Category Archives: Cakes, pies, tarts

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).

BEWARE! You might be convinced (I was too!) that something labelled as “almond flour” would be perfect here… I have recently noticed online products labelled in English as “almond flour” are in reality ground almonds… For this recipe you must use almonds powdered to a point where they resemble almost wheat flour, so if you realise you have coarser product (which frankly should be labelled as almond meal or simply ground almonds), sieve it.

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 & “BEWARE” 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.

 

Easy Festive Sweet Treats and Desserts

Unbaked Chocolate Cake

If most of your Christmas dishes are time-consuming or difficult, the last thing you need to complicate your life with is an elaborate dessert. Leafing through my old hand-written copy book and browsing through my blog, I realised most sweets I prepare got easier and quicker throughout the years. Thanks to this, the dessert is the part of the meal I am least nervous about because I got used to effortless recipes, which – surprisingly – please my guests as much as the difficult ones used to. The best illustration of what I’m talking about is the above Unbaked Chocolate Cake I have discovered thanks to Katerina, my dear Greek friend and extraordinary inspiring cook from Culinary Flavors. It takes a while to prepare, always yields perfect results and is a huge hit every time I serve it.

Apart from the above cake, I have chosen for you baked desserts, creams, truffles and other sweet treats I consider particularly easy and sometimes also very quick to make. You will notice most of them are light; it’s not intentional but simply illustrates the majority of the sweets I have been preparing in recent years. All are seasonal (I mean from the European point of view), so no need to chase down tasteless and expensive strawberries or peaches in the middle of winter. I hope you will find at least one useful easy idea here. Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas to all of my dear visitors!

TARTS AND CAKES

French Lemon Tart or Tartlets

French Lemon Tart or Tartlets

Super Thin Apple and Applesauce Tart

Super Thin Apple and Applesauce Tart

Pear and Fresh Cheese Tart

Pear and Fresh Cheese Tart

Guinness Chocolate Cake

Guinness Chocolate Cake

CREAMS AND CREAMY INDIVIDUAL DESSERTS

Chocolate and Coconut Cream with Agar

Chocolate and Coconut Cream with Agar

Wobbly Cream with Pear and Lime Zest

Wobbly Cream with Pear and Lime Zest

Coffee and Coconut Wobbly Cream with Agar

Coffee and Coconut Wobbly Cream with Agar

Light Crème Brûlée (Light Burnt Cream)

Light Crème Brûlée (Light Burnt Cream)

Light Unbaked Cheesecake with Passion Fruit

Light Unbaked Cheesecake with Passion Fruit

Matcha and Coconut Wobbly Cream

Matcha and Coconut Wobbly Cream

TRUFFLES AND SWEET FINGER FOOD

Bounty (Coconut, Chocolate and Rum) Truffles

Bounty (Coconut, Chocolate and Rum) Truffles

Prunes in Chocolate

Prunes in Chocolate

Chocolate Truffles with Prunes and Chocolate

Chocolate Truffles with Prunes and Chocolate

Chewy Coconut Cookies (Macaroons)

3-Ingredient Chewy Coconut Cookies (Macaroons)

 

 

 

Feather-Light Filo Tart with Plums

filoplumThis shapeless piece of tart might look quite ordinary, but it’s one of the best baked sweet treats I have made in years. Wondering what dessert might bring out the best in my beloved violet oval plums (the ones that become prunes), I substituted filo sheets for the usual tart crust, the solution I have been seeing quite often on internet. This change did all I had hoped for and even much more: the thin flaky layers of Greek pastry didn’t take attention away from the plums, didn’t bring useless heaviness, carbs, calories… but encased them with a crisp delicate “frame”. This lightest tart in my cooking experience was an unforgettable discovery that will certainly lead to further filo experiments with sweet dishes.

TIPS: Most cakes (made by family or friends or bought in pastry shops) are much too sweet for me, so whenever I bake, I cut down the sugar’s amount by half in most recipes. If you consider most cakes you are served or buy normally sweet, then you should double (at least) the sugar amount sprinkled on fruits.

This tart serves four to six people, but since it is a particularly light and thin, I’d recommend dividing it into six only if you serve it after a very rich meal.

Given the big amount of fruits and the thinness of filo sheets, this tart will be soft underneath, only sides will be crisp.

UPDATE: I made this tart a couple of days ago once again with plums from a different source. Given the results I don’t recommend preparing it with very watery and acid plums. Plums should be slightly “meaty”, sweet and firm. Otherwise, the tart becomes too mushy and much too acid. I recommend organic plums because these have given me extraordinary results.

