Thursday, 15 August 2013

Albert Camus | Berry Financiers

In the tragic times leading up to the second world war, Albert Camus defied the misery of his age by turning to the tenacity exemplified by the brazen blossoming of the almond tree on a cold February night - a flamboyant explosion into a sea of white against the tyranny of moral fanaticism.
"We know that we live in contradiction, but we also know that we must refuse this contradiction and do what is needed to reduce it. We must mend what has been torn apart, make justice imaginable again in a world so obviously unjust, give happiness a meaning once more to peoples poisoned by the misery of the century.
     The first thing is not to despair. Let us not listen too much to those who proclaim that the world is at an end. Civilizations do not die so easily, and even if our world were to collapse, it would not have been the first. It is indeed true that we live in tragic times.
Vincent van Gogh, Almond Blossom
"When I lived in Algiers, I would wait patiently all winter because I knew that in the course of one night, one cold, pure February night, the almond trees of Vallée des Consuls would be covered with white flowers. I would marvel then at the sight of this fragile snow resisting the rains and the wind from the sea. Yet every year it lasted just long enough to prepare the fruit.
"When life weighs too heavily today in a Europe still full of misery, I turn toward those shining lands where so much strength is still intact. I know them too well not to realize they are the chosen land where courage and contemplation can live in harmony. Our world is poisoned by its misery, and seems to wallow in it. It has utterly surrendered to that evil which Nietzsche called the spirit of heaviness. Let us not add to this."
Albert Camus, 'The Almond Trees'
Like other writers of his generation, Camus is caught up in the dichotomy between body and mind, action and thinking, swordsman and poet. But his assault upon a life turned dreary, whether by political expediency or intellectual weakness, reminds me of D.H. Lawrence's sailing gaily in brave feathers: the courage to treat life as a good joke and to laugh in the face of stupidity.

~ Raspberry and Blackberry Financiers ~

Delicate, elegant in their simplicity and utterly irresistible, these cheerful little almond blossoms are just perfect, warm or cold, with a cup of morning coffee or afternoon tea. The secret is in the use of brown butter, or beurre noisette, which gives the financiers a rich nutty flavour.

(Adapted from Will Torrent, Pâtissière at Home)

160 g unsalted butter
50 g plain flour, sifted
90 g ground almonds
100 g icing sugar, sifted
4 large egg whites, lightly beaten
½ tsp vanilla extract
½ tsp almond extract
grated zest of 1 lemon (optional)
Raspberries and/or blueberries

Makes about 24 mini cakes

Prepare the beurre noisette: Put the butter in a small heavy-based saucepan over low/medium heat. Once the butter has melted let it come to a boil, swirling the pan occasionally.  As it boils, foam will appear on the surface. Allow the butter to bubble away until it looks clear, the milk solids have dropped to the bottom of the pan and the butter has turned a golden brown giving off a nutty fragrance. Be very vigilant or the butter will burn.

Remove from the heat and pour into a heatproof bowl through a fine sieve or muslin. (Do not scrape the bottom of the pan.) Allow to cool to room temperature. You will need 120 ml beurre noisette for the batter. Use the remaining brown butter to grease the tins.

Heat the oven to 190 C.

Butter and flour very well two 12-hole mini muffin tins and put them in the fridge to set while you prepare the batter.

Prepare the batter: In a large bowl whisk together the flour, ground almonds, icing sugar, and salt. Make a well in the center and whisk in the lightly beaten egg whites, vanilla, almond extract (if using) and the brown butter. Cover with a plastic wrap and chill for half an hour. (The batter can be kept covered in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.)

Spoon the mixture into the moulds, filling each almost to the rim, and gently place a raspberry or bllueberry on top of each.

Place the moulds on a baking tray in the middle of the oven and bake for 12-16 minutes until golden brown around the edges and risen in the centre. They should be springy to the touch.

Cool for 5 minutes before taking them out of the tins.

Update: I have since made the financiers again and have slightly increased the amount of butter and of ground almonds for a more intense caramel taste and a smoother batter. I have modified the recipe above to reflect these changes.

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