Financiers (French Almond and Butter Mini Cakes)

This was one of earliest recipes on my blog. Some time in 2011. It seems an eternity…. The photograph screamed for an update, so when I made another batch last week, I took new photographs and thought I’d write about the financiers once more. I took this decision also because I have recently read on a blog that financiers were time-consuming and nothing really special in taste. I found this really surprising and wondered if fussy difficult recipes were circulating among food bloggers…. I didn’t look into the details of this blogger’s recipe but mine, coming from a more than reliable French source (Leçons de cuisine de l’école Ritz-Escoffier ), is all but difficult to the point where I knew it by heart after maybe only three baking sessions! Actually, it takes about fifteen minutes to prepare the batter (no electric mixer, no kneading, no rolling), there are only five ingredients  and it takes only 15-20 minutes to bake. As for the “nothing really special”, it’s of course a question of personal taste, but even though I crave sweets very rarely these days, I find financiers quite exceptional: they might look like ordinary little sponge cakes, but they are much more sophisticated. They contain hardly any flour, but lots of powdered almonds instead, a generous amount of browned “hazelnut” butter, egg whites… they are incredibly light and literally melt in one’s mouth. I hope I have convinced you to try them at least once!

Contrary to what most people think, at the beginning financiers didn’t have a gold ingot shape, but they had an oval form. Produced since the Middle Ages by the French nuns of the Visitation of Mary, they were not called financiers and had an oval form. Then, for a certain time they were forgotten and around 1890, Lasne, a Parisian confectioner, revived the recipe. Since his shop was close to the stock market and financiers were his regular clients, he named the cakes “financiers” and transformed their form into the one recalling a gold ingot, probably thinking they appealed more to his clients. I find the muffin shape cuter than the lingot, so I always prepare financiers in muffin forms.

TIPS/WARNING: Do not even try to use a different flour (for example wholemeal) or sugar replacement (and never brown sugar!) or skipping the butter…. It will result in vaguely almond-tasting muffins. I have made financiers at least 50 times in recent years (my husband is a big fan and they are quick to make…) and I was once faced with a shortage of each of these: white sugar or white flour or butter. Every time the result was awful. The only thing this recipe stands well is cutting down on sugar’s amount and this is what I’ve been doing since the beginning because we don’t like too much sugar.

I have posted also a financiers with raspberry recipe here. I think raspberries taste wodnerful with almonds, but I guess you can add any fresh fruits you like (but not too many, otherwise the cakes might get soggy!).

Some pastry chefs make pistachio financiers, but I’ve never tried this variation, so I’m not sure if one adds the same amount of powdered pistachio…

If you don’t find powdered almonds (or they are very expensive), buy ground white (peeled) almonds and sift them through a sieve. This is what I always do (then you can use the remaining ground bigger bits of almonds in other less delicate sweets).

Click here for some ideas of using the remaining egg yolks.

Preparation: 35-40 minutes

Ingredients (6 muffin shaped financiers or 12 mini-muffin shaped):

50 g powdered almonds (not ground but powdered; see the TIP above)

70 g caster sugar (I sometimes add 60 g sugar only, but it depends on your sweetness level preferences)

50 g butter

2 egg whites

1 heaped tablespoon white wheat flour

a pinch of salt

Preheat the oven to 190°C.

Prepare the “beurre noisette” (lit. hazelnut butter): heat the butter in a pan on a low heat and observe the milk solids, which will separate at the bottom. When they become light brown (hazelnut colour), put the pan aside.

In the meantime combine the egg whites, the sugar, the almond powder, the pinch of salt and the flour in a big bowl. Add gradually the butter, mixing with a spoon (no need to use a mixer or a food processor!).

Pour the mixture into greased – with butter – muffin forms (or other small cakes forms) 2/3 of their height.

Bake for about 15 – 20 minutes until light to medium golden.

Let them cool down before taking out of the forms.

