Traditionally, a financier (pronounced fee-nahn-see-ay) doesn't include any fruit. It is a simple, flat little rectangular cake (classically about 2- by 4-inches) made with ground almonds, flour, egg whites, browned butter and powdered sugar. They are standard French pâtisserie fare. Their color and shape is said to be the source of their name—when made without the addition of any fruit, they look like little gold bars or ingots. There are other explanations, but to me this one seems the most plausible. No matter what the source of their name, they are delicious—one of my all-time favorites. Buttery....nutty.... tender and cake-y on the inside.....crusty and chewy on the outside..... If you love browned butter and almonds, these cakes are for you.
More and more you will find financiers that include a seasonal fruit of some kind. This is in fact the way I see them most often. Bon Appetit has published a blackberry version. The blogs Tartelette and Cannelle et Vanille have both posted several interesting fruit variations. And these are just the bare tip of the iceberg as a quick internet search will bear out. Besides fruit variations you will also find that the kind of nut flour used is frequently varied.
Similarly, financiers are no longer just made in the traditional flat rectangular pan—other shapes and sizes are common. The deeper the pan, the greater the proportion of tender cake and the greater their capacity to accommodate some fruit. The shallower the pan, the greater the proportion of the prized crusty-chewy exterior.
I don't own traditional financier molds, so my choice of pans was limited to small ramekins, muffin pans and tartlet pans—all of which would have worked just fine. But instead of making little individual financiers, I decided to make one large financier in a rectangular tart pan.
Suzanne Goin in her book Sunday Suppers at Lucques has a couple of recipes that are done as large cakes. And Martha Stewart published one in a rectangular tart pan in March of this year. I particularly like this look. I also like the fact that the end result is a cake with more tender interior and less crusty exterior.
After settling on a style of pan, the only hurdle left was finding a way to incorporate the rhubarb. As I have mentioned in a couple of previous posts, adding rhubarb to a cake can be a bit problematic since it releases so much water during the cooking process. Because this cake is so thin, it would actually have worked pretty well to simply scatter the raw rhubarb over the surface of the cake before baking (just as I did for a rhubarb & cornmeal cake a few years ago). But since the rhubarb in the photos from Ottolenghi had obviously been given some kind of pre-baking treatment—and those photos were the source of my inspiration—that's the direction I took. The trick is to get the rhubarb to release its liquid before it goes on/into the cake without cooking it too much. The best way to do this is to allow the cut rhubarb to macerate in a bit of sugar overnight.
Since the batter for a financier has to rest overnight, this method works well for this particular cake. The next day, the resulting liquid is drained off of the rhubarb and then reduced to a syrup. I used a similar method in a streusel coffee cake a couple of years back.
All in all, I was very pleased with my rhubarb financier. It is tender, sweet, buttery, fragrant with almonds and accented nicely by the chunks of tart rhubarb. It is also very pretty—perfect for a spring tea, a light dessert...or a "just because" kind of snack.
(Rhubarb-Topped Browned Butter Cake)
150 g. (10 T. plus 2 t.) unsalted butter
60 g. (1/2 cup) slivered blanched almonds
60 g. (1/2 cup) all-purpose flour
1/4 t. salt
120 g. (a generous 1 cup) powdered sugar
4 egg whites (120 grams)—beaten until foamy
125 g. (trimmed weight) rhubarb, sliced cross-wise in 1/2-inch pieces (a generous 1 cup sliced rhubarb)
25 g. (2 T.) sugar
Spread the almonds on a baking sheet and toast in a 350° oven until light golden brown—about 5 minutes. Cool and using a nut grinder, grind the nuts to a flour. (You may use 60 grams of purchased almond flour instead. If using almond flour, spread it on a baking sheet and toast as you would the slivered almonds.)
Meanwhile, place the butter in a small saucepan set over medium heat. As the butter begins to sputter and pop, whisk occasionally. The butter solids will begin to turn brown. When the solids are a golden brown and the butter has a pleasantly nutty aroma, scrape the butter (making sure to get all the browned bits) to another container to stop the cooking process (you should have 120 g. browned butter). For a detailed description of browning butter, visit my Butter Pecan Ice Cream post.
Place the ground almonds, all-purpose flour, salt & sugar in a medium sized bowl. Whisk to combine. Whisk in the egg whites. Whisking constantly, drizzle in the warm browned butter to incorporate. Continue to whisk until the batter is smooth. Refrigerate the batter overnight. (This will allow any developed gluten to relax and will give the butter time to firm up.)
To prepare the rhubarb: In a small bowl, toss the rhubarb together with the sugar. Cover and refrigerate overnight. The next morning, give the rhubarb a quick fold to help dissolve any remaining sugar hanging out at the bottom of the bowl. Strain the rhubarb liquid into a sauté pan large enough to hold the rhubarb in a single layer. Bring the liquid to a boil over high heat; add the rhubarb to the pan and return to the boil. Remove the pan from the heat and let the mixture cool to room temperature. Strain the cooled rhubarb out and place in a small bowl. Return the liquid to the pan and set the pan over high heat. Reduce the liquid to a syrup. Scrape the syrup (there shouldn't be more than a tablespoon) over the rhubarb and toss to combine. Chill until ready to use. (See notes.)
To bake the financier: Butter and flour a rectangular (roughly 4 1/2- x 13 1/2-inches) removable bottom tart tin. (If you don't have a rectangular tin, an 8-inch round tart pan—or even a shallow cake pan—will work too.) Spread the batter in the pan and arrange the rhubarb chunks on top of the batter (leaving any excess syrup behind in the bowl)—it is not necessary (or desirable) to press the fruit into the batter.
Transfer the pan to a 375° oven and bake until the cake is golden brown, puffed in the center and a toothpick inserted in the cake (not the fruit) comes out clean—about 25 minutes. If there was any syrup remaining from the rhubarb, brush this over the warm cake. When the cake is cool enough to handle (but still warm) remove the outer rim of the pan. Set the cake on a wire rack and cool completely.
To serve the financier, dredge with powdered sugar and slice cross-wise into 6 portions.
- Because financiers use such a large quantity of egg whites, a good time to make them is after you have made something that uses a lot of yolks (ice cream, pot de crème, cream pie, etc.).
- For the rhubarb, you can use the exact same method that I did for the rhubarb streusel coffee cake if you prefer. The method described here may seem a bit more convoluted...but I think it works better for the smaller amount of rhubarb required for this recipe. When executed properly, both methods produce the same thing.