8.28.2010

Little “Visitation” Cakes from Lorraine


Visitandine or Financier? Did you know they were the same thing? Both describe an almond cake. And oh my, what a cake! It's sweet, nutty and has an eggshell-crisp exterior. I like them much better than their shell-shaped first  cousins, Madeleines. But then all a recipe has to say is almond flour and I'm a goner.

They've been making financiers in France for more than 100 years. The classic way to bake the financier (pronounced fee-nahn-see-AY) is in tiny round, fluted or rectangular molds. Anytime I see see them in a pastry shop in the U.S., they are called financiers. But many patisseries in Europe still call them visitandines. You can also bake it in a classic cake pan; still, the recipe is identical.


Pierre Lacam, in ''Memorial Historique de la Patisserie,'' published in 1890, wrote that the financier was created by a baker named Lasne, whose bakery was near the financial center of Paris. Presumably, the rich little cake was named for the wealthy financiers who frequented his bakery. The cake was baked in rectangular molds, the shape of gold bars.



But I've also read because butter and almonds were so pricey, that only the rich (i.e. well-financed) could afford to eat them. The rectangular shape was not as attractive as other shapes; a boat-shaped mold became favored, and today the cake can take any shape that appeals to the baker.


Now Lasne may have thought he invented these but Nick Malgieri, the director of the baking program at Peter Kump's New York Cooking School, said a similar cake made with nuts, egg whites and brown butter existed even before that. It was made, he said, by nuns of the Order of the Visitation and was called a visitandine. (The visitation referred to in this case was the one made by the Virgin Mary to her cousin Elizabeth, before Elizabeth gave birth to John the Baptist.) The cakes don’t derive from an ancient Hebrew recipe, but were originated in the convent of a community of French nuns called the Sisters of the Visitation, colloquially known in French as the "Visitandines.


Which of these stories is correct? Your guess is as good as mine.


No matter the name, the cakes have a nutty flavor from the browned butter and are perfect served with coffee or tea. And you'll often find them served with a spoonful of jam on top or even a raspberry stuck in the top before baking.

If you make Visitandine in cake pan form, you could eat a wedge just as is, but it's also lovely with some fruit. Lucie at Bilingual Butter had a wonderful post about it recently. Reading it was what tweaked my interest. And Dorie Greenspan weighed in on it too.  The recipes are slightly different than the one I used, but the cakes all are divine.

Is this a difficult recipe? Not really. All you need is a whisk, a bowl and a pan. A few steps make or break the cake. The first, browning the butter, is what defines its flavor and adds depth to the almonds. Remove it the moment it attains the color of a chestnut. The second trick is to mix the batter as little as possible. It should be stirred until just blended. If you stir too much, the gluten in the flour will get overworked and the cake will be tough. And the batter has to rest a few hours in the refrigerator before baking.

Vistandine (or Financiers)
Adapted from Francois Payard of Payard Patisserie


Ingredients:


9 tablespoons butter, more for molds
1-1/4 cups powdered sugar
3/4 cup almond flour
1/4 cup bleached all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon, plus 2 teaspoons cake flour
Pinch of salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
4 egg whites, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract.


Method:


With a pastry brush, butter  thoroughly butter the financier molds. Arrange them side by side, but not touching, on a baking sheet. Place the baking sheet with the buttered molds in the freezer to resolidify the butter and make the financiers easier to unmold.


In a small pan over medium low heat, heat butter, occasionally swirling, until it begins to brown, about 5 minutes. Set aside.



Sift sugar over almond flour. (If using whole almonds, process with sugar in a food processor until mostly fine.) Add both flours, salt and baking powder, and gently whisk to combine. Add egg whites one at a time, whisking just to combine. Do not overwork or the cakes will be tough.


Add vanilla to butter. In a steady stream, whisk butter into flour mixture. Cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate 3 hours.

Preheat the oven to 375°F.


Remove molds from freezer. Spoon mixture into a pastry bag that has a 1/4-inch round tip. Pipe mixture into molds, filling halfway.


Bake 18 to 20 minutes, until browned and springy. Remove from oven, and cool 2 minutes before unmolding. Cool completely on rack. Serve plain or dusted with powdered sugar, or warm, with ice cream.



Yield: 12 cakes.

(Storage: Keep the cakes loosely covered with plastic wrap on the day they are made. For longer storage, transfer them to a tin or plastic container with a tight-fitting cover in one layer and refrigerate them. Bring them back to room temperature before serving again. I froze some just to see what happened and, while not as good as fresh, I would not have been embarrassed to serve them to company.)