 

Indian Short-Term Fridge Chilli Pickles

If you think these pickles look and sound familiar, you are right: this is exactly the same recipe I posted seven months ago. I didn’t include it in my previous preserving post (My Favourite Summer Savoury Pickles) because it is unique. When I first made it – and shared with you my enthusiasm – it was the middle of winter, the chillies were imported from a warmer continent and not half as good as local seasonal produce, nonetheless these Indian pickles were so extraordinary I promised myself I would write about them once more when chilli season arrives.

Now that I have tested several chilli varieties, I find these pickles the best with jalapeños because they stay relatively crunchy throughout weeks and of course because jalapeños are highly aromatic and delicious!, so if you have a chance to test this recipe with jalapeños, I urge you to do so.

Although I have already grown chillies on my balcony, I was particularly thrilled this year to pick my own balcony-grown jalapeños. They aren’t sold fresh anywhere in my city, so the only way to get them was to sow them and grow on my own. Maybe they don’t look as perfect and as plump as those grown outdoors, but they are absolutely delicious. The photo of this very first harvest was taken a month ago and I’m so happy to have been able to pick a similar amount every single week since then! Obviously every week a new small batch of Indian pickles is started!

This recipe was inspired by two sources: a recipe found in  Meera Sodha’s (Fresh India) and another one, from the newly discovered Healthy Veg Recipes website (in English and Hindi).

Even though both sources are Indian, these pickles taste fantastic in sandwiches, on toasts, in salads and they give a nice fiery kick to every dish from all around the world. One of my favourite ways to have them is with crisp Finnish bread, on top of a thick layer of fresh goat cheese…

TIPS:

If, once your jar is empty, you are left with some thick spicy brine, don’t throw it away! It’s fantastic mixed with mayonnaise or as a salad sauce or as an addition to a vinaigrette sauce. (I have tested only these three options but I’m sure it can be used in other ways too). I don’t advise reusing it for a new batch of fresh chillies.

Chillies have different heat levels and some are ridiculously mild (at least for me), so even if you cannot handle fiery food (and for example jalapeños are out of question), you can still prepare these pickles with mild chillies because the spices here don’t contain chilli powder. You can also look for thin-skinned sweet peppers and cut them into bite-sized pieces. What makes these pickles fantastic is the aromatic, spice-loaded brine, the heat comes after (of course for us, chilli lovers, both are important!).

You can also use raw red chilli, but Indian sources suggest green chilli is the best for pickling. (And I second it, green jalapeños being the best!). Apart from the different, fresher taste, I wonder if green chillies don’t stay firmer when pickled.

I have noticed that Indian dried spices are available practically all around the world (at least online), so try not to skip any of the below ingredients (such as asafoetida, which cannot be substituted and which adds a certain je-ne-sais-quoi to these pickles making them really special).

You will find all the spices and the mustard oil in Indian/Sri Lankan grocery shops. Mustard oil does make a huge difference in taste here… but you can use also for example peanut oil.

The below spice amounts can be changed to your taste, but be careful with fenugreek. It’s easy to overdose and thus make the whole jar of pickles bitter (I’ve had this awful experience once with a curry dish). Asafoetida is quite strong, but it’s not as “dangerous” as fenugreek (in my opinion).

Special equipment: disposable gloves

Preparation: 15 minutes + minimum 3 days

Ingredients:

250 g (about 1/2 lb) fresh green chillies without stalks

50 ml mustard oil

6 teaspoons salt

juice from 1 lime (or 1/2 lemon)

3 heaped teaspoons sugar

3 tablespoons vinegar (I’ve used cider vinegar)

2 tablespoons white/yellow mustard seeds

1 teaspoon coriander seeds

2 teaspoons fennel seeds

1/2 teaspoon fenugreek seeds

1/3 teaspoon asafoetida powder

Grind all the spices in a spice grinder or in a cheap coffee grinder (I have one I bought only for spices, see TIPS above).

Put on disposable gloves. Slice the chillies or cut them into bite-sized pieces. (Remove the seeds and white parts if you want less heat).

Place the chilli pieces tightly in a glass jar or any other container (a Japanese pickling jar, such as this one is a fantastic gadget here).

Add the spices.

Heat the oil (but don’t boil it) and pour it over the chillies.

Add the lime juice, the vinegar, the salt and give it a good stir.

