Mignardises are tiny treats offered to restaurant guests at the end of a meal. Because they are consumed in one or two bites and need to leave a lasting impression, the best versions feature intense flavors and contrasting textures. Early in my career, one of my tasks as a pastry prep cook was to prepare an assortment of these delicacies, including indulgent truffles, jewel-toned fruit jellies, and glossy macarons. But nothing was as popular as the financiers.
The thin shells of these miniature cakes crunch satisfyingly when bitten, bringing forth the richness of nutty browned butter and toasted almonds. Inside, the crumb is moist, chewy, and cakey, with an aroma similar to that of almond extract.
For all their nuance and elegance, financiers are incredibly easy to make: Just whisk together almond flour, all-purpose flour, sugar, and salt; stir in egg whites and browned butter; and bake in generously buttered individual molds.
In this simple recipe, each ingredient plays a unique role. Let’s start with the flours. Almond flour is primary; for a batch of two dozen financiers, 3/4 cup of almond flour is enough to infuse the batter with a deep, nutty taste. A small amount (I use 2 tablespoons) of all-purpose flour provides protein and starch that hold on to water from the egg whites and keep the cakes’ interiors moist.
Next up is sugar. Sugar is responsible for the financiers’ crackly exterior. Many recipes, including mine, contain more sugar than flour. As the cakes bake, the sugar caramelizes, turning pliable. Then, as the cakes cool, the sugar takes on a brittle structure, creating the delightfully crisp shell that is the hallmark of a good financier.
Sugar also affects the interior crumb of the cakes, which should offer repeated resistance as you chew. Specifically, the ratio of sugar to egg whites, which contain a good amount of water, is important. I found the sweet—and chewy—spot with 3 ounces egg whites to 4 ounces sugar.
Finally, there’s the browned butter, which helps define the flavor of the cakes and adds richness. I cooked 5 tablespoons of butter until its milk solids browned and then stirred it into the batter.
Many recipes suggest baking financiers in mini-muffin tins instead of the traditional molds that few home cooks own, so I gave this technique a try. In any pan, a substantial barrier of fat is necessary to prevent the cakes from sticking. Individually coating 24 mini-muffin tin cups with softened butter was tedious, so I used vegetable oil spray instead. (The browned butter offered enough depth that the shortcut didn’t sacrifice flavor.)
In a 375-degree oven, my financiers baked evenly, and they emerged well browned. But their tops baked up with domes instead of the relatively flat tops that are their hallmark.
I happened upon the solution when I switched from vegetable oil spray to baking spray with flour. Baking spray helps baked goods release by providing a physical barrier between the pan and the food; the flour it contains also changes the rate at which a batter cooks. The flour particles in the spray form a tiny gap where the batter meets the metal—tiny, but important. Here’s why: The flour provided some insulation so the sides of the financiers could rise more before setting, resulting in sides that were mostly even with the top.
With my financiers finally looking the part, I customized them with a variety of add-ins, including fresh fruit, dark chocolate chunks, citrus zest, warm spices, and several types of nuts. If you’re looking for an easy way to wow your guests with just two bites, you’ve got to give this recipe a try.