Preparation: about one hour

Ingredients (serves four, max. six; fills a 22 x 14 cm/about 8,5 x 5,5 in dish):

3 sheets of filo pastry

4 tablespoons cane sugar

3 tablespoons melted butter

about 500 g stoned and halved oval violet plums

(1 tablespoon almond slivers)

Preheat the oven at 180°C.

Grease a baking dish with butter.

Spread a sheet of filo pastry, sprinkle half of it with 1/2 teaspoon sugar. Fold onto the sweetened part.

Butter the top of the sheet, sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon sugar and cover with another sheet, prepared the same way.

Repeat with the third sheet the same way.

Place the three folded sheets into a baking dish.

Cut them to adjust to the dish’s shape (it should fit the dish’s bottom size + about 2 cm on all sides).

Brush the top layer of the filo pastry with butter and sprinkle some sugar again.

Place the halves of plums very tightly, overlaying each other on top of the tart.

Sprinkle with the rest of sugar and with almond slivers, if using.

Fold the edges inside, so that you obtain rounded edges (this is only for aesthetic reasons). Brush them with butter.

Bake until the edges are golden brown (after 30 minutes, check every ten minutes, so that it doesn’t burn).

Thin Strawberry Tartlets (Tartelettes Fines aux Fraises) with Vanilla Pastry Cream

tartefraiseppA cute colourful mini-tart with delicate buttery crust is what comes first to my mind when I think of the magical world of French pastry. I have always particularly appreciated its typical thin crust and its version called “tarte fine” – with extremely thin, completely flat base – leaves even a greater space for the ripe fruits’ fragrance and flavours, especially when enhanced with light vanilla cream. 

Strawberry tart with vanilla pastry cream is quite popular and many pastry shops sell it in season. Whether you prepare a standard tart with crust also the sides or this light “tarte fine”, the recipe is not complicated, but it does take time. The secret of the best result lies in the perfect crème pâtissière, or pastry cream (often called simply “custard”), with a real vanilla pod, the 100% butter-based thinly rolled out pastry sheet and, of course, in the highest fruit quality. The pastry cream is inspired by the recipe I have found in “Plaisirs sucrés” by Pierre Hermé, a famous confectioner whose macarons’ discovery was one of the most unforgettable moments in my life. Even though this is the best and lightest pastry cream I have ever tasted, I have slightly modified it after the first test (mostly cutting down the sugar amount). The same recipe can be adapted of course to a big tart, but I usually prefer individual portions.

Here are some other strawberry sweet treats you might like:

Yogurt Strawberry Mousse with Chocolate Ganache

Yogurt Strawberry Mousse with Chocolate Ganache

Coconut and Strawberry Wobbly Cream with Agar

Coconut and Strawberry Wobbly Cream with Agar

Yogurt Strawberry Mousse

Yogurt Strawberry Mousse

Strawberry Gratin

Strawberry Gratin

And see here what to do with leftover egg whites, though 99% of the time I prepare my Easy Moist Coconut Biscuits (Macaroons for US visitors):

Chewy Coconut Cookies (Macaroons)

Chewy Coconut Cookies (Macaroons)

TIPS: If you don’t feel like playing with sideless, very thin crust, you can of course make the same tartlets or tart with more popular crust, baking it in a tart/-let form. In this case, while baking the crust, put a piece of baking paper over each tartlet form filled with raw pastry and cover it with dried beans (to stop the bottom from rising).

Needless to say, you can make one big strawberry tart (tarte fine aux fraises) instead of individual portions.

You don’t need to decorate these tartlets with mint leaves, but I find a hint of mint fragrance fantastic with both strawberries and vanilla cream.

Special equipment :

a round pastry cutter and 6 small round ramekins of the same or slightly bigger diameter

Preparation: less than 2 hours

Ingredients (makes 6 x 10 cm diameter tartlets):

about 200 grams/about 7 oz thinly rolled out all-butter puff pastry (or home-made sweet butter pastry)

400 – 500 g/about 14-18 oz strawberries (preferably equally sized); the amount depends on the way you place them on the custard (you use less if you slice them and more if you place halves, for example)

Pastry cream/Custard:

500 ml/about 17 fl oz milk

5 flat tablespoons corn starch

4 heaped tablespoons caster sugar (or more if you like very sweet desserts)

1 vanilla pod

4 egg yolks

50 g/about 1,8 oz butter (can be omitted, but the taste will be simply worse)

(fresh mint leaves for decoration)

Preheat the oven to 180°C (356°F).

Cut out the circles. Put them on the baking paper. Cover with another layer of baking paper and block from rising, blocking them with round ramekins with a similar diameter.

Bake until golden (check often because they burn quickly).

Put aside to cool down.