The chilli pieces must be submerged in the pickling liquid, so once you mix everything, you must put something heavy on top. A Japanese pickling jar with a weight will be perfect, but you can also use a bigger jar for pickling and a small clean jar filled with water as a weight. Afterwards you should put a lid on the jar or cover with plastic film (or simply a plastic bag), so that no unwanted bacteria or insect gets inside.

Cover well with plastic wrap or a cover, so that no bacteria gets inside, and leave at room temperature for two-three days. Stir the content once a day with a clean fork or spoon.

The chillies will soften, their volume will be reduced and their colour will change to an olive hue; then they will be ready to eat. (At this point you can transfer them into a smaller container or jar).

Store the pickles tightly closed in the fridge and whenever you fish some pieces out, make sure you use a clean fork or spoon (i.e. not used on any other food product).

I eat them quite quickly, but sometimes I have two batches at the same time, so I have noticed they stay delicious and unspoilt in the fridge for several weeks.

 

Fresh Corn Pancake with Chives and Bacon

Fresh corn is the only vegetable I used to eat always in the same way: whole cobs, grilled or boiled, then salted and smothered with butter. Then, two days ago, I was watching a video from 3分クッキング (3-minute cooking), a famous Japanese food program and decided to prepare a  pancake they presented. To be frank, I didn’t have high expectations and was simply glad to try something new with fresh corn, but the first bite was so surprisingly delicious, I still keep on wondering how something so simple could taste so good.

I have adapted the recipe to my taste (for example smoked bacon instead of raw pork belly is my obligatory change in most Japanese recipes) and will probably tweak this recipe often in the future. As long as you keep fresh corn and chives or green onions, you can change many things here: if you don’t have garlic chives, use normal chives or green onion and crushed garlic clove instead; you can put on top whatever you want (any fresh seasonal herb you like eating raw, any spicy sauce or seasoning…), etc.. If you can read and understand Japanese, 3分クッキング is a wonderful huge source of easy home recipes with videos changing every week (but written recipes stay forever).

UPDATE: For those who might be interested, a Japanese friend has told me this type of pancake (called “chijimi” チジミ) is considered by the Japanese as Korean-style and is usually inspired by Korean green onion thin pancakes (this one, especially in the original recipe, did contain a big amount of garlic chives, which are quite close to green onion).

TIP: In the original recipe “tare” (here a mixture of water, soy sauce and Korean chilli paste “gochujang”) is brushed on top of the pancake before the mayonnaise is added. I preferred my bacon to stay dry and crips (not moist), so I skipped it and added taberu rayu (thick chilli oil with sediments) instead. It worked perfectly, but it’s up to you which sauce you prefer.

Preparation: about 40 minutes

Ingredients (serves two):

1 medium or big fresh corn cob

a big handful of chopped garlic chives or normal chives/green onion tops+1 crushed garlic clove

6 thin slices of smoked streaky bacon, cut each in 3-4 pieces

mayonnaise (I have used Japanese Kewpie low-fat ; I strongly recommend it because it’s really delicious, especially compared to other light versions)

oil for frying

chopped shiso leaves or chives or any other fresh herb you like

tare (equal amounts of soy sauce, water and Korean gochujang paste) or chilli oil, preferably with sediments (I have used my homemade Japanese taberu rayu), sriracha or any spicy sauce of your choice

Batter:

6 heaped tablespoons wheat flour

3 heaped tablespoons potato flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon turmeric

1/4 teaspoon ground pepper

100 ml chicken stock (or chicken stock in powder/cube dissolved in water)

1 egg

 

Cut the corn cob horizontally in half, place each half onto a chopping board and cut off the corn, starting from the top (you can also do it with a whole cob, but I found it more difficult).

Put the fresh corn into a bowl, add all the batter ingredients and mix well.

The batter should be like thick pancake batter, so if you think it’s too watery, add some more flour and if it’s too thick, add more stock or water.

Heat oil in a pan, spread a thin layer of the pancake batter (it shouldn’t be more than 1 cm thick), cover with pieces of bacon and cover.

Let it cook at medium heat for five minutes.

