lemon to strawberry jam really lifts the flavour, and prevents it from being cloying. (Felicity Cloake agrees).

[to see how effective this approach can be, when you have a lot of lemon pips, put them in a bowl and cover with cold water, and leave them to stand. The water will likely gel as the pectin coating the pips dissolves in the water.]

Strawberry jam

After boiling for 15-20 minutes, the mixture reduced down to a thick bright-red syrup, and after testing for a set, I took it off the heat. I then added a final lemon flourish by zesting the remaining lemon half straight into the jam before putting into jars.

This does not produce a remotely stiff jelly, and is a decidedly spoonable consistency that needs to be kept in the fridge. But the bright colour and flavour are enough to convince me to try this approach again when strawberries come around next year.

Strawberry jam

Recipe: Soft set strawberry jam

adapted from Kim Boyce ‘Good to the Grain’, an inspiring book of recipes for unconventional flours and grains

  • 900g strawberries
  • 240g sugar
  • A lemon

Wash and hull the strawberries. Cut most of them in half, leaving the tiny thumbnail sized ones whole, and cutting the big monsters into quarters. The berries will break down as they cook, so the pieces don’t need to be small.

Halve the lemon, juice one half and reserve, and slice the empty half into thin pieces. Put into a small saucepan with any pips, cover with cold water and boil for about 10 mins to extract the pectin.

Put a couple of saucers or small plates in the freezer to check the set later on.

Place the sugar into a large saucepan or preserving pan and add about 100ml water. This is the pan you will make the jam in, so it needs enough room to allow the jam to bubble up (minimum of 4 litre capacity). Put on a medium-high heat and bring to the boil to dissolve the sugar. Swirl the pan occasionally to ensure the sugar crystals all dissolve, and to make sure there are no hotspots where the sugar could start to caramelise.

Once the syrup is clear and bubbling, add the strawberries, lemon juice, and strain in the water from the lemon half, pressing down on the solids. If you have time, you can cool these pieces and put into muslin and squeeze it to extract even more pectin.

Bring everything to a rapid boil, turning the temperature down if it threatens to boil over. Stir occasionally to make sure nothing is sticking to the bottom. The mixture should reduce down and thicken. When it seems thick, take out a spoonful onto one of the cold saucers or plates. Leave it in the fridge for a minute or two, and take the pan off the heat. When you push the side of the blob of jam with a finger, you should be able to see wrinkles on the surface, which indicate a set. Mine reached 102.5C with a thermometer when I took it off the heat (usually you look for 104C for jam to set, but as this has little sugar, and sets softly, it won’t get there).

With the jam off the heat, zest in the remaining lemon half and stir in. Allow the jam to settle and thicken a little in the pan before putting into clean, sterilised jam jars. As this has so little sugar, it should be kept in the fridge.

Foods for new mothers

June 14, 2014 § 1 Comment

Little hand

So I am finally ready to emerge from my pregnancy-and-baby blogging hiatus. Since becoming pregnant last summer, I haven’t really had the energy or the urge to write here. I haven’t baked or cooked very much at all – especially not during that queasy first trimester. And my energy was sapped just getting through the day. But now I can actually get a little time for myself, if only with my phone in one hand while she feeds, and writing here feels like a necessary part of keeping my brain working.

I thought I would start with a list of things that have made these first few hectic weeks a little easier. I’m not intending to turn this into a baby blog, but as this little one has inevitably dominated the last weeks and months, this is one way to restart. None of these are product placement, sponsored or solicited in any way. These are just the (food-related) things that have been helping. You might notice that this list doesn’t exactly represent a balanced diet (!). Be assured, we are eating fruit & vegetables too, but breastfeeding is an energy-intensive business, so anything that keeps you going is ok in my book. And when you are trying to compensate for sleep deprivation with calories, carbs & sugar are really what you look for.

Chocolate

One of the things I was advised (by mumsnetters) to pack in my hospital bag was a bar of chocolate, and when we were stuck in the delivery room at midnight, still waiting to go to the ward 4 hours after delivering, I was very glad of it. And since then, I have been relying on a few squares of good chocolate during a feed, or in the evening to give my energy a boost.

