Thursday, December 9, 2010

Peanut Butter and Chocolate Financiers

Small squares of chocolate are hidden in the madeleine-shaped financiers.

Eggs are an important component of so many of my recipes, so when I found out about the salmonella outbreak in August and then the massive recall of eggs from two egg producers tied to the outbreak, I worried that the eggs I was feeding my kids were dangerous time bombs. I checked our refrigerator. Ours weren't part of the recall, but what if they were contaminated and got recalled later? I was also angry at the conditions FDA inspectors reported at Hillandale Farms of Iowa and at Wright County Egg, also in Iowa. I won't detail what the reports contain because you might lose your appetite, but you can see for yourself if you want to follow the links to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's reports.
I threw our eggs in the garbage and didn't buy more for about two weeks.

But it was too hard to stick to egg-free dishes. I paid extra for organic cage-free eggs, and after several weeks of no additional recalls, I relaxed a little.

Apparently I'm not alone.The Associated Press reported this week that egg sales are back up after dropping about 9 percent following the outbreak. On Nov. 30, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said Wright County Egg, which recalled 380 million eggs after it was linked to the outbreak, could start shipping shell eggs to consumers again. Hillandale got the go ahead in October to start selling eggs again.

Still, for me it's hard to trust again, so I'll continue to avoid companies with a history of problems. (I also try to be more selective with meats and produce.) I know there are no guarantees (about a month ago, another company, Cal-Maine Foods, recalled eggs from a supplier in Ohio because of the potential for salmonella contamination), but I have dinners to make and desserts to bake, including the peanut butter financiers I found in "Rose's Heavenly Cakes," by Rose Levy Beranbaum.

Like eggs, peanut butter has a particular hold on me. I love it in cookies, cake, pie, chocolate truffles, milk shakes, sandwiches, soup, sauce for noodles — just about anything. So when I saw Beranbaum's recipe putting peanut butter into the little French cakes, I had to try them almost as soon as I bought her book.

I was not disappointed. Ground almonds and browned butter in the batter enhanced the peanut flavor and helped the financiers stay moist. Plus, I pushed pieces of chocolate into the center of each cake, just as I do for chocolate-surprise madeleines — not part of Beranbaum's recipe, but I don't think I need to explain why I did it.

If you like peanut butter, try this. The peanut flavor isn't overwhelming — it's not supposed to be candy, after all — but it's definitely there. And check out "Rose's Heavenly Cakes." The color photographs show such beautiful, and to me irresistible, cakes. You'll want to make them too if you're anything like me.

Peanut Butter and Chocolate Financiers Recipe
Adapted from "Rose's Heavenly Cakes"

3/4 cup* (75 g.) sliced almonds (the recipe said preferably unblanched, but I had only some blanched slivered almonds and some unblanched whole almonds, so I used some of both)
10 Tablespoons (142 g.) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/3 cups (150 grams) powdered sugar that has been sifted and spooned into the cup and leveled (I didn't have this either so I used 150 grams of superfine sugar)
1/2 cup (57 g.) sifted, bleached all-purpose flour (I have only unbleached)
4 large (120 g.) egg whites at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon salt (because my peanut butter was unsalted)
3 Tablespoons (50 g.) creamy peanut butter (the book calls for Jif)
small pieces of chocolate that can be tucked into each financier

1. Place rack in center of oven and preheat to 375 degrees F. To make sure my oven gets up to temperature and maintains it, I keep a baking stone on the lower rack and normally preheat about 30 minutes.
Prepare financier molds or tins (if not using nonstick, then brush with melted butter). I don't have financier molds, so I used madeleine tins, which yielded 24 cakes plus enough extra batter for three small tart shapes.

2. Toast the almonds on a baking sheet for several minutes. Watch them. You want the color to darken, but don't let them burn.

3. Melt and brown the butter in a small (about 1 1/2 quart) saucepan over low to medium-low flame. When the milk solids turn brown, remove from heat because they can burn and turn black quickly. Pour butter gently into a glass measuring cup (plastic would be a bad idea here) so that you leave behind the majority of the solids and end up with 1/2 cup of the melted butter. Put it in a warm spot to keep it melted.  (The book said to strain out the solids, but I have enough to clean without adding a strainer to the pile. When I'm competing on TV or writing a book, then I'll strain.)

4. Spin the almonds with the sugar in a food processor until finely ground. Blend in the flour and salt.

5. In a mixing bowl, beat the egg whites on medium speed until they look like the foam on a bubble bath (I used setting 3 on my 7-speed hand-held Cuisinart mixer, although I'd have used a nice stand mixer if I'd had it). Using low speed, beat in the ground almonds and flour. Beat in the melted butter using medium-low speed, then add the peanut butter and mix it in.

6. Fill molds about 2/3 full. I used a 1 Tablespoon rounded measuring spoon to put a 1 Tablespoon of batter into each madeleine depression. Then press a piece of chocolate into each madeleine, using the back of a spoon or your finger to smear a little batter over the chocolate to cover it. (You can skip this step if you don't want to hide the chocolate.) Normally I prefer dark chocolate, but in this particular recipe, I thought the milk chocolate pieces complemented the light peanut butter flavor better.

Bake until they turn golden. The original recipe, which used larger molds than mine, calls for a baking time of 15 to 18 minutes. Mine took 12 to 13 minutes.

7. Place the tins on a rack to cool for several minutes, then unmold the financiers onto the racks to finish cooling. (Unless you are using a silicone financier mold, in which case let them cool completely in the mold on a cooling rack.) Oh, and eat within a day or two. Beranbaum writes that they keep for three days at room temperature if you wrap them airtight in plastic wrap in an airtight container. I'm not sure in what universe they'd still be around after a couple days, so I don't bother.

 NOTE: *I changed several things in this recipe, including the type of almonds used, the type of sugar and the flour, so I weighed all the substitutions to make sure I was using the correct amounts. I think this was most important when using superfine sugar in place of the powdered sugar, because the amount (weight) obtained would have been significantly different for the same cup measurement (volume). That said, it's generally a good practice to weigh ingredients when baking even when making no substitutions at all, because on different occasions you can get different amounts of an ingredient, such as flour, even when using the same measuring cup. Weighing ingredients prevents that inconsistency.

Related: The Cornucopia Institute's Organic Egg Scorecard

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