Oh how I long to be competent. A quick search of my blog throws up the word ‘competent’ no fewer than five times to date. Sam discovered early on that calling me ‘feckless’ (no matter how richly deserved, or warmly expressed) was the surest way to unjustified but unstoppable tears. I am sure that my desire to learn how to cook is at its base, simply a yearning to be competent, or at least appear competent. And for that reason I hold an abiding fondness for any dishes which are deeply practical: delightful in its simplicity, or ease, or using up leftovers that hang around the house: this no-knead bread, these vibrant braised spring onions, and, well, these friands.
These cakes look like frivolous little flibbertigibbets but they are deeply practical. Since starting down this road of custards and cakes, I find myself drowning in egg whites. Especially when I’ve been baking something like my Breton cake or caneles. For a long time they would sit in the fridge (egg whites, as long as they are in a sealed container, will remain happily in the fridge or freezer for quite a while), my gaze guiltily passing over them whenever I went in search of milk or butter. I didn’t really know what to do with them, and there are only so many brutti ma buoni one person can eat. The same cannot be said for these friands.
Friands are a spin-off from the Parisian financier, little almond-egg-white-butter cakes baked into the shape of gold bars, as rich as the financiers, or bankers, for whom they were made. Friands are Australian in origin, but French in inspiration, and often have sliced fruit baked into them. Although they should probably be baked in specific oval tins, but honestly I do mine in a normal muffin tin. It feels disingenuous to purchase a specific pan for something that I bake to use up excess ingredients. They taste like a cross between a macaron and a madeleine (which is unsurprising, given that is basically what they are), but the caramelised banana makes rich and smokey and unctuous all at the same time. As the cake cools, it drops slightly around the fruit, leaving little pits and pockets of intensely sweet-salty caramel.
They are quick to make – ten minutes prep, no more, and twenty five minutes baking, with no rest time; they are, to be frank, the antidote to some of the time-heavy baking projects I’ve been writing about recently. They can be eaten straight away, unadorned. And gloriously they use up a whole heap of egg whites (which is particularly useful if you’ve made my caneles or Breton cake). It’s fairly traditional to use browned butter in friads, and I don’t need asking twice when it comes to browned butter, so I really go to town on these, taking the butter just to the right side of obliterated, and making sure I scrape all of the nutty burnt milk solids into the batter.
I make these in under half an hour, feel competent, and eat four in one sitting. To give me energy for my next exhibition of competency, obviously.
It goes like this:
Browned butter caramelised banana friands
Makes: 12 friands
Takes: 10 minutes
Bakes: 25 minutes
100g salted butter
70g plain flour
165g icing sugar
85g ground almonds
4 large eggwhites (roughly 160g)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
For the caramelised bananas
1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon light brown sugar
Pinch of salt
- Melt the butter for the friand batter in a saucepan over a medium-high heat until it melts, foams up, and the foam subsides. It will have turned dark brown and smell nutty. Decant into a bowl, making sure to scrape out all the glorious dark brown speckles that will cling longingly to the bottom of the pan.
- Slice the bananas into thick coins. Heat the butter, salt, and brown sugars over a medium-high heat in a wide, shallow pan, add the bananas and swirl for 3-4 minutes until the bananas have softened, and the caramel is enrobing them.
- Preheat the oven to 180°C, and grease and flour a 12 hole muffin tin.
- Sift the flour and icing sugar into a large bowl and stir through the ground almonds.
- Place the eggwhites into another large bowl and whisk until they are white and filppy-floppy, not quite soft peaks stage, but almost. Stir this through the dry ingredients, trying not to knock too much air out of them, but don’t panic about it.
- Add the melted butter and vanilla extract, and stir everything together. It’ll take a little bit of time for it to come together, so don’t panic if it initially looks like it won’t.
- Spoon the batter into the tins, and press a couple of banana coins into each hole. I add a little bit of the leftover caramel in as well.
- Bake the friands in the oven for about 25 minutes, until they are risen and golden and spring back when pressed gently with a finger.
- Let the friands cool in the pan for about 5 minutes before removing them to a wire rack to cool completely. I find the easiest way to remove them is to gently nudge them away from the sides of the pan and then twist them until they release.
- Ta Dah!
Icing on the Cake
These are best eaten on the day of baking, ideally warm. Because I never plan sufficiently ahead these tend to be an ad hoc treat, snatched straight from the oven and eaten by whoever is in the house, but I have it on good authority that they are lovely as a pudding with ice cream or creme fraiche (and can be revived on the second or third day by a quick warm in the oven, which hides a multitude of sins). The leftover banana-infused caramel in the pan is the stuff of dreams, and I’ve been thinking dangerous thoughts about stuffing that inside little truffle moulds lined with dark chocolate. Watch this space.