Amelia Rope chocolate bundle

Fortunately for me, just a couple of weeks before my due date, I entered a competition on Amelia Rope’s Facebook page, and won a 3 month supply of her chocolate! I was a fan of Amelia’s salt-tinged chocolate flavours before. She combines fruit and citrus flavours with good chocolate to produce some delicious bars and little cubes. I am a particular fan of the milk chocolate, lime and sea salt combination – which sounds like it shouldn’t work at all, but is completely delicious. The salt and lime balance the sweetness of the milk chocolate, making it mouth-watering. And a square of dark chocolate is the perfect mid-feed pick-me-up.

Frozen meals 

Having meals in the freezer ready to re-heat is an essential for a new parent. I prepared a few things while on maternity leave – cottage pie, pork ragu for pasta. My parents and in-laws also provided meals, and some friends were kind enough to buy us a delivery from Cook, the frozen meal delivery service. My advice to those who are pregnant: make sure you don’t just prepare red-meat based things. Things like lasagne, cottage pie and chili con carne are easy to make in large quantities and freeze well, but I started to miss vegetables, fish & chicken. And make sure there is some space in your freezer for donated meals as well!

Quiche

This is an unlikely one, but in the last 6 weeks at home, the hardest meal to get to is lunch. Breakfast can usually be grabbed while my Other Half is still in the house, and dinner is prepared during naps in the day (even if the extent of that preparation is just to defrost something), and usually eaten in shifts in the evening. But there often isn’t time to prepare lunch, even to the extent of making a sandwich. Quiche can be eaten straight from the fridge, and if it contains a good number of veggies, at least comes close to a balanced meal. A piece of fruit to follow and I can feel fortified for the afternoon. See also: pork pies and sausage rolls, but with less balance :-)

Food delivery

Supermarket deliveries have been my preferred option for some time, and this has only become more essential with a baby. I use Ocado, with a fortnightly box of veg from Riverford, and tend to order both from my phone. I also top this up with odds and ends from the shops in walking distance – it’s good to have a reason to get out of the house and take a walk with the pram. As an added bonus, they also deliver nappies :-)

Cake

At six weeks in, this isn’t quite so necessary – and in fact, can be a liability – but cake is another thing to grab for a quick energy boost. More importantly, it’s something to have on the afternoons with tea. Not that you will be drinking tea – hard to manage a cup of hot liquid in one hand with a baby in the other. No, the cake is really there for visitors to have when they come to coo over the baby. And as a beneficial side effect, you can scarf the leftovers before heading off to bed, leaving your other half with the baby and a bottle. One of the great presents we received was a cake box from Meg Rivers. This has long been my preferred present for new parents. Most people bring things for the baby, so it’s nice to get something that’s for the parents. Her cakes are made with real ingredients, keep well and are thoroughly delicious.

Over the next few weeks, I am trying to return to cooking and baking a bit more, and will be posting here when I can.

June round-up: strawberries, muffins, pasta

July 4, 2013 § 1 Comment

July already?? What on earth happened? I’m sure it was only last week that I signed up for Food Blogger Connect, and was sure I would have a plan by the time it came around. I suppose that’s what the best-laid plans are for. Here are some things I’ve been doing/watching/reading in the last month:

Plum-strawberry jam

Bumper crop of strawberries this year

My strawberry crop has been a bumper one this year, partly due to the frequent rain we’ve had for the last six months, and partly because the runners all got out of hand last year, so even after weeding out about half of my strawberry plants over the winter, I still have a pretty substantial strawberry patch. Along with an out-of-season organic box delivery of red plums, I put the two together to make not quite a full jar of jam. But it is beautiful, the plums adding a purpley depth to the colour that the strawberries wouldn’t achieve alone. I like to add an acid fruit to my strawberry jam – I’ve previously used rhubarb, lemon and lime – which as well as contributing a higher-pectin fruit, also adds the acid that helps it to set. Plums seem to do this very well too.

Hedone

We made our first visit to Hedone a couple of weeks ago, after being reminded when it appeared on the World’s Top 100 list. It’s not far from our house, so it seemed particularly foolish to have neglected it for so long. We went for lunch and had the tasting menu, and had a great time (although it seemed relatively quiet for a Saturday lunch). Particular highlights for me were the five preparations of beetroot that came with the duck main course, and a fabulous warm chocolate mousse with dried raspberry powder and passionfruit puree – raspberry and passionfruit must be two of my favourite flavours to combine with chocolate (this blog post has a photo of that dish).

