I have mixed feelings about French desserts. Tarts I adore, but I’m indifferent to many of the pastries. Maybe it’s because I’m not a big fan of pastry cream and whipped cream. There are plenty of French sweets I’d never met before. Over the past couple of years, making more French recipes, I’ve started to have a new appreciation for little French cakes.
The past two challenges for Cook the Book Fridays have been for little cakes. Both are rich from butter, but in counterpoint, are not too sweet.
The first one, financiers, are little almond cakes with browned butter. They taste nutty from almond flour and the browned butter. The French have a special mold for baking these, but I used mini-muffin pans. These baby cakes are simple to mix up and are a good way to use up extra egg whites. And they taste good too!
The other little cakes I made were madeleines. The batter is also simple to make, but these require a special pan. I had more trouble with these. In the past, I’ve chilled the batter, but this time, the recipe just said to let it rest (at room temperature, I assumed). The molds are supposed to be filled just three-quarters. The imprints are so shallow, it’s hard to judge. I used my smallest cookie scoop, but it was a bit too much. The cakes rose and touched their neighbors. Not the way it’s supposed to work. There was some extra batter, so I chilled it overnight, and tried again.
Round 2, I was more careful about filling the molds, erring on the side of underfilled. That worked much better, though my pan-buttering technique had some shortcomings. The cakes stayed inside the expected boundaries, but most of them stuck to the pan. When they finally came out, they were NOT pretty. I had brushed the mold with melted butter, but I think I should have smeared it around with a paper towel for better coverage.
Even though their appearance was lacking, these baby cakes tasted lovely. I liked the subtle flavor of honey – just a touch, not cloying at all.
I’d be confident in whipping up some financiers any time, but the madeleines will need more practice.
If you want to try yourself, you’ll find the recipe for financiers on page 268 of David Lebovitz’s My Paris Kitchen and the recipe for madeleines on page 274. My friends’ reviews for financiers can be found here and for madeleines here.
Boston people: I have something you must check out this month. Last week I went with some friends to check out some of Fujiko Nakaya’s fog sculptures on the Emerald Necklace. At 5 different locations, special misting nozzles create fog that rolls through the landscape. It’s hard to describe, but it’s quite magical. Fog x FLO is a special exhibit in honor of the Emerald Necklace Conservancy’s 20th anniversary. It runs through the end of October. Find all the details here.
I’m definitely more of a cook than a baker. Exercising and expanding my baking horizons is one of the reasons I’m participating in the latest incarnation of Tuesdays with Dorie. This week’s recipe for Gingerbread Baby Cakes comes from Johanne Killeen. Who can resist a simple everyday cake like this one, especially when it comes in a seemingly personal size as these 4-inch darlings do?
I have admired Johanne Killeen and her husband George Germon for years. My first introduction to them was in the early 1990’s. They had just published their book Cucina Simpatica. They were sitting at a tiny folding table outside an equally tiny cookbook shop in Porter Square, Cambridge, offering samples of food, bruschetta, I think, and signing their book. Years later, I had a wonderful meal at Al Forno in Providence, Rhode Island. They also ran a restaurant in Boston for a few years where I had lunch. Many years after that initial introduction, I finally bought their book and have enjoyed an assortment of their recipes in the comfort of my own home.
Because I had no occasion to serve dessert to 8 this week, I decided to make a half batch. When I was setting up to bake, I discovered that I owned only 2 4-inch (springform) pans, not the four I thought I had, so I ended up making a very small batch of just two little cakes (one quarter of the recipe).
I like that this recipe uses typical pantry items that I always have on hand. One deterrent to spontaneous cake is that cake recipes often call for milk, not a usual item in my fridge. This is a milkless cake, making it even more perfect to have in my arsenal of quick sweets to whip up on a whim.
I used my stand mixer. With such a small quantity of batter, I had to beat things a bit longer to combine everything thoroughly, but overall it was super easy. Butter and brown sugar are creamed together. Then the egg is added. Freshly grated ginger and molasses smooth out the batter. Finally, the dry ingredients, including a hefty dose of ground ginger and freshly ground pepper are folded in.
My cakes were still visibly wobbly in the middle after 25 minutes, but after thirty, they seemed springy and slightly cracked. I treated myself to a late-night dessert of warm gingerbread sprinkled with powdered sugar. The cake was slightly too moist in the very center, so next time I would let the cakes bake for a just few more minutes.
The baby gingerbreads really hit the spot. The warm temperature combined with the warm and spicy flavors were delicious and perfect for the colder season. The cakes also get high marks for their cuteness factor. I’ll be keeping my eyes open for some more tiny cake pans to add to my inventory so I can make a larger batch to share.
To read about other bakers’ baby cakes, follow their links here.