In the 10 minutes I spent searching on the interwebs, I found an article in the New Times where the author retold a couple of theories on the origin of this little cake. Some book on the history of pastry; no really, there’s such a book by Pierre Lacam called, “Memorial Historique de la Patisserie” (found one on Amazon for 350,00 €) published in 1890 has one theory.
Lacam wrote that this cake was created by a baker named Lasne. His bakery was on the Rue St.-Denis near the Bourse, the financial center of Paris. He wanted to suck up to the bankers so he created this little nibble in the shape of a gold brick.
Nick Malgieri, pastry chef extraordinaire and culinary instructor, believes the nuns of the Order of the Visitation created them and called them visitandines. Both seem plausible and I would happily thank either for their creation.
Regardless of who created them, there’s a couple of details to keep in mind when baking these little “gold bricks”. First off, when cooking the butter melt it on medium-low heat until it starts to smell nutty and the milk solids begin to brown. Watch it like a hawk though as it will go from brown to burnt very quickly. Once it’s the color of a chestnut remove it from the heat and pour it into a bowl to stop the cooking. Don’t be timid either and under cook the butter. It needs to achieve the necessary aroma and color for a successful baking outcome.
The second detail is to mix the batter as little as possible. It should be stirred just until blended. If you are over zealous, gluten formation will occur and these little darlings will be tough.
The batter needs some time to rest in the refrigerator. This will allow the flavors to harmonize and the batter will firm up, making it easier to get the batter into molds. I use a pastry bag for this step but a teaspoon would work too in a pinch. Trust me though the pastry bag is easier.
The classic shape is rectangular (for the gold bar reference) but the batter can also be baked in mini muffins tins. Though I have non-stick molds (which are 1″ x 2″ x 3/8″), I brush each of them with a little melted butter just for removal insurance.
Of course the size of the mold will determine the number that can be made. With the molds I have I made about 7 dozen.
13 tablespoons or (6 1/2 oz or 187g) unsalted butter, plus enough to butter the molds
1/4 cup or (2 1/4 oz or 63g) all-purpose flour
1 1/3 cups or (4 1/2 oz or 125g) almond powder
3 1/2 cups or (14 oz or 212g) confectioners’ sugar
pinch of kosher salt
3/4 cup (6 1/2 oz or 187g) egg whites
Place the butter in a small saucepan and cook over low heat until it turns brown and has the aroma of toasted nuts. Pour into a bowl to stop the cooking and set aside to cool.
In the same pan melt a little more butter. Brush each mold with some of the melted butter using a small pastry brush. Set aside.
In a medium bowl using a whisk mix together the flour, almond flour, confectioners’ sugar, and salt. Add the egg whites and mix just until combined. When the brown butter has cooled, add it to the dry ingredients and whisk again, just until combined. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or as long as overnight.
Fill the batter 3/4 full into prepared financier or muffin molds. Cook in molds at 350°F for 15 minutes. Allow to cool for a couple of minutes then using the tip of a paring knife carefully remove each “cake” to a rack to cool. They taste their best when served the day they are baked though no one has ever complained when I served them the next day.