Black bean chili dinner party

I made dinner for some work colleagues a few weeks ago. As the party included a vegetarian and a no-wheat no-dairy person, I went for an easy make-ahead dish – black bean chili, with lots of toppings for people to add, salsa, guacamole and cornbread. Having a main course you can make on Sunday and keep in the fridge for a Wednesday dinner is an excellent idea for mid-week entertaining. (I use Deborah Madison’s Black Bean Chili recipe from The Greens Cookbook).

Scandilicious Queen Maud muffins

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With all of these strawberries, I needed more things to use them up, so I adapted the Scandilicious baking recipe for Queen Maud muffins, and used blueberries with strawberries cut into pieces instead of raspberries. They turned out really well – I’ve kept them in the freezer and brought them out for snacking at work – and produce the most beautiful muffin papers after you’ve eaten one!

Smitten Kitchen fava bean, tomato and sausage pasta

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I’ve started using Pinterest to collect together inspiration for that ‘but what can I make for dinner’ moment: board here. When my broad beans (fava beans) all flourished at once, and I had a huge crop to use, I turned to Eat Your Books and discovered this Smitten Kitchen gem. With so many fresh broad beans, we didn’t even miss the sausage.

Washington

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I took a work trip to Washington D.C. at the start of the month, where it was beautiful for a couple of days, and then a tropical storm moved in and it poured. Still, I got to do a handful of essential things in between meetings: Smithsonian Apollo and Wright brothers exhibits – check. Shake Shack burger – check. Sephora shopping opportunity – check. I also came across people queuing around the block for cupcakes in Georgetown, which apparently is because there’s a TV series based there – strange phenomenon (I didn’t queue up to try them myself). I’m very happy that Shake Shack has just opened a branch in London too, but I don’t think it will sway me from Byron.

Reading list

In things I have been reading, I love this piece by super-geek Sue Black. I saw her speak at a Girl Geek Dinner a couple of years ago about Bletchley Park, and I’ve always been impressed, but I had no idea how hard she had worked to get where she is today – worth a read if you’re in need of a dose of inspiration.

I’ve been slowly working more and more David Sedaris into my life. First the episodes of This American Life. Then the audiobook of Me Talk Pretty One Day. This month I added ‘Meet David Sedaris’, the Radio 4 series, and also bought my Dad ‘Let’s explore Diabetes with Owls’. He wrote a lovely piece on domesticity and guest rooms in the New Yorker this month.

What makes meringues chewy?

June 30, 2013 § Leave a comment

Chewy almond meringue

Meringues are one of the simplest things to bake, with just two ingredients. But because of this simplicity, there isn’t much room for error. As with many baked goods that are difficult to get right, there is also a wide range of views on what the ideal meringue is like. Some want a completely crisp shell that shatters on the touch of a fork – ideal for something like Eton Mess where the meringue is smashed into pieces.

Others are looking for a chewy centre, almost like nougat. This is often the ideal state of a pavlova base. Finally, there’s the type of soft pillowy meringue used to top a lemon meringue pie.

All these are meringues that use egg whites and sugar – so what’s the X factor?

What is a meringue?

It’s an egg white foam that is made more stable by adding sugar. The sugar syrup supports the bubbles, and holds them up while they dry, leaving behind the sugar and egg-white-protein structure. Egg whites are pretty amazing at creating a foam anyway, owing too all these stretchy proteins they have. However, if you keep beating egg whites on their own, they will go too far – first becoming grainy and then collapsing on themselves.
Things to know:
– Adding sugar to the eggs right at the start will make it slower to foam in the first place, so wait until you have a foam.

egg whites - soft foam

- however, it’s really hard to overbeat meringue, so if in doubt, add it early on, when the foam is still quite soft (a lot of recipes ask you to wait until you have stiff peaks before adding the sugar, but this isn’t necessary, especially if you’re using an electric whisk or a stand mixer). After the sugar is all added, you can also leave it whisking for a good few minutes to make sure you have a really stiff foam.
– The more sugar you add the more stable the foam – you can use anything from 1:1 sugar to egg white to 2:1, with the upper end being more common.
– The sugar needs to dissolve, so use caster (superfine) sugar or icing sugar, and add it gradually. Warm or room temperature egg whites will make it easier to dissolve. Yotam Ottolenghi has a nice trick for his salted almond meringues – heating the sugar in the oven, then adding it gradually.
– A little bit of acid helps egg whites to foam – you can wipe the bowl with a lemon, add a little cream of tartar or a few drops of vinegar.

