Summer Berry Mania
“Wouldn’t it be funny if she never left Watsonville, thirty miles away? She could even slip in over the line and see her friends if she wanted to. Maybe she came to Salinas sometimes. She might be in Salinas right now.”
East of Eden, John Steinbeck
It was mid June. It was time for the local olallieberry harvest at Gidzich Ranch in Watsonville. If I held my breath it would be over. I grew up with the olallieberry harvest at Gidzich Ranch every summer. During those years I found my mother’s fixation with the olallie to be a bit obsessive. Often we would go pick berries each week of June and the beginning of July. We would leave early in the morning when it was still cool so my mother would have time to process the lush berries on the same day they were harvested. I am beginning to follow my mother’s path. I have been to Gidzich twice for olallies. I made pie, jam and froze olallieberries just as my mother did. But this year I tried a new berry recipe with my olallies. And I am very glad I did!
A financier is tiny French dessert cake that is similar to a muffin, or cupcake, but lighter in texture. Historically these little cakes were baked in oblong shapes to resemble bars of gold. I chose to bake them in a mini muffin tin, leaving just enough room for one precious berry to grace the top of the moist little cake. I found several recipes for the financier and choose to adapt Flo Braker’s recipe from Baking for all Occasions. The commonality in the recipes is the inclusion of browned butter or beurre noisette, almond four (or other nut flours), egg whites and powdered sugar. They are simple to prepare and wonderfully delicious. I especially like the single berry bursting with summer goodness which seems to float atop the light and airy financier. This recipe would be equally delightful with blackberries, boysenberries, Marion berries or raspberries. Financiers are a splendid summer treat, simple to bake and easy to pack for a picnic or road trip.
Like any other ripe berry the olallies all but slide into your hand when they are ready for harvesting. A crimson red olallie is not ripe, it is very tart and even a bit crunchy. A deep purple olallie that is oblong in shape still is a bit tangy. These oblong purple berries are easier to pick and transport and therefore the berry that is usually available for purchase. To attain maximum sweetness this berry must be on the verge of bursting. Once it becomes round, soft, dull and deep in color, it is then that drupelets are pregnant with sweet crimson juice and the olallie is ready for harvest. The challenge is to harvest the berries when they are ripe without crushing them and releasing their sweet juice. Picking olallies leaves purple stained hands and a sure sign that a sweet summer dessert is eminent.
If you have not baked with browned butter or beurre noisette it is easy to prepare and lends a rich nutty flavor to baked goods. This would be a perfect recipe in which to use a European style or other creamery butter as the taste of the browned butter is the focal point of the financier.
A very easy recipe with one word of advise. The batter is very thick and creamy so I thought if I placed the berries on top they would not sink down inside the financier. But they will in fact sink into the middle of the financier while baking. Which is not a bad thing as the berry then becomes a surprise when you bite into the financier. But to properly show off the summer berries, they must be placed on the financier mid way through baking.
|1C / 8oz||unsalted butter|
|3/4C / 75 grams||almond flour|
|2C / 200 grams||powdered sugar|
|1/2C / 80 grams||flour|
|6||egg whites, room temperature|
|36||fresh berries, Olallie, blackberries, boysenberries, Marion berries or raspberries||powdered sugar for dusting|
- Prepare the browned butter or beurre noisette by melting the butter in a saucepan or skillet with a light colored or shiny interior on medium-low heat. You will want to be able to watch the process of browning the butter, as it will quickly transform from browned to burnt. (If that happens, you will need to begin again.) Watch the pan the entire time you are browning the butter. At first the butter may sputter for a bit as the milk solids cook. Gently swirl the pan until the milk solids are a warm toasty brown at the bottom of the pan. Remove from heat to cool.
- Prior to baking, I strained my browned butter with a fine mesh strainer to remove only the largest of the browned pieces. There are differing approaches to use of the brown butter, from straining through cheesecloth to not straining at all. If I’m making Chocolate Chip Cookies, I don’t strain at all. The choice is yours. However, if you strain with cheesecloth, you will need to increase the amount of butter you brown. The volume of butter will be reduced enough to change the outcome of your recipe. Measure for the recipe after straining through cheesecloth. A guideline is 1/2C butter equals 1/3C strained browned butter.
- Sift or shake through a large sieve the almond flour, powdered sugar, flour, baking power and salt. Push the almond flour though the screen, breaking up any large clumps.
- In a large bowl whisk the egg whites until foamy and doubled in volume. Add the dry ingredients to combine. Then add the cooled browned butter, vanilla extract and lemon zest. Mix until thoroughly combined.
- Set the batter aside to thicken for thirty minutes and pre heat oven to 350°. Liberally grease the mini muffin tin with melted butter. If you made extra browned butter it can be used here.
- Fill the mini muffin cups 2/3 full with batter. Bake in the pre heated oven for 7-10 minutes. When the financiers begin to brown around the edge of the muffin cups and small bubbles have formed around the outer edge, open the oven and gently place a berry in the center of each financier. Close the oven door and bake for another 5-7 minutes until the financer is uniformly golden in color and no longer wiggles in the center. Remove from the oven and cool for 5 minutes. Gently remove the financers to a cooling rack to cool completely. Dust with powdered sugar just prior to serving.