Photo credit for the rectangular financiers: http://dessertfirst.typepad.com/dessert_first/2009/04/honey-financiers.html

65 comments:

  1. Oh Barbara, these look like they came from a French Patesserie. If you think they are better than French madeleines, I can't wait to try them.
    Sam

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  2. Oh my! These beautiful little cakes look so very good. It does look like, perhaps, these came from somewhere in France.

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  3. What delightful little cakes! I enjoyed reading the background on the recipe too. I love the sound of the browned butter enhancing the flavor of the almonds. Thank you for this wonderful recipe. I have the very same molds and can't wait to try these.

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  4. U had me at almond flour! Recently discovered it and now I am always looking for ways to use it! (It's really good in a pastry crust...) These look delicious! And with the jam...yum.

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  5. Thanks for the info, Barbara! It is fun to learn more. And your cutie financiers look incredible. Hope you're enjoying your day.
    Blessings, kristy

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  6. So lovely! What a fabulous texture. I'd love one or two for dessert.

    Cheers,

    Rosa

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  7. Whatever you call them, they look dainty and delicious! I loved reading about them- it's interesting to read about the background of foods. Thanks!

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  8. Such pretty little cakes! Just lovely!

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  9. i love that whenever i visit your blog i'm learning about a new kind of food. these are just lovely, i'd have a hard time stopping at one, or three for that matter!

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  10. I adore anything dessert with almond flour as well, and the addition of browned butter sounds intriguing. It must be so good! Also, I like the shape of this mold, they are so beautiful and more substantial than the financiers.

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  11. Perfect to serve to guests!

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  12. Hi Barbara,

    What divine little cakes and yes, they really do look like they came from a French patisserie.
    I love madeleines and would like to try making these.
    Thanks for sharing the background to these cakes.

    Enjoy the rest of the weekend and I hope that your wrist is healing well.
    Hugs
    Carolyn

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  13. I love financiers - I always thought it was called that because of the first story - they were made popular by the bankers - but who knows?! Your version looks so moist, light and buttery.

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  14. It is the first time I hear the word "visitandine" Thanks for the lesson!!!
    And congrats, they are sheer perfection!!
    C'est à quelle heure le thé chez toi?

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  15. These little cakes look delicious just like the ones my local patisserie create.
    I loved reading the two stories about how they got their name(s).
    I'll look out for almond flour next time I'm at Super U and give them a try.
    Maggie

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  16. Barbara, I'm so glad you tried the visitandine--they look superb! I'm craving some right now, but I was planning on baking madeleines instead...might change my mind!

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  17. what great cakelets, barbara! incidentally, i love trying to figure out the proper names for certain food creations and their histories. terrific post!

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  18. I'm a sucker for almonds as well. I actually don't think I've ever encountered an almond-infused recipe that I didn't like. That said, I'm definitely going to have to try these!

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  19. How adorable are those things? I like the little history lesson, too!

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  20. Oh my! These little cakes/cookies are stunning. These would be easily sold in a fancy Paris bakery. Wow.

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  21. These look great! Love the flavours and your pictures are wonderful.

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  22. The moment I read the word almond I was in! I'm actually very excited, while on vacation I found some almond flour. Thanks for sharing!
    ~ingrid

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  23. Would you believe I still haven't made brown butter?! I have no excuse and nothing to say for myself, other than I need to get on that! These are stunning, Barbara.

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  24. Oh they do look beautiful...fit for any Patesserie. I want some right now!

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  25. Oh my Barbara ~ these are just so beautiful! I've never heard of them but enjoy reading some of the history/folklore surrounding food - this one is quite entertaining. I bet these babies are quite delicious too!

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  26. Barbara! These look so fluffy and delicious. I need a pan with that shape too-it's too cute!
    By the way, I hope your arm is okay. I'll check the post below to see if you mention it though;)...

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  27. Financiers are among my favorite treats because I am a total almond addict. These moist little cakes are just the perfect little pick-me-up.

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  28. What beautiful little cakes! The blend of browned butter and almonds sounds delicious. I don't have much of a sweet tooth and prefer this kind of dessert. And, lucky me, I happen to have almond flour in the fridge.

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  29. These look so pretty and I like them better than the other shaped-ones! More enticing! the almond flour is it, here.

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  30. Then of course in Australia they are known as friands... Next time I make them I am definitely going to do it with browned butter. Normally I just melt it. Yours all look absolutely perfect.