And one more thing? Because egg whites are pretty much just protein and water, there isn’t much in them to go off. This means that you can keep egg whites quite safely for several weeks in the fridge. Or they freeze well (but never defrost in the microwave – they cook too quickly!).

For a crisp meringue

Here, we are after a meringue with all of the moisture removed so all that is left is the brittle egg white and sugar structure. To do this, use a ratio of 2 parts sugar (by weight) to 1 part egg white. As a large egg white is about 28g, that means about 55g sugar for two large egg whites (or 50g for medium whites).
You also then need a very low temperature and a long time to make sure that all the water evaporates without browning the sugar. Something around 100C/212F is about right.

salted almond meringues to be baked

For a chewy meringue

If a meringue is chewy in the centre, it just means that it managed to hang on to some of the moisture in the centre. You still want a hard shell, so use 2 parts sugar again, or something close to it. You can add things to the mixture to help it hang on to this moisture – a little bit of cornflour being used most often. Chopped or ground nuts, as in french macarons or dacquoise, will also do this, partly by adding a bit of fat.
The other thing is to bake the meringues a little hotter and for a shorter time, meaning the centre doesn’t have the chance to dry out. Be careful of baking too hot though – this will cause the meringues to swell, and may overbrown the outside.

For a pie meringue

First a note of caution – I’ve never made one of these, so you may want to defer to more expert advice. It can be particularly tricky to make sure it sits nicely on top of the curd topping. But in principle, it’s like the chewy meringue, but more extreme – it needs even more moisture in it, needs to stay stable, and you want the outside to cook very quickly and brown, before the inside dries at all.

I’ve made a couple of really good meringue recipes recently. Via pinterest, and this blog post by Jillian Leiboff, Yotam Ottolenghi’s salted almond meringues are really lovely – crisp outsides, chewy in the middle, and scented with both toasted almonds and almond extract.

This one, however, is an old favourite – adapted from a recipe in Flo Braker’s ‘Sweet Miniatures’. These are gluten-free chocolate cookies – little drops of meringue flecked with chopped chocolate.

Meringue Bubbles

adapted from Flo Braker’s ‘Sweet Miniatures’

Chocolate meringue bubbles

- 100g caster sugar
– 2 large egg whites (55g)
– 45g dark chocolate

Line a baking sheet with parchment. Heat the oven to 110C/100C fan/225F.

Grate or finely chop the chocolate, or grind it in a food processor until fairly fine.

Whisk the egg whites with an electric hand whisk or the whisk attachment of a stand mixer. Whisk slowly to start, as the protein unravel and the egg whites loosen up. Then increase the speed and whisk until a soft foam forms. Add the sugar a few spoonfuls at a time, whisking thoroughly between each, and then keep whisking for about three minutes until you have a very stiff and shiny foam.

stiff, shiny meringue

Remove the whisk and fold in the chopped chocolate until it is fairly evenly distributed.

folding in the chocolate

Use your finger to put a little meringue on the four corners of the parchment, and turn over to stick the parchment to the baking sheet (this stops it moving around when you pipe onto it).
Scrape the mixture into a piping bag with either a plain or star-tipped nozzle. If you don’t want to pipe them, simply use teaspoons to drop pieces of meringue about the size of a golf ball onto the baking sheet.

Bake for 1 hour. The finely chopped chocolate, combined with a short bake time means the centres should be chewy and chocolatey.

chocolate meringue stars

May round-up

June 2, 2013 § Leave a comment

Hazelnut jam scones

Walnut jam scones

I made these slightly insane ‘scones’ from a recipe by Zoe Nathan at Lottie + Doof, a Los Angeles bakery. When we were in California last year, we visited another of her bakeries, Milo + Olive, and had a rather wonderful lunch. These scones are a long way from cream tea scones, having a ratio of about 1:1 of flour to butter, and including cornmeal and ground nuts. Delicious as they are, they are a bit too crumbly and fragile for me, so I’m going to try and adapt the recipe and reduce the butter somewhat. Watch this space for a recipe.

