Monday, February 25, 2019

Hazelnut Financier with Glossy Chocolate Frosting (and optional sautéed pears)

A couple of posts ago I mentioned a series of classes I have been teaching called “Inspired Cooking by the Book.”  In addition to obviously seasonal recipes (during the winter, recipes that include brassicas—broccoli, cabbage, kale, cauliflower, kale, turnips, etc.—as well as root and other storage vegetables and citrus fruits of all kinds), I always like to include a dessert (classes that end with dessert are always a good idea).  The dessert could of course be something with apples or pears.  But these would most likely show up in the autumn version of the class. During the winter I like to turn to chocolate and nuts for the dessert course.

For the most recent version of the class I decided to teach the Hazelnut Financier that appears in Suzanne Goin’s Sunday Suppers at Lucques.  She loves this cake so much that it was the cake she chose to have made for her wedding.  I think that’s a pretty strong recommendation for a cake.  But really, what’s not to love about a cake made with toasted hazelnuts and browned butter?  It seemed like a slam dunk addition to the class, so as the class approached I focused on the other recipes.  I have been making financiers for years and knew that I would only need to make the cake once to make sure there weren’t any typos or errors in the recipe (because all cookbooks…even really good ones…have recipes with typos….). 

During this same time period I noticed that a cookbook group I am a member of on Facebook was cooking through Sunday Suppers at Lucques.  I don’t have as much time as I would like to participate in this group, but I try to keep an eye on the activities.  It’s a great way to hear about new cookbooks and learn from the experiences of other cooks.  Several people were making the cake I had chosen for my class.  I noticed one version in particular because they had covered the cake with chocolate ganache instead of serving it plain with sautéed pears (as in the book).  

In reading the post, I discovered two things:  First, Deb Perelman of Smitten Kitchen had made this cake and had been the one to come up with the idea of the chocolate ganache (a fantastic idea, I think).  And second, this cake—which is called a “Hazelnut Browned Butter Cake” (not a Hazelnut Financier) in the book—was not made like a traditional Financier at all.  This was a surprise to me.  I had looked at the ingredient list and assumed the method….

For those who have never made a Financier, you should check out my post from a few years ago for a Rhubarb Financier.  The mixing method could hardly be easier:  Simply combine the dry ingredients…then whisk in the egg whites followed by the browned butter.  The cake in Goin’s book was mixed in an entirely different way:  First, you whip the whites with the sugar to stiff peaks and then you fold in the nut flour/flour mix and the browned butter in alternating additions. 

I was intrigued and a bit put out when I discovered this.  Intrigued because I wanted to know how the cake would be different.  Put out because I was running out of time before my class and would possibly need to make the cake more than once.  (But since this would just mean that I got to eat more cake, I wasn’t too upset.) 

After making the cake both ways, I decided to teach it with the traditional Financier method.  I did this mostly because I really like the texture of a Financier.  Financiers have a dense crumb—in a pleasant, pound cake-like way.  This is the perfect texture if you are making and serving this cake in a single layer—whether you are serving it plain or with chocolate frosting or sautéed pears. 

As for the method from Goin’s book, if you are making the cake to serve as a layer cake (as Goin would have for her wedding) her altered method would probably work well.  The resulting cake should be much lighter. But be warned: the altered method is for an adept baker.  The volume of fat that is folded into the whites is unusually high.  If you are not experienced at whipping whites…and folding heavy ingredients into said whites…you can end up with a fallen/sunken cake.  Several of the versions of this cake I have seen on line have a distinctly sunken look about them.  Furthermore, I know from experience how touchy the batter is.  I got a phone call while I was mixing the cake.  I thought it was an emergency (I wouldn’t have picked up the phone as I was starting to fold things into my whites if I hadn’t thought it was an emergency).  When I discovered it wasn’t an emergency I couldn’t convince the person on the other end that I really needed to get off the phone.  Meanwhile…my whites were losing volume under the weight of the half folded dry ingredients and butter.  I knew the cake was a loss.  But I could tell from the way it behaved around the edges that the method would have produced a nice cake layer if I had been able to prepare it properly.

