Rejoice: here is a recipe that uses egg whites. Are you the kind of person who keeps egg whites stashed in bags in your freezer after making ice cream because you can't bear to see them go to waste? Are you the kind of person who once took home a kilner jar of thirty egg whites from the restaurant where she worked because the chef was otherwise going to throw them in the bin after a furious bout of pasta-making? Are you the kind of person who is horrified by Nigella Lawson's admission that she sometimes separates eggs directly over the sink so as to avoid the conundrum posed by the leftover whites? If you're not, you're probably on the wrong blog and we have nothing in common. If you are, read on. You'll be delighted.
A frustratingly tiny amount of recipes use solely the whites of the egg without combining them with the yolks. Mousse is not the answer here, nor soufflé. I'm not a huge fan of meringues, so they're out. I usually resort to this chocolate cake when I have a bag of egg whites in the freezer (usually in batches of four, as I use four yolks for ice cream), and although it's delicious, it's not very portable and doesn't keep well past the day it's made. Thank god, then, for financiers. These are little French cakes made with egg whites, almonds and butter - it's the hefty dose of butter that makes them fudgy, gooey and moreish rather than dry, crumbly and sweet like macaroons. They are traditionally baked in bar shapes that look like gold ingots, hence the name financier. I came across these in a cookbook recently and stashed the memory at the back of my mind for a future glut of egg whites.
The time came. Ice cream was made. Whites were hoarded. I bought some ground almonds and decided to kill two things that needed using up with one recipe. Into the middle of my financiers, I dolloped a little cherry jam. This was a relic from a food swap I attended a good year and a half ago. Produced from the owners' cherry trees, it was a beautiful piece of treasure, the jar encasing a delicate blush-coloured syrup in which hung suspended tender, glassy, crystalline cherries like rosy pearls. It didn't have quite the fruity tang I like in my jams, though, and had languished at the back of the fridge and my conscience. Cherries and almonds are a natural pairing, though, and I thought the sweet cherries would blend deliciously with the buttery mixture as they baked.
These aren't true financiers, really, as they're baked in a muffin tin rather than special moulds. This makes them easier to produce, and more dangerously bite-size: a perilous combination if you're on a diet. They are ridiculously good: the cherry jam melts stickily throughout the cake, which is already gooey and buttery and moist, with a hint of that Bakewell almond flavour and a slightly grainy texture from the nuts. There are little chunks of cherry suspended in the crumb, and the top edges caramelise and turn slightly crispy in the oven while the inside remains moist and fudgy.
This is probably the best baking experiment I've ever carried out. The jam went in on a whim, but I think I may have inadvertently created a masterpiece. I imagine it would be good for using up all sorts of languishing preserves: marmalade, perhaps, or apricot jam (in many fridges a relic from glazing patisserie rather than a condiment in its own right) - just make sure it's a good quality jam with whole chunks of fruit. Also, factor in eating at least two of these in a single sitting.
Little cherry jam and almond cakes (makes 12):
- 70g ground almonds
- Pinch of salt
- 35g plain flour
- 100g caster sugar
- 1/2 tsp almond extract
- 90g egg whites (3 to 4 from large eggs)
- 90g unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing
- 6 tbsp cherry jam (a good quality one with whole fruit pieces)
Pre-heat the oven to 200C. Lightly grease a 12 hole muffin tin. Melt the butter in a small pan then set aside for a few minutes to cool. In a large bowl, mix together the almonds, salt, flour and sugar, then add the egg whites and almond extract and beat well until combined. Gradually pour in the melted butter, mixing constantly, until you have a smooth, fairly loose mixture with the consistency of pancake batter.
Divide this between the muffin moulds, then dollop a teaspoon of jam on top of each. Bake for 7 minutes, then turn the heat down to 160C and bake for a further 3-6 minutes (keep an eye on them - you want them to be golden around the edges and just set on top). Check for doneness - the cakes should spring back slightly when pressed - then leave to cool for 20 minutes before removing from the tin.