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A plain chocolate cake

I was pointed to this lovely, straightforward chocolate cake by The Wednesday Chef (the same post that also links to the scones above). It behaves exactly as described – is subtlely chocolatey (I would consider increasing the cocoa next time) and needs to be a little underbaked (some ground almonds might help keep it moist).

Different sides of the Michael Pollan story

I picked up Michael Pollan’s ’’Cooked” last weekend, after reading a whole host of interviews and reviews. So far I’m enjoying it a lot. I like Pollan’s writing style, and he blends in the personal with interviews and authoritative references. This article, although the headline is clearly linkbait, is worth reading. I think there’s a useful debate to be had about whether everyone should cook, whether they enjoy it or not.

Amazing MRobin cake design

Via I-don’t-know-who, these cake designs are just beautiful. There’s a lovely video showing how she makes the cakes, which are entremets, a French style of layered mousses with thin layers of sponge. The fantastic exteriors are made by patterning and colouring a thin sponge cake which is wrapped around the outside of the cake. Stunning.

Heale House Gardens

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Another beautiful thing – Heale House near Salisbury has an small but enchanting garden that is open to the public. We went at the perfect time, with cherry blossom, bluebells and tulips all out simultaneously. The website doesn’t even slightly do justice to this garden, which is tucked away in an isolated valley below the A303. If you’re off to the West Country this summer, this could be worth a diversion.

As you like it

We spend a weekend in May in Stratford, and although the skies were pretty much slate-grey throughout, there was considerable sunshine in the RSC’s production of ‘As You Like It’. Pippa Nixon as Rosalind was by turns heart-wrenchingly lovestruck, androgynously masculine and then full of sunshine and smiles at the end. There’s a little video that gives you a taste – sincerely hoping this transfers to London.

Cherry Bombe

Cherry bombe magazine
While on hospital-visiting duties, I picked up yet another new food magazine in Selfridges this week – ‘Cherry Bombe’. What’s unusual about this one (apart from it’s price and thick paper) is that the contributors and interviewees are all women. While I could probably do without the cover interview with model-turned-cookie maker Karlie Kloss, the Oma & Bella behind-the-book feature is very good.

Brown butter financiers or friands

May 5, 2013 § Leave a comment

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I sometimes come across this sort of silicone bakeware, and wonder what on earth it’s for (although if it’s as nice as this sunflower one, I don’t worry too much about that). But then I remember financiers. Financiers, or friands, are not something you often come across, but they are a great recipe to know about. Made with egg whites, melted butter, flour, sugar and ground nuts, they are moist little cakes that keep really well.

Financiers are from the French kitchen, and used to be baked in little gold-ingot like bars, which gave them the name. Traditionally, they would be made with brown butter and ground almonds – a rich and somewhat expensive combination which may account for the name. Friands are the antipodean version, less likely to include anything as fussy as brown butter, and more likely to be a carrier for raspberries, blueberries or other fruit flavours.

Another good reason to have a friand or financier recipe on hand is that they are a great way to use up leftover egg whites. Unlike macarons and other egg white recipes that use a meringue base, these don’t require the whites to be whisked to peaks. They only need a little whisking to break them up, and you can easily use 3, 4 or 5 egg whites for one batch of cakes (handy if you’ve been making ice-cream).

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Because of the melted butter and nuts, these are quite dense and rich little cakes, that are best baked in small tins. Friand tins are little oval shapes, but mini muffin tins are the perfect size, if you grease them well. You can also use silicon bakeware in lots of beautiful shapes, like this sunflower mould I picked up in Paris. This seems to cook them more evenly, although you also get less of the brown crust. When baked, the outside should be lightly browned, and when cool, just a little crisp. The interior will be rich and dense with the nuts.

They are a great thing to have on hand if you think you don’t want a proper dessert or cake, just something sweet to nibble with tea or coffee at the end of a meal, or as a pick-me-up in the middle of the afternoon.