So I ended up with the cake I had imagined from the start:  a delicious, dense, buttery, hazelnut-y Financier.  But I picked up a great idea for the garnish:  chocolate.  I decided to frost mine with a glossy chocolate frosting that I discovered while searching for a deep chocolate frosting that wouldn’t get as firm as ganache.  I think it is just perfect.  But since I was testing a specific recipe that included sautéed pears, I made those too…and you can do the same if you like.  This is basically a cake that can be served three ways:  plain (for a snack with coffee or tea), frosted with chocolate (for a simple dessert), or with sautéed pears (cake frosted or not…as you please) for a nice dinner party. 

Hazelnut Financier

5 oz. (143 g./1 heaping cup) blanched/skinned hazelnuts
1/2 lb. (2 sticks) unsalted butter
1 t. vanilla
180 g. (1 1/2 cup) powdered sugar
40 g. (1/3 cup) all-purpose flour
1/2 t. salt
6 egg whites (180 grams)—beaten until foamy

Spread the hazelnuts on a baking sheet and toast in a 350° oven until light golden brown and fragrant—about 12 to 15 minutes. Cool and using a nut grinder, grind the nuts to a flour. (You may use 5 oz. of purchased hazelnut flour if you prefer.)

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 180 g. browned butter).  Whisk in the vanilla extract.

Place the ground hazelnuts, all-purpose flour, salt & powdered sugar in a medium sized bowl. Whisk to combine. Whisk in the egg whites. Drizzle in the warm browned butter and whisk until smooth.  Refrigerate the batter for at least an hour and preferably overnight. (This will allow any developed gluten to relax and will give the butter time to firm up.)

When ready to bake the cake, butter a 9-inch round cake pan.  Line the pan with a round of parchment and butter the parchment.   Scrape the batter into the pan and spread it into an even layer.  

Transfer the pan to a pre-heated 350° oven and bake until the cake is golden brown and beginning to pull away from the sides.  A toothpick inserted in the center should come out clean—about 40 minutes.  Cool the cake in the pan for 10 minutes before turning out onto a rack to cool completely.

The cake is delicious served with nothing more than a sprinkling of powdered sugar.  Suzanne Goin serves hers with sautéed pears and lightly sweetened whipped cream.  I like to smear the top with a glossy chocolate frosting (recipe below)…which gives a Nutella-like taste.

Glossy Chocolate Frosting

4 T. unsalted butter (2 oz.)
3/4 c. sugar (150 g.)
1/2 c. plus 2 T. unsweetened cocoa—natural or alkalized (2 oz.)
1/2 c. plus 2 T. heavy cream (145 g.)
2 T. sour cream (30 g.)
1 t. vanilla extract
Pinch of salt

Combine heavy cream and sour cream in a measuring cup, mixing until smooth.  Set aside.

Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat.  Stir in the sugar and cocoa.  The mixture will be thick and grainy.  Gradually add the cream mixture, stirring until blended and smooth.

Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until sugar has dissolved and the mixture is smooth and hot to the touch. Do not boil.  Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla and salt.

Use warm as a sauce or a glaze, or let it cool and spread it like frosting (it will take about 3 hours at a cool room temperature.  Store the leftovers in a covered container in the fridge.  Reheat gently in a pan of simmering water, or in a microwave on low.

Makes 2 cups  (Recipe is easily doubled.)

(Recipe adapted from Cuisine at Home)

Sautéed Pears

1 lb. Bartlett Pears, peeled, cored and cut into a 1/2-inch dice
1 T. butter
1 T. granulated sugar

Heat a sauté pan that is large enough to hold the pears in a snug single layer over moderately high heat.  Add the butter.  When the foam subsides, add the pears.  Let them cook, tossing once or twice until they stop releasing moisture and begin to caramelize.  This might take a minute or two, but will depend on the ripeness of the pears.  Sprinkle the sugar over the pears and continue to cook, allowing the pears to caramelize in the butter and sugar until they are golden and tender…but not mushy.  Regulate the heat as necessary to maintain a good sizzle without letting the pears scorch.

Makes about a cup and a half of sautéed pears.  Recipe is easily doubled…just choose a larger pan…or cook in batches (rinsing and drying the pan between batches).

Printable Version

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