Lift the pancake and add about 1/2 teaspoon oil, move the pancake around the pan (it will maje the further frying easier) and flip it. Fry it for 5 more minutes until the bacon becomes crisp.

Place the pancake on a plate (of course bacon side up). If using tare (see the TIP), brush it over the pancake. Then add the mayonnaise, and (if using) chilli oil or another spicy sauce and finally chopped herbs.

Do the same with the remaining batter.

Sri Lankan Tangy Aubergine Curry (Kathirikai pirattal)

I used to say the best aubergine dishes can be found in Indian cuisine, but after discovering this Sri Lankan curry, I am no longer sure… I know this plate doesn’t look particularly attractive, but believe me, it’s one of the best vegetable dishes I have ever eaten. It’s rich in spices, light,  but slightly creamy, the aubergines are still a bit firm and the tamarind’s presence gives this typical addictive tangy twist I love, particularly in the summer. As for the big fat slices of garlic…. all I can say is I’ll put twice as much of these next time!

This recipe comes from the beautifully edited Sri Lanka. The Cookbook by Prakash N Sivanathan &  Niranja M Ellawa. It’s a rather recent buy, but until now everything I have cooked from this book was absolutely delicious and, contrary to what I used to think, every dish had something different from what I would recognise as Indian cuisine(s), in both flavours and techniques. This being said, the good news is that if you cook Indian from time to time, you will probably have already all the necessary spices in your kitchen, since most Sri Lankan seasoning ingredients are the same (apart from pandan leaves, for example, but these don’t appear everywhere).

This curry tastes best now, when aubergines are in season, and even though the word “curry” might make you think it’s a heavy, calorie-loaded dish, actually it’s quite light and summery because – and it’s a recurrent element in this book – the sauce is rather “thin” (and of course you can reduce, just like I did, the amount of coconut milk) and also thanks to its tanginess I consider perfect for hot weather. As always, I have slightly changed the ingredients’ amounts and the procedure, so make sure you check the original and discover this wonderful cuisine through the recipes presented by Prakash N Sivanathan &  Niranja M Ellawa

TIPS: As I have mentioned, if you cook Indian from time to time, you will probably have all the necessary dry ingredients to prepare this dish.

Tamarind can be found in practically every Asian grocery (I’ve seen it in a Vietnamese shop, an Indian shop and a Thai shop) or bought on internet. Don’t skip it and don’t think it can be easily replaced with lime for example (at worst you can of course put some lime juice at the end, but you will obtain a tangy dish without the tamarind’s distinct flavours).

You can buy tamarind in a block that dissolves in hot water or a ready to use tamarind pulp in a jar. I prefer the dried block because it tastes better and keeps literally for years in the fridge. A piece of the block must be placed in boiling water and, after 15 minutes you have to strain it, squeezing well the solid parts. The tamarind pulp in a jar doesn’t keep forever (I had to throw away half of the jar once) and it’s not as tangy as the “juice” made from the pulp. It’s quicker to use though. I have no idea what is the pulp equivalent in this dish (or any dish I make), so I can only advise adding it gradually and adjusting the taste to your preferences.

If you cannot get fresh curry leaves, skip them. Dried curry leaves are tough (impossible to eat afterwards, while they are supposed to be eaten, unlike bay leaves, for example) and lose the majority of their aroma. Curry leaves freeze very well, especially if vacuum packed or very tightly wrapped in plastic film, but I’ve never seen them frozen in shops… so if you get hold of them, freeze them in small portions tightly wrapped or, even better, vacuum packed. If you live in the US: I’ve seen some people grow curry leaf trees and sell fresh leaves on internet.

Preparation: about 1 hour

Ingredients (serves 3-4 as a side-dish):

2 medium Western aubergines our 6-7 small Asian (long ones)

1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds (I have used black)

a small handful of picked fresh curry leaves

1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds

1/2 teaspoon fenugreek seeds

2 small medium-hot green chillies (found in Indian or Sri Lankan shops) or other green medium-hot chilies

3 big shallots or 1 big onion

8 medium garlic cloves

5 cm square of tamarind block dissolved in 200 ml (about 3/4 cup) hot water and strained (see the TIPS above)

1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder

1 teaspoon cumin powder

1 teaspoon coriander powder

1 teaspoon chilli powder (or more/less); I have used 2 teaspoons Kashmiri chilli powder which is not very hot but has a beautiful red colour

salt to taste

100 ml (about 3 1/2 oz) coconut milk (I have used recently 60 ml and it was delicious too)

Cut the aubergines into bite-sized pieces (while cutting put the pieces into a bowl filled with water, so that they don’t change their colour too much).

