Why It Works
- Using toasted sliced almonds and then grinding them deepens their flavor and contributes to a pleasing coarser texture.
- Resting the batter in the refrigerator allows the ingredients to hydrate, yielding moist, tender financiers.
I’m not a cake person. I didn’t have cake at my wedding, and, despite my mother’s insistence, my husband and I decided on an ice cream sundae bar instead. I've been to enough weddings where the cake has been dry, rubbery, or just so generally lackluster that no amount of too-sweet frosting can salvage it or make me regret our decision. That said, there are a few types of cake I will giddily look forward to: fudgy chocolate cake, muffins (basically less sweet cakes sans frosting), gâteau Basque (the grown-up version of a Pop-Tart), and tender-crisp financiers (preferably still warm from the oven).
Moist on the inside with a crisp eggshell-like exterior, financiers (pronounced fee-nahn-see-ay) are rich, dainty cakes scented with almonds and brown butter. The nutty cakes are baked in molds in a variety of shapes―round, teddy bear, or rectangular like gold bars. The last form, which is traditional, is credited to a baker named Lasne, who sold the cakes to stockbrokers that frequented his bakery near Paris’s financial center in the late 1800s. The cake itself was a riff on a similar pastry known as the visitandine, made by nuns of the Order of the Visitation. Amanda Hesser writes in The New York Times “that it is likely that the baker Lasne simply altered the shape and the name of the cake to flatter his clientele.”
Financiers may sound fancy but in actuality are easy to make, using just a handful of basic pantry ingredients―egg whites, butter, almonds, all-purpose flour, sugar, and salt. After doing some recipe research, I made a few informed decisions when it came to the ingredients and method. In my initial tests, I whipped up financiers with almond flour and hazelnut flour (another popular option). Even though I liked the one with hazelnuts, I much preferred the marzipan-like flavor of the almond financiers. And, because I couldn’t resist, I did a test swapping ground toasted almonds in place of store-bought almond flour, which added complexity and a pleasing texture with slightly coarser nutty bits. If you have almond flour available, you can substitute with an equal amount by weight; your financiers will just have a finer texture. (You can also play around with the nuts, swapping in pistachios or walnuts or hazelnuts for the almonds).
The traditional method of making financiers involves heating the sugar, almonds, egg whites, and salt in a pot until the sugar is fully dissolved, then stirring in the flour and browned butter. This method produced financiers that weren’t quite tender enough, however I suspect it has fallen out of favor because it requires cooking the ingredients on the stovetop before baking. These days, a far more common method simply combines the dry ingredients then mixes in the egg whites followed by the butter. The majority of recipes bake the batter after that tout de suite, however I found the resulting financiers to be rather tough and chewy. I gave chilling the batter a try, a step that very few other recipes instruct. Once baked, the cakes made from the rested batter were soft and springy with a more robust flavor.
Many baking experts will tell you that resting a batter can be helpful because it relaxes the gluten network that formed during mixing. I initially assumed as much given the results of my financier tests, but after speaking to Francisco Migoya, the head chef at Modernist Cuisine, it became clear that the old rest-your-batter-to-relax-its-gluten thing isn't quite right. Migoya says that “in the case of batters or cookie doughs, a quick mixing time is not enough time to form a gluten network.” This, coupled with the large amount of fat, limits its gluten potential. He added that the resting time can have other beneficial effects, mostly in that it gives the dry ingredients more time to hydrate, meaning they will absorb the moisture from the egg whites. Once fully hydrated, the batter cooks up into more tender, moist cakes. A few hours in the refrigerator also gives the flavors time to meld and firms up the batter, which makes getting it into the molds a piece of cake.
Baking the financiers in a financier pan isn’t a requirement. Many recipes, including my own, rely on a mini muffin pan to form the tiny cakes. If you have a financier pan, by all means use it; your yield may be slightly different depending on the size of the molds. Except for a sprinkle of sliced almonds on top, I serve my financiers unadorned. While deeply satisfying to eat as-is, you can dress them up with a glaze or dip them into melted chocolate. I recommend eating as many of the buttery cakes as you can in one sitting. Life is too short for bad cake.
- 5.3 ounces unsalted butter (about 10 tablespoons; 150g)
- 3.5 ounces toasted blanched sliced almonds (about 1 cup; 100g)
- 2.1 ounces all-purpose flour (about 1/2 cup; 60g)
- 6.3 ounces (1 1/2 cups; 180g) powdered sugar, sifted
- 1/4 teaspoon Diamond Crystal kosher salt; for table salt, use half as much by volume
- 4 large egg whites (120g), lightly beaten
- Raw sliced almonds, for decorating
In a 2-quart stainless steel saucepan or saucier, melt butter over medium-low heat. Increase heat to medium and simmer, stirring with a heat-resistant spatula while butter hisses and pops. Continue cooking and stirring until foaming subsides, scraping up brown bits that form on bottom, and butter is golden yellow and milk solids are chestnut brown in color, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a small heatproof bowl and set aside.
In a blender or food processor, combine toasted almonds and flour and pulse until almonds are completely broken down into fine, sandy crumbs, about 30 seconds. Transfer flour-almond mixture to a large bowl, add sugar and salt, and whisk until thoroughly combined, about 30 seconds. Add egg whites and whisk until smooth and no dry flour remains, about 1 minute (the consistency should be similar to pancake batter). Add half of the brown butter and whisk until fully incorporated, about 30 seconds. Repeat with remaining butter. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 3 hours and up to 1 day.
Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat oven to 375°F (190°C). Grease a 24-cup nonstick mini muffin pan. Using a 1-tablespoon cookie scoop or measuring spoon, scoop 1 tablespoon of dough into each cup. Sprinkle raw sliced almonds in an even layer over the top of each. Bake until financiers are puffed and domed on top and light golden brown in the center with deeper golden brown edges, about 12 minutes.
Transfer pan to a wire rack and let cool for 10 minutes. Using a butter knife or small, thin offset spatula, remove financiers from pan. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature.
2-quart stainless steel saucepan or saucier, blender or food processor, 24-cup nonstick mini muffin pan, 1-tablespoon cookie scoop or measuring spoon
Make-Ahead and Storage
The batter can be prepared ahead of time and refrigerated for up to 1 day.
Financiers are best enjoyed on the same day they’re baked.