Here’s the thing, although we live in a society with alarming divorce rates, we can always take solace in knowing that some marriages are made in heaven, in kitchen heaven anyway. The classical combinations will never stop working; basil and tomato and the like. Almonds and pears are worthy of similar praise. Together, they form a holy union that is bound in culinary matrimony. This is a love story. The French have told the almond pear love story in many ways; tarts and clafoutis stand out. I want to tell you this story, however, with a little French financier. It’s a sort of light almond sponge cake. It is unlikely that words will do the financier justice, but indulge me the opportunity to explain.
First, browned butter does a few things. It introduces earthy nutty elements and strengthens the dish in remarkable ways, but more than just that, the aroma of browned butter lets you know something extraordinarily satisfying is on the way. Second, poached pears really need not be talked up, few things in life are as satisfying as a simple pear, and the financier stands firmly atop its recognizable flavor. Third, almond batter is in a league of its own. Made with egg whites, flour, and sugar, the base of the financier is incredibly light and uplifts the pears to make them worthy of new levels of appreciation. The finished product, the final love story, is nothing short of divine. It’s enough to make one believe in the sanctity of marriage and the existence of soul mates again. Pear and almonds work beautifully together.
This recipe comes from my favorite Gordon Ramsay cookbook, Kitchen Heaven, and has remained unchanged. I've included a few tips I've picked up along the way.
- Preheat the oven to 190C (375F). Put the butter in a pan over a high heat and cook until it starts to go brown. Pay very close attention to the pan as you don’t want to burn the butter, only brown it.
- Strain through a fine sieve and leave to cool.
- Peel and core the pears and chop into 1 cm dice.
- Put 75 g of the caster sugar into a warmed pan and heat gently until caramelized. Patience is important here, don’t disturb the pan, just be patient.
- Add the diced pear and cook for about 4 - 5 minutes, until it just starts to break down. It is absolutely important not to let these disintegrate too much; you don’t want a watery batter.
- Take out the pan and leave to cool on a tray.
- Mix the flour, the ground almonds and the remaining sugar in a large bowl.
- Slowly fold in the egg whites, then stir in the melted butter.
- Grease four moulds or ramekins with butter, and dust with a little flour.
- Put in the fridge for 10 minutes for the butter to set.
- Combine the almond mixture with the pears, then pour into the mould until three quarters full. They will rise so don’t full the ramekins too high.
- Bake at the top of the preheated oven for 25 minutes until golden brown and firm.
- Serve with crème fraîche, sprinkled with chopped mint. This wouldn't seem incredibly important, and the dish is fine on its own, but the crème fraîche and mint provides a refreshing balance.