A brand new cake from a baking paradise

Financial are the simple Janes of the baking world. Usually they are not glazed, frosted or decorated in any way. And that’s how they’...

Financial are the simple Janes of the baking world. Usually they are not glazed, frosted or decorated in any way. And that’s how they’re meant to be – simplicity has been baked into their DNA. The story goes that pastry chef Lasne, who had a shop near the Paris Stock Exchange in the late 1800s, created these little cakes for his stockbroker clients as a treat that wouldn’t mess up their hands. The version I heard was a little more complete. Someone once told me that brokers, also known as financial, came for a break in the afternoon and that they were always in a hurry — they didn’t have time for the pastries which required a knife and fork and a moment to savor them — and that they tried to avoid any remaining crumbs. I always imagined them coming back to the exchange trying to get his bits of pastry out of their ties, mufflers, and beards.

The miniature cake that Lasne created could be eaten right away. It was made with ground nuts – usually almonds – and mixed with egg whites, so its texture had a subtle chewiness. And there was butter, lots of butter, adding roundness to the flavor and, I thought, making the cake as rich as the people it is named after. In order to make it even more appealing to his customers – or perhaps because he had a sly sense of humor – Lasne baked the cakes in rectangular pans, so that they imitated gold bars. I like the stories around financial so much so that he is almost relieved to find that the cakes live up to their legend. They’re quietly delicious – the butter, nuts and sugar have understated charms. They are satisfying – a small serving is outrageous pleasure. And they are a source of inspiration for bakers – the recipe invites variation.

Financial can be made with other types of nuts; they are often made with hazelnuts and are especially good with pistachios. Melted butter can be browned which adds deeper flavor and more color to the cake. Spices can be mixed into the batter. A berry or a thin slice of fruit can be added on top of the cakes before baking. I think I riffed on the financial at least a dozen ways, but the play on the recipe I keep coming back to is performed with chopped chocolate and known in French patisseries as tiger, which means scratched. I misread the name the first time I saw it – I thought it meant “tiger”, and have since called them “tiger cakes”. Breaking with tradition, the tiger is usually topped with a little ganache.

My Tiger Cake is really a cake – I bake it in a round pan rather than individual pans. It has melted butter, but a little less than the classic recipe; egg whites, of course, as they are key to the texture of the cake; and a little yeast to help the larger cake bake evenly. Instead of a dollop of ganache, I richly coated the whole cake and even sprinkled the top with toasted almonds. It’s both elegant and casual. It could be a dinner dessert or, because it cuts so well and holds its shape so well, a snack. It can be eaten slowly or on the go. In spirit, it echoes the original cake. In fact, it stains your fingers and tends to leave a few crumbs here and there and a telltale trace of chocolate on your lips. Stockbrokers beware.

Recipe: Chocolate and Almond Tiger Cake

Dorie Greenspan is an Eat columnist for the magazine. She has won five James Beard Awards for her cookbooks and writing. Her new cookbook is “Pastry with Dorie.”

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A brand new cake from a baking paradise
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