Saturday, April 12, 2014

French Financiers with Blueberries or Chocolate Chips


Perhaps this is what the stories meant when they called somebody heartsick. Your heart and your stomach and your whole insides felt empty and hollow and aching. 
Gabriel García Márquez 

I've been thinking about heartbreak lately. The concept of a broken heart. The heart is but an organ, a "hollow pumplike organ of blood circulation", claims the dictionary, a known expert. It feels no emotion yet it is considered to be "the seat of life and emotions." Funny that. So why, tell me, why does one feel such soreness in the region of the heart when the brain ponders something ineffably sad, such as the loss of a loved one? Why not the brain where the thoughts collect and seethe? Why is it the heart that pounds, why is there distress in the center of the chest, a pain like searing white heat, an intense pain as if someone has reached into your very core and ripped it out, knocking the breath out of you?


Michael's birthday has come and gone, again, without him. As I sat and stared at the photographs I had pulled out of albums and envelopes tucked away in drawers and dug out of boxes, I thought about that odd and inexplicable physical reaction we call heartbreak. Watch a sad film and our eyes well up with tears; we bite our lip hoping that those tears don't spill down our cheeks, pushing another piece of popcorn into our mouth in an effort to distract our own thoughts and redirect the brain signals. Yet the heart pounds, tightens in a painful grip and hurts. Talk about a long-ago tragedy, any one at all, and we choke up, the emotions that have been stored up and secreted away seem to rush at once to our heart, flood that part of our body, inducing a throbbing ache, a twinge that grows into a tenacious soreness. Yes, the heart produces no emotion yet how it reveals emotion.

The heart was made to be broken. 
Oscar Wilde 

And so it is our duty, or maybe the chore of the brain, to soothe the heart, coddle and comfort the organ, the pump, the thing in the center of our chest. I try not to stare at the photos too long, carefully sliding them back into their secret hiding place, tucking them away back into the drawer of my nightstand. I turn to my son as he begins to chatter away about his school projects and his social plans, appreciating such a rare occasion, focusing on his words, admiring his good looks. My husband, needing a break, comes in and hovers, dancing around me, around my table, commandeering my attention. Tugging my heart in his direction. Easing the grip around the organ until it is, once again, calm, blood flow back to normal. The dark thudding turns to light pitter pat.

Michael and I baked together dozens of times. My very first venture into home baking was cranberry muffins learned in the Girl Scouts. The muffins, as I recall, came out light and tender, beautifully cakey at the Scout meeting, giving me the impetus to try them at home, on my own, proudly for my family. My brother hovered around the outskirts, coming and going as I excitedly scooped and measured, blending in tart cranberries to the batter. Disaster. My heart was broken as I stared at the resulting mess, the puddle of cake in each muffin cup, swimming in a pool of Crisco. I had added 3 cups, misreading the 3 tablespoons marked down in ink. Heart pounding, heart bleeding, I felt the fool. Never, I exclaimed, would I try to bake anything ever again. He comforted and encouraged me, laughed at my mistake and soon had me laughing, and trying the recipe again. Broken heart mended.

The last thing we baked together was a deep, dark chocolate red velvet cake with chocolate ganache frosting, his favorite cake, the cake he baked himself every year for his own birthday. My brother hovered around the outskirts, coming and going as I scooped and measured, stirred and beat, blending that batter until it was smooth and creamy. Yet, although this cake turned out perfect, moist and tender, chocolaty and rich, my heart broke, my heart bled as I knew then and there that this would be the last cake we ever baked together.

So on his birthday, I bake. I know he is hovering around me, encouraging me and laughing with me, trying, from wherever he is, to comfort my heartbreak. But this time it won't be so easy.

FRENCH FINANCIERS with blueberries or chocolate chips

Financiers are tiny, delicate French teacakes, very much like a sponge, a cross between a cookie and a cake. Financiers, unlike their chère cousine la Madeleine, are lightened and moistened with plenty of whipped egg whites and are flavored with plenty of ground nuts, whether almonds, hazelnuts or pistachios. Delicate and tender on the inside with a crisp yet chewy crust, financiers are rather rich and very satisfying – although quite addictive – so try not to eat too many at once. I prepared a simple almond batter adding just a touch of cinnamon and vanilla. I then placed either frozen wild blueberries or mini chocolate chips in each filled mold, allowing my men a choice.

1 cup (90 g) finely ground (powder) almonds or hazelnuts
5 Tbs (50 g) flour
¼ cup + 1 Tbs + 1 tsp (75 g) granulated white sugar
¼ cup + 1 Tbs + 1 tsp (75 g) granulated brown sugar (cassonade)
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
5 1/3 Tbs (75 g) unsalted butter + butter for molds
4 large egg whites
½ tsp vanilla
Pinch salt
1 Tbs or more each mini chocolate chips and blueberries (I used frozen wild blueberries as fresh are unavailable)

Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C). Generously butter 16 traditional (approximately 3 ¾ x 1 ¾ -inch rectangular/ 9 ½ x 4 ½-cm) Financier molds – or 8 Financier molds + 12 approximately 2-inch (5 cm) round shallow molds. This is most easily done with melted and cooled unsalted butter and a pastry brush.

