I got a small bundle of fresh rhubarb from my local farmers’ co-op and thought, hey, jam on it. Oh yeah, jam on it. But what do I jam on it? Brownies. I love brownies, but I don’t like how they look. They’re like the khaki pants of desserts. Ice cream or syrup? Flat-front or pleated, they’re still brownies.Yes, they’re chocolate spongy love, but admit it: the crusty edge of the brownie in the pan, the part cut away when you slide your knives through that chocolate mattress, that’s possibly the best part. You eat that brownie crust. You chip it away with a spatula if you have to. You could recycle it in pie crust, sprinkle it over ice cream or fool with it a few other ways, but I know you just stand there and eat it. You are ready for financier.
A financier is a little almond cake served on the street in France that gets its flare from nicely browned butter, I guess. I don’t know, I didn’t know about them when I went to France. I have a vague and disturbing impression of the country, entirely my fault.
I just wanted fresh baguette, the smell wafting so invitingly after a rough night, so comforting. I like chocolate sandwiches on crackling hot, fresh baguette first thing in the morning with a coffee. That’s what I sought at dawn when I visited Nimes and Nice on the Riviera. I was passing through. I saw a bullfight in Nimes, horrible. Fuck you, Hemingway. I took a bottle of bordeaux to the slaughter. I argued with a Thai guy named Joe about the bullfight. I thought the spectacle barbaric. The crowds booed the matadors for delivering botched coup-de-grace on the bulls. One bull was stuck by a toreador three times before an older guy came out into the arena and finished the job for him. The spine was supposed to be severed, then a knife jammed into brain to make sure the brain was completely cut from the spinal column, the double-tap. A horse with a drag harness trotted out, ropes looped around the bull’s horns, and the dead creature was dragged out through a gate, to be butchered and “sold to the poor”. The bulls were already bloody, staggering heaps from the picadors and toreadors when the toreador stabbed them with a short, narrow flat sword. I thought it was one person vs. one bull. The horses the picadors rode looked drugged. The bulls would ram them while the picadors rammed pikes into their shoulder to cripple them. Despite their armor, the horses were getting injured. The “running of the bulls” before the event featured people chasing bulls into cages on trailers, up and down the streets. Fear electrified the crowds. Guys chasedthe shitting bulls up and down the street, their arms and shirts smeared with green feces. Everyone was drinking at the Roman-built open-air Nimes arena during the event, murmuring dispiritedly ole’ when the bull lunged at the cape shaken in its face. I awoke hungover and took a train to Nice after writing a letter to my sister about the bullfight.
In Nice, I slept in a sewage tunnel emptying out on the beach after a dinner of baguette, sardines and oranges. I snuck down to the beach at twilight to find a place to camp. I slept in a sewer (a Nice sewer), with a nice Beaujolais I shared with the early February sunset. Garbage and foul, clotted water flowed by while I slept fitfully on a narrow concrete ledge inside the culvert, oh Francy pants. I remember a motorcycle gang tear-assing around on the beach, breaking bottles and hollering. I was scared of getting jumped, but who wants to go ride a motorcycle into a sewer? No one. The racket kept me up half the night, but it kept the rats away.
I woke up stiff in the morning light pouring into the entrance of the tunnel, edged my way along the ledge out of the culvert and into the fresh, relatively clean sea air. I got my chocolate – I stole it, I was in a bad mood – a fresh baguette, a coffee and, while waiting for a train to take me to Italy, spied a bum sleeping on a bench with his ass totally exposed.
I ventured closer to take a picture of a bum bum, but a dude rushed forward out of nowhere and whispered conspiratorially something French to me, gesturing at the man’s ass and my camera. I didn’t know what he wanted, but I liked where he was going with it, so I handed him my camera. If he had stolen it, it would have been karma, a swift answer to my brash greed for chocolate. He crept much closer than I would have, snapped not one, but two photos of the bum’s dirty, scratched up bum. Then my strange improv assistant tiptoed backwards, handed me the camera, gave me a clap on the back, a wink, wheezing with laughter, and a thumbs up. He said something in French and trotted away, like Zorro. An ass-photo Zorro.
Did I mention this dessert is gluten-free? I don’t know what your impression of France is, but I know I’ll never forget mine. I think this is what inspired me to make this dish, chocolate financier, rhubarb jam, coconut whip.
Marshall Your Forces: Financier
- 1.5 cups/ 175 g almond flour (you can pulse-powder almonds to a fine meal, but it’s better to get the flour)
- 1/4 cup/ 35 g brown rice flour
- 1 cup/ 140 g brown butter, room temp
- 2 heaping spoons dark cocoa powder (about 1/4 cup or 35 g for those taking notes)
- 4 egg whites
- 1.5 cups/175 g confectioner’s sugar – powdered, y’all
- Pinch salt
Contact the bankers: Rhubarb Jam
- A cup chopped rhubarb
- Dash rubbed sage
- 1/4 cup / 35 grams honey
- 1 Tbsp / 15 grams chia seeds
- Tbsp balsamic vinegar
I don’t know anything about the military: Coconut Whip
- Can coconut milk
- 1/4 cup / 35 g confectioner’s sugar
- Pinch kosher salt
- Splash vanilla bean extract
- Small sauce pot
- Bowl for whipping four egg whites
- Metal bowl
- Plating ring, about 3″ / 8 cm
- Wooden mallet
- Larger bowl of any material
- Bowl for jam
- Muffin pan or financier pan or a cornbread pan where the little corn cake molds are shaped like ears of corn – oh god I wish I had that.