For these sunflower cakes, I wanted to keep the mixture plain – no berries or other decorations, so that the shape of the sunflowers would show up nicely. Instead, I used the traditional French approach and made brown butter, which along with a little vanilla, formed the only flavouring. There will be more on alternative flavours for financiers in a forthcoming post.

Scroll down for more on what’s behind the recipe, including details on brown butter and the role of the egg whites.

Brown butter financiers

  • 150g brown butter
  • 165g egg whites(5)
  • 175g icing sugar
  • 50g plain flour
  • 100g ground almonds
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

First make the brown butter, as directed below, and set aside to cool.
Preheat the oven to 200C/180C fan/400F and thoroughly butter your moulds or tins.
Whisk the egg whites gently to loosen them, but not enough to create a froth. Sieve the icing sugar, flour and almonds onto the whites and stir together until combined.
When the butter has cooled but is still liquid, add to the mixture and fold together gently until completely combined and homogenous. If you like, add some vanilla extract or a drop or two of almond extract.

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At this stage, you can refrigerate the mixture overnight or for a few days, until you are ready to bake.
Fill the moulds about 80% full, and bake for 8–12 minutes. The timing will depend on the tins you are using – both the material and the size. They are ready when cooked through – test with a skewer – and with toasted brown edges.
Leave to cool for 5–10 minutes and then turn out of the tin while still warm. If using metal tins, you may need to use a knife to ease the cakes away from the sides. Eat the same day if possible – although they will keep for several days in a tin, the texture won’t be quite as good, and you won’t get the same contrast between crisp edge and soft, dense interior.

What’s behind the recipe?

Brown butter

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Brown butter is what happens when you cook butter until the water has all evaporated and the temperature rises high enough to toast the milk solids in the fat. This produces a little bit of brown sludge at the bottom of the pan, and a lovely toasty, nutty flavour in the butter. It’s sometimes called beurre noisette, and used as a sauce in some dishes of French cookery.

You may have made brown butter accidentally before, by putting butter into a too-hot pan, and seeing the little brown grains appear. Brown butter, made deliberately, is usually done in a small saucepan, of pale metal so that you can see the browning, with a larger quantity of butter. Melt the butter over a moderate heat.

Once the butter is gets close to 100C the water in the butter will start to boil (about 15% of butter is water, depending on the brand you use). Let this bubbling continue. When the water has all gone, it will stop bubbling, and go quiet. This is when you need to pay close attention, and probably stir occasionally. The milk solids – those white, milky parts that appear when you melt butter – will sink to the bottom of the pan and be the first to brown, so you need to scrape them off and stir them about to make sure nothing burns. You might also start to get a foam on the top of the butter. Once the solids at the bottom are a nice nut-brown, and the whole thing smells nutty, remove it from the heat and pour the whole thing into a heatproof bowl or measuring jug. This will help to stop the cooking and make sure it doesn’t brown any further and start to burn. Most recipes using brown butter, including financiers, will need the butter to be cooled – it will be extremely hot when it comes out of the pan.

Why whisk the egg whites if you’re not going to form peaks?

Financiers don’t need the aeration you get from an egg white whisked into snowy peaks, but the recipes often ask you to whisk them a little. Why? The proteins in egg white attach to each other very well, which is why a really fresh egg broken onto a plate will ‘sit up’, and why it’s so hard to divide an egg white in half, if you’ve ever tried to do that. Whisking the whites just a little helps to break apart the proteins and loosen the whole thing up. This makes it much easier to mix in the other ingredients.

Why do financiers only have egg whites in?

Financiers are a puzzle to me. Here is a little tender cake, that doesn’t have any baking powder in, and doesn’t whisk air in through creaming or whisked egg whites. So what makes it rise instead of being a flat pancake?

My best guess is that the egg whites provide a stretchy protein structure, so that when the water and fat in the recipe heats up, and steam is released, the stretchy egg proteins are there to capture it and keep the bubbles in the final cake. There is very little flour in the recipe, so the egg white proteins are likely to be contributing most of the structure that holds the cake together. Ordinarily, egg whites create quite dry, crisp things, but all those nuts and butter keep things rich here.

Some other great friand recipes:

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