Slowly melt the unsalted butter over low heat and remove from the heat just as the last bit of butter is melting. Swirl a few seconds until the butter is completely melted and set aside to cool briefly. Alternately, this can be done in a heatproof bowl in the microwave.

Beat the egg whites with a few grains of salt until stiff peaks hold.

In a large mixing bowl, combine and whisk together the ground almonds, the flour, both sugars, the cinnamon and a pinch of salt. Fold in the stiff egg whites until just blended (begin by folding some of the dry ingredients into the egg whites, adding a few tablespoons of the dry at a time, then turn it into the remaining dry ingredients and folding in just until smooth; do not overfold). Fold in the butter a little at a time – in about 5 additions, slowly pouring the melted butter down the side of the bowl rather than right into the middle of the batter. Add the vanilla extract with the last addition of the butter.

Spoon the batter into the molds, filling each mold no more than ¾ full. Gently spread evenly in each mold if needed, or tip the mold back and forth so the batter fills the molds. Drop half a dozen mini chips or berries on top of each batter-filled mold.

Bake for 15 to 20 minutes until the Financiers are puffed and evenly golden brown. Remove from the oven, allow to cool for a few minutes and then gently pop the Financiers out of the molds and cool completely on cooling racks.


Maureen | Orgasmic Chef said...

Michael's birthday is always a tough week for you and also for the legions who love you like I do. We feel your pain as surely as we know Michael is watching over you.

He would love your financiers. I know you can't eat many of these but I swear with a tub of whipped cream, they'd go down nicely - the whole lot of them. :)

Jamie said...

@Maureen: it is wonderful how the pain is eased when we have good friends to share the burden with. And oh the image of a plate of financiers with a tub of whipped cream made me laugh out loud. Thank you, friend.

Debbie D said...

What a beautiful tribute. I read this with tears streaming down my cheeks. Although I didn't know Michael, I know he is enjoying these and smiling down on you giving you a big hug.

A Canadian Foodie said...

Looks absolutely scrumptious... love anything with almonds!
Somehow, Jamie - I missed - or my mind has misplaced they story of you losing Michael - but this is a gorgeous tribute and my heart goes out to you. Big tight hug... with lots of understanding.
Lost dad in January and Vanja's mom a week later... death stands you up straight and faces you into the mirror of infinity begging questions you thought you already knew the answers to.
You take care!
V said...

Jamie, your words just blew me away. I am so sorry for your heartache and loss. How wonderful that you had a brother you could bake with, combining 2 of your loves. The financiers, of course, look dangerously delicious.

Rosemary Nardone said...

I really love this little cakes. They are so fabulous as not too sweet, just right after a meal especially a big one. I will have to try your recipe as the chocolate chips sound like they would be my fave.
I can so understand with losing a loved one as this will be 10 years my Dad is gone, and my Mom has been sick since last year. But I always feel he is with me and the memories I have forever in my heart.

Milk and Honey said...

I too, have lost a brother. My HEART goes out to you.

Liz Berg said...

Such sweet memories of you and Michael baking together...whether flop or success, they are treasured times together. It must be very emotional to see the holidays and birthdays pass by, though, without your dear brother to help celebrate. Sending you a big hug. xoxo

Sally - My Custard Pie said...

Really feel for you at this time Jamie. I'm sure he was looking over your shoulder in the kitchen.

Mardi Michels said...

I'm sure Michael is smiling down on these financiers Jamie. Beautiful post XO

Lisa said...

What a beautiful tribute to Michael on his birthday. You know he's looking down and smiling and remembering the Crisco muffin fiasco. :) As for this - ' how the pain is eased when we have good friends to share the burden with'. Yes.yes.yes. and you know why. These financiers are lovely. I've never made financiers, but will once I excel at sponge cake egg white brilliance xoxo

cubic zirconia heart & arrow said...

Thanks for sharing this wonderful post, It is awesome.

Dionne Baldwin said...

Those are such beautiful memories and I wish that I could give you a big huge hug right now, even though that wouldn't heal your pain. It's all I can do.

I know the feeling of baking flops and I too have sworn with all my might to never ever bake again. We keep trying, don't we? :)

Thank you for sharing this with us.

Dionne Baldwin said...

Those are such beautiful memories and I wish that I could give you a big huge hug right now, even though that wouldn't heal your pain. It's all I can do.

I know the feeling of baking flops and I too have sworn with all my might to never ever bake again. We keep trying, don't we? :)

Thank you for sharing this with us.


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