Cut the chillies lengthwise and then horizontally (in half or more, depending on the length; you should obtain 2, max 3 cm pieces/roughly 1in pieces).

Slice thickly garlic cloves (I have cut each into 4-5 thick slices).

Cut the shallots into thin slices.

Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a pan and stir-fry the aubergines at medium heat until they are slightly browned.

Take them off the pan and put aside.

Add one more tablespoon oil into the same pan and stir-fry mustard seeds. When they start popping, add the curry leaves, the cumin and fenugreek seeds.

After 1 minute add the green chilli, the shallots and stir-fry them at medium heat until the shallots are soft and start browning.

Now add the garlic and stir-fry for one more minute.

Take the pan off the heat, add the powdered spices and mix well.

Pour the tamarind water and the coconut milk and let all simmer until 1/3 of the liquid evaporates (or until the sauce is thick enough for you; I preferred it rather thick/dry).

Finally, add the aubergines, season the curry with salt and give it a good stir.

Warm up for about five minutes.

 

My Favourite Savoury Summer Preserves

Pickled Sweet Pepprs

I don’t eat jams and other sweet preserves, so my even though for most people preserving means mainly making jams, my pantry has become almost 100% savoury with most of the jars filled with chilli pepper-based jellies, sauces, pickles and other more or less fiery products. Preserving season has practically started here (I’ve just made my first jars of chilli jelly!), so I thought I’d share with you my favourite preserves, those I cannot imagine skipping even for a single year. 

Some of them can only be kept in the fridge, some can be put into jars and kept for at least a year in your pantry. If you are afraid of long-term preserving (though I must assure you I’ve literally lived all my life on home preserves and never ever got even a slight stomach ache!), all the below long-term recipes can also be made as “fridge” preserves and kept for several months. If the hot water bath process (which I find necessary in long-term savoury preserves) seems too fussy and too long, I assure you, it lasts only 10-15 minutes, depending on the jar’s size, and is really easy. 

I hope you will find some of the below ideas useful or inspiring. Happy preserving!

TIPS: If you cannot handle very hot chilli varieties, choose the mildest ones. I keep on getting furious because from time to time I buy at the same shop chillies labelled as hot while they are not even medium-hot, so I know such things exist…

If you live in Europe and your country doesn’t produce chillies, I strongly suggest looking for Turkish grocery shops and Turkish stalls at farmers markets. They usually have several varieties of chillies (also some which are barely hot) and they will be fresher than those imported from other continents.

Short-term or Fridge-Only Preserves

Hunan Salt-Pickled Chillies/Erös Pista

Hunan Salt-Pickled Chillies/Erös Pista

Raimu Koshou (Chilli and Lime Zest Paste)

Raimu Koshou (Chilli and Lime Zest Paste)

Yuzu Koshou 柚子こしょう

Yuzu Koshou 柚子こしょう

Peperoncini sott'olio (Fresh Chillies with garlic and Oil)

Peperoncini sott’olio (Fresh Chillies with garlic and Oil)

 

Salt Brine Pickled CHilli

Salt Brine Pickled Chilli

Long-term/ Pantry Preserves

 

Pickled Dill Cucumbers

Moomins’ Pickled Cucumber Salad

Indian-Style Tomato Chutney

Vinegar-Pickled Chillies

Vinegar-Pickled Chillies

Chilli Jelly

Chilli Jelly

Habanero and Oil Paste

Habanero and Oil Paste (Only for Brave Chilli Lovers!)

Pineapple and Chilli Jelly

Pineapple and Chilli Jelly

Mango and Chilli Sauce

Mango and Chilli Sauce

Pickled Sweet Peppers