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THE LOST ITALIAN: Tea cake treasures

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accent Grand Forks, 58203
Grand Forks North Dakota 375 2nd Ave. N. 58203

Meet my sweet little friend, the Friand.

I first discovered friands (pronounced “free-onds”) last spring when I was searching Pinterest for new baking recipes, and I was immediately attracted to their lovely presentation and unique oval shape. I knew this was a specialty I had to make for my family, who are now happily on the friand bandwagon.

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Wildly popular in Australia and New Zealand but little known elsewhere, friands are charming almond tea cakes similar to the French financier. I confess, I loved discovering a darling new treat that no one else I knew was making. Even better: In spite of their elegant, refined appearance, friands are surprisingly easy to make and the batter can be prepared up to two days in advance.

I have adapted our recipe from the Australian blog, “What Katie Ate.” While her recipe uses measurements in grams, I’ve converted our version to the American measuring system.

Their unusual oval shape makes them the perfect choice for an Easter brunch, but finding the correct pan can be difficult in the U.S., but you can find one for less than $25 online or use a mini-muffin pan in a pinch. The friands won’t have their signature oval shape, but they’ll be bite-size darling and just as delicious.

What makes these cakes so special isn’t just their shape. Friands are made with almond flour, which creates a wonderful flavor and texture. Almond flour is easily found in our local grocery stores and can be stored for up to one year in an airtight container in the refrigerator or freezer.

The cakes may look like some version of a muffin, but the similarity stops there. Friands have a crispy top with a moist, almost-gooey inside, similar to a Petit Four. They are typically made with egg whites and this fuss-free recipe only requires you to mix them for a few seconds until they are just combined. I usually count to 10, but (very) recently, I felt like mixing them longer, which resulted in all of my berries sinking to the bottom of the cake. Lesson learned.

Melted butter, powdered sugar, vanilla extract and a small amount of all-purpose flour round out the rest of the ingredients. This past weekend, I attempted to make gluten-free friands by using a gluten-free version of all-purpose flour, but the results were less than thrilling. I’ll keep working on this recipe and will post an update on our blog once I’ve found the right balance.

I love the versatility of friands. You can play around with a wide variety of flavors and are limited only by your imagination. Today’s photos feature raspberry, blueberry and vanilla friands, but we’ve also made them with sliced apple, blackberries, strawberries, citrus zest, chopped up chocolate pieces and even crushed Oreo cookies.

Friands can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for several days. I’ve read that they freeze well for up to three months, but honestly, I’ll have to take their word for it — ours have never hung around long enough to find out.

Raspberry Friands

YIELD: Makes about 12 oval-shaped friands or 24 mini-muffin size

1 to 2 tablespoons melted butter for greasing pan

5 egg whites

1¼ stick unsalted butter, melted and cooled to room temperature

¾ cup almond flour

1½ cups powdered sugar, sifted

¼ cup + 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour, sifted

1 teaspoon vanilla

¼ teaspoon almond extract (optional)

24 fresh raspberries

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease inside of friand tray or muffin pan well with melted butter and set aside. In a large mixing bowl, sift powdered sugar and flour together, and then add almond flour. In a separate large mixing bowl, whisk egg whites briefly until just combined, no longer than a count of 10. Add melted (and cooled) butter and vanilla to te egg whites and mix for a few more seconds. Add flour mixture and beat until well-mixed, about 1 minute. Use an ice cream scoop to fill each hole until about two-thirds full. Place 2 or 3 berries on top of each friand and bake at 350 degrees until tops are a light, golden brown. Insert a toothpick into center to check for doneness. This is about 20 to 25 minutes for oval friands and 15 to 17 minutes for mini-muffin size. Oven temperatures can vary, so keep an eye on them as they bake. Cool for 5 minutes. Use an offset spatula or butter knife to loosen cakes from pan before gently turning them out. Dust with powdered sugar and enjoy.

Sarah’s Tips:

  • If using a silicone baking pan, place an upside-down cooling rack under the pan before baking for easy transfer in/out of the oven.
  • Allow the melted butter to cool before adding to the egg whites or it could ruin their texture.
  • Batter can be made up to two days in advance and refrigerated until ready to use.
  • Try other ingredients to enhance friends — mixed berries, apple slices, citrus zest, chocolate chips, coconut, etc.
  • Store friands in the refrigerator in an airtight container for 3 to 4 days, and bring to room temperature or heat before serving.
  • To freeze, wrap friands individually in plastic and freeze for up to three months.

Home with the Lost Italian is a weekly column written by Sarah Nasello featuring recipes by her husband, Tony Nasello. The couple own Sarello’s restaurant in Moorhead, Minn., and live in Fargo with their 9-year-old son, Giovanni. Readers can reach them at dine@sarellos.com. All previous recipes can be found at http://thelostitalian.areavoices.com.

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