In the meantime prepare the pastry cream.

Bring to boil 400 ml/about 13,5 oz milk with the vanilla pod cut in two lengthwise.

Put aside and let it cool down.

Scrape off the two vanilla pieces so that the small vanilla grains stay in the milk.

Combine the yolks, the sugar, the corn starch and the remaining cold milk.

Strain the warm vanilla milk, constantly stirring, into the yolks mixture.

Discard the vanilla pods (wash them, dry them and put into a confectioner’s sugar jar: you’ll have vanilla scented sugar or you can also reuse them: they will yield hardly any grains, but will still give a slight vanilla aroma).

Put back the obtained mixture into the pan and, constantly stirring, bring to the boil.

Put aside when it thickens to a cream consistency.

If the cream is not smooth and you see lumps, mix it in a blender.

When the cream is no longer hot, but still very warm, combine it with butter.

Let it cool down in the fridge, covered with plastic film (otherwise a darker “skin” will form at the top).

Put a couple of tablespoons of the cream on each tart circle.

Cover with the strawberries (cut in halves, in four pieces, sliced or whole… whatever suits your strawberries shape and size).

Serve slightly chilled.

You can decorate the tartlets with fresh mint leaves.

 

Far Breton (Brittany Prune Pudding Cake)

farbretonpp

I rarely bake (at least compared to most bloggers I follow), mainly because, no matter which season of the year, I crave usually light creams, custards or mousses you will find published quite often on my blog and I often find a piece of good dark chocolate totally sufficient as a daily sweet treat. When I do bake, I often go back to my favourite thin French-style tarts or moist, creamy cakes, such as Polish Light Cheesecake, Moist Coconut Cake or… Far Breton, which is my definite favourite. Actually, if I were to show here every single sweet treat coming out of my oven, I think it would appear on my blog probably 80% of the time. I hope my love for this light, custardy pudding cake and a slight photographic improvement are valid excuses to rewrite about it after two years.

Far breton is as easy to prepare as it is impossible to translate. It’s not exactly a cake, nor a custard, nor a flan… Since nothing I have ever tasted has a similar consistency, maybe “a baked, dense, slightly elastic pudding” (in the German sense of the word) would be a good definition. As its name suggests, far breton is a Brittany region specialty and a small Breton village bakery shop is the first place where I discovered it . Apparently, several centuries ago the dish called far was a kind of gruel with dried fruit, far meaning “wheat” or “spelt” in Latin. Afterwards the dish evolved into the today’s dense pudding-like cake. The oldest written trace of the present form of far breton dates back to the XVIIIth century, when both savoury (made from buckwheat and served with meat) and sweet fars (usually without any fruit) were popular. Nowadays only the sweet one is very popular not only in Brittany, but all around France.

Most people prepare it, like me, with prunes, some add only raisins, some both, and some purists refuse any kind of fruit. I find the most popular, slightly tangy version the absolute winner. I think it is best served cold, preferably left overnight in the fridge. Having prepared far breton according to the same method for at least ten years, I no longer remember where I found this recipe, but I appreciate it for the absence of butter or any fats and also for its low sugar content.

Coolness, extreme softness, moisture and a slight elasticity are the main reasons I find this cake irresistible. I also appreciate it for its lightness and low flour and fat content. My far breton is only slightly sweet, so if you are not the kind of person who cuts down the sugar content by half in every recipe (I do), add at least 50% more. The balance between the sweetness and acidity depends also on the prunes though.

TIP: Many people worry about the fact that prunes fall to the bottom. I don’t mind, but I have heard that coating prunes in flour prevent them from falling. (I have never tested it though).

Preparation: 1 h (+ at least 2 hours in the fridge)

Ingredients (fills a 10 x 30 cm or 20 x 20 cm baking dishes):

250 g/about 9 oz flour

70 g / about 2,5 oz sugar

4 eggs

750 ml/ about 25 fl oz milk

1 pinch salt

a bit of salted butter to grease the dish

25 big prunes (stoned)

a bowl of hot strong black tea

50-100 ml/about 1,7 – 3,5 fl oz rum

Soak the prunes in tea until they become soft. Drain them.

Preheat the oven to 180°C.

Grease the pan with butter (or line with baking paper).

Warm the milk until it is hot (don’t boil it!).

Combine the eggs, the flour, the salt and the sugar.

Slowly add the warm milk and the rum, stirring.

Pour the batter (it will be very liquid) into the baking dish. (If it is not smooth, mix it in a blender or pass it through a sieve).

Place the prunes inside, more or less regularly.

Bake for about 1 hour until golden brown.

Let the far cool down before putting it into the fridge for several hours.

Serve very cold, sliced.