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  31. Whew! Good timing. The Knight was fasting this morning and left for the doctor's office just as I opened your post. Maybe if he gets a good report, I'll give these a whirl over the weekend!

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  32. I just happen to have some almond flour in the pantry and a taste for these lovely sweets. I wish I had some of those beautiful fluted molds, however.

    Best,
    Bonnie

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  33. Those look like they came out of a fancy bakery!

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  34. I want one of these right now! They do look so delicious. This was a great post with so much good information.

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  35. I love financiers. Wish I'd read your post earlier--I was just at Williams sonoma this morning and I would have picked up some molds to use!

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  36. Beautiful.... so professional looking!

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  37. Gorgeous cakes. Reminds me of home. My mom would make us cakes like this.

    Hope you like David Chang's book.

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  38. I have never heard them called vistandines, but either way, they look delicious!!

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  39. Barbara these look like they are fresh from a patisserie! Just yummy! I have never used almond flour, but I must do it now!
    Thank you so much for your lovely comment Barbara, it went straight to my heart.
    hugs

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  40. Your comment about the gluten of the four getting overworked is interesting. I'm just now realizing how that makes a difference in many recipes, but I haven't got it down to any rules yet.

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  41. Wow, those are such perfect little cakes! Gorgeous!

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  42. Barbara, your financiers look wonderful! I can imagine how good they would be with the nutty browned butter :)

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  43. Barbara...are you in the Parisien pastry mood? Those lovely textured treats look wonderful!!!
    Butter...almonds and better than madeleines...how could I not bookmark these ;o)
    I certainly have a lot to catch up on this winter ;o)

    BTW...my post is in with your lovely sorbet ;)

    Ciao for now and flavourful wishes,
    Claudia

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  44. Very pretty financiers Barbara. Good to hear they freeze well too. Over here in Oz, we call them friands (flavoured with fruit, like reaspberry/ blueberry etc, and cocolate!)

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  45. I love the term "visitation cakes", Barbara. :-) It's so hospitable and companionable. :-) The cakes are beautiful!!

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  46. They're adorable! And I agree with you on the almond flour. Wish I had one with a cup of coffee today!

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  47. What gorgeous morsels. I loved your introduction as much as the recipe for the cakes themselves. They really do looks luscious and professionally made. Kudos. I hope you are having a great day. Blessings...Mary

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  48. Oh! Now are these so French and fabulous!!!! Thank you for your visit, Barbara!!!! Do watch out for La Belle Inspiration! Have a great week, and your recipes sound just wonderful!!! Anita

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  49. Oh Barbara! These little cakes are so cute...and must taste SO SO good with almond flour in it. So lovely presented :-)

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  50. These look better than the professionals make.

    You are artistic in your baking.

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  51. Looks like we both decided to show some browned butter love :). These look delicious and I so enjoy learning about the history of various foods.

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  52. super sweet and lovely treats.

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  53. oh those are just so pretty!

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  54. I didn't know the story of vistandines. That's so interesting. I love learning about origins of recipes. And, these look delicious by any name!

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  55. Hi Barbara

    These look so moist and yummy!

    Maria
    x

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  56. I love the Financiers! Yours look simply beautiful and perfectly baked.
    Thanks for stopping by my blog and your kind review as well.

    Angie

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  57. Beautiful little cakes, with a fascinating history.
    Mimi

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  58. Hi Barbara--I love learning about the Visitandines, stories about the origins of recipes are so interesting, and turn up many surprises.

    Your recipe looks so delicious, and doable. Brown butter could save the world!
    now, I must locate some almond flour....

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  59. ...how delicately beautiful these are!

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  60. Barbara,
    This was so much learning the origins of these lovely little cakes. Yours look so moist and delicious. I would do just about anything to have one right this minute with a cup of delicious coffee. I really should give these a try !
    xoxo

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  61. Waw, Barbara!! These financiers look the max!!

    Georgous & divine treats!

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  62. Thank you so much for the recipe. I am excited to make them! They are lovely little jewels. Cherry Kay

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  63. Oh what delightful little cakes! These look like they came from a French Patesserie, but these seem better !!!! Marvellous and gorgeous !!
    Thanks Barbara.
    And Thanks a lot for your visiting on my blog.
    Chrys

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  64. HELLO FROM VERSAILLES NEAR PARIS FRANCE EUROPE EARTH ...

    I can come and make any cake you want in FLORIA at any time, must be great leaving there !?

    your little MIGNARDISES are
    really cute, well done and I would say that you know their history better than we do !

    I loved readin you history of the gold bars/financiers !

    cheers
    BREE

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