Everybody’s always going on about macarons and madeleines, but if you ask me, the real superstar of the small pastry world is “le financier.” Financiers (pronounced fee-nahn-see-ay) are small, flat, rectangular or oval tea cakes with a dense, buttery, almondy goodness that’s all their own. For a cake that is so simple to make—it’s just egg whites, almond flour, sugar, and melted butter (more on the melted butter in a minute—the financier’s flavor, texture and composition are surprisingly complex. That’s because financiers are all about the perfect balance of ingredients—and all about beurre noisette (brown butter).

The direct translation of beurre noisette is “hazelnut butter” which aptly describes its rich, nutty flavor. Brown butter, the true English translation, better describes what it is: melted butter that has been heated until the milk solids begin to brown, caramelize, and take on a flavor reminiscent of hazelnuts. That flavor, paired with almonds, is all you really need in a financier.

What I love about “le financier” is how well-adapted it is to preparation in a home (i.e., my) kitchen. It requires no special equipment, and can be made in any pan (including muffin tins!) and always turns out pastry-shop gorgeous. Right now, I’m partial to making cake-size financiers topped with fruit like the one in the photo.

But my partiality may change. Now that I’ve got a financier recipe I love (it’s taken a lot of tries and that “perfect balance of ingredients” has given me fits), I have a feeling it’s going to become a go-to standard because it’s just so easyand it’s just so versatile. Maybe at Christmas, I’ll become obsessed with mini-muffin financiers with chocolate chips. Maybe next summer I’ll fix picnic-size treats topped with fresh raspberries. Heck, if I’m really feeling ambitious, I might hunt up the rectangular financier molds and make ‘em like a pastry chef.

In the meantime, the recipe is just too good not to share. Here’s the basic version, prepared with a topping of wine-poached pears.

1 1/2 sticks (6 oz./170 g.) butter
1 ¼ cups (6 oz./175 g.) confectioners’ sugar
¾ cup (3½ oz./140 g.) almond flour
½ cup (2.5 oz./75 g.) all-purpose flour
6 egg whites
2 to 3 wine-poached pears, cut into slices, or any other sliced fruit or fresh berries

MELT the butter in a small saucepan over low heat. Continue heating the butter until it 1) bubbles and foams, 2) clarifies and darkens and 3) darkens slightly and collects a light brown deposit of milk solids on the bottom of the pan. Remove from the heat. (The butter will continue to cook and darken.) Set aside to cool while you prepare the cake batter.

SIFT the confectioners’ sugar, almond flour, and all-purpose flour into a medium bowl. (Don’t skip this step: Confectioners’ sugar can clump and almond flour can have large flecks of almond pieces in it.)
WHISK the egg whites into the dry ingredients until well combined. Whisk in the brown butter, scraping all the browned bits into the batter (this is where all the flavor is). Cover the batter, and let stand 1 hour at room temperature to thicken, or chill up to three days.
PREHEAT the oven to 400˚F. Butter or grease an 9-inch (22 cm.) round cake pan. Cut a piece of parchment into a round that will fit on the bottom of the pan. Place the parchment in the bottom of the pan, and butter or grease the parchment as well.

SPREAD the financier batter in the pan. Arrange the poached pear slices over top.

BAKE the cake 30 to 40 minutes, or until browned on top, beginning to pull away from the sides of the pan and until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool 15 minutes, then unmold the cake, remove the parchment, and cool completely on a wire rack. Serve with crème anglaise or custard, if desired. Serves 8 to 12