- Small bowl for whipped cream
- Plastic bag, preferably sealed
- Cast-iron skillet, 9″ / 22 cm wide base
Spoons, a fork, a whisk, a soft spatula, two full ice trays, scissors, bum asses, a camera, a hangover, train tickets
Preparation: First night – Put a can of coconut milk in the refrigerator and get stinking drunk. The next day, when you get the cream from the can you’ll want it out cold, just like you. Ole’!
Preparation: Sometime after waking, maybe hours later, maybe many hours later – Take two sticks of butter and melt them over medium heat in the sauce pot. Stir occasionally until melted, then let it turn golden brown and begin to smell like delicious hazelnuts, remove immediately from heat, and pour into small bowl to cool to room temp, in Ecuador. Separate and whip your egg whites.
Heat up your iron skillet, and add the yolks when it’s smoking. I waste nothing. Reduce heat and let them cook on medium heat until they’re dry and browned. Use those for whatever you want; I used them in a salad dressing.
Do the financier dry bowl: Cocoa, flours, sugar, salt in bowl, mix until homogeneous. Pre-heat oven to 450F/ 230. Take your muffin tin or what-have-you and put it in the heated oven. Let it sit in there for about five minutes. You need it piping hot for when you spoon the batter into the molds. Fold your egg whites into the batter. Then mix in the butter, all but about 3 ounces/ 40 gram or so. Reserve that bit for lining the skillet and the tray molds. Incorporate the warm butter into the cake batter, making sure it is mixed thoroughly. Mix it like a six sigma freak-out.
Pull the molded tray from the oven, brush the molds well with butter. Spoon the batter into the molds. It should be sizzling hot. Fill the molds nearly full, working quickly and carefully. Get those in the oven and hit the timer for 7 minutes. Pour an ounce or what’s left of the brown butter into the center of the iron skillet, still warm on the stove. Use a spatula to pour the rest of the cake batter into pan directly upon the butter. Grab the handle with a towel and shake the pan like a saute to shift it evenly until it covers the bottom. Get that into the oven. When the timer goes off, reduce heat to 400 F/ 204 C and let it cook for another seven.
When the timer goes off thrice, kill the heat and let it go for about five minutes, then remove the iron skillet. Let it cool for two minutes, then remove the molded tray/muffin tin/what-have-you. While the financier is rising, turn to your rhubarb. Put it, the honey, the sage and salt into the sauce pot that still has a touch of browned butter and bring it to a boil, reduce the heat, add the balsamic vinegar, cover and let simmer for the next fifteen minutes or so, stirring occasionally, until it is relatively melted and smooth. It should be ready by the time you kill the heat on the oven. Remove from heat, stir in chia seeds, let cool a few minutes, transfer to jam bowl and jam it up your jam bowl and let cool in refrigerator.
Pull financier from oven. Let cool in molds for about fifteen minutes, but remove the chocolate disk from the iron skillet after only about three or four minutes. Walk around your house or apartment and nonchalantly ask people if they’d like a cookie. You’re holding a semi-gloss 9″/ 22 cm cookie. Tease them with it and deny them. There will be more cruelty, I promise. This let’s it cool a minute. Return the cookie to a wooden surface, get your mallet and plating ring, and press six circles into it, a pentagram with an extra in the middle. It will be tight. You might have to lose a small arc from a couple of the smaller chocolate disks. Use the mallet to crack through the lower surface of the disk, tapping it on the edge. If any crack, eat the pieces immediately. Don’t use it for pie crusts, don’t – wait a minute, deja vu. The cookie disk is basically cooled by the time you’ve finished. Remove the molded financier cakes from the molds and set aside to cool. If there are any crumbs from the financier skillet, share those. That’all you get. That’s your ration of mercy.
When the cakes have completely cooled, put them in a wax paper pagoda container along with a sheet of paper towel or such to further absorb moisture while they sit overnight, to keep the outside crisp. Everyone will be mad at you for being the brownie Nazi; you made brownies and then denied them for reasons.
Preparation: Third night – Take the jam out. Put a spoon in it. Take the can of coconut out and stab it twice on the bottom. Let the water bleed out into a bowl. Drink it like a tropical Dracula. Open the top of the can and scoop out the chilled cream. Put it in the metal bowl with the confectioner’s sugar, salt and vanilla extract. Take your larger bowl and crack two trays of ice in it, add a bit of water, about 140 g / one cup. Immerse the metal bowl in the larger bowl, get your whisk, and get to work. Whisking the cream will take five minutes, easy. You must use ice water to keep the metal bowl chilled. You’ll get really nice peaks if you put the effort into it. When it’s nice and firm, transfer it to your plastic bag and put it in the refrigerator for a moment.
Get your plates, jam, cakes ready. Cut a tiny snippet of the cream bag corner, pipe out a white dome upon the plate and screw a cookie down onto it. Put another white dome atop it and lay your financier upon it. I dusted mine with confectioner’s sugar to clarify the contours of the cakes. I had molds that looked like fruits, vegetables, leaves and stuff – the one in the photograph is a turnip. Spoon jam on plate. I serve with flatware but no one ever uses it. I don’t care; I’m not a Nazi. I took flowers from my garden to accent the photo. The chia seeds make the jam look like strawberry a bit. The coffee is free trade, black.