KUALA LUMPUR, June 15 — Sometimes the greatest hits in our home kitchen are first discovered when we aren’t at home in the first place. My partner and I love travelling, and we both love coffee, so a trip to Melbourne, considered by many to be the café capital of the world, was a no-brainer. What better way to feed two addictions with one getaway, right?
Here’s the thing about café-hopping in Melbourne: there are so many cafés serving great cups that you can only have that many before you end up feeling a tad – dare I say it? – over-caffeinated. One great way of avoiding this “coffee coma” is to enjoy your espresso or your single origin brew with a sweet treat.
And trust me, the word is “sweet” for the average Australian seems to have the sweetest tooth of any single nationality on earth. They seem to love their coffee, whether black or white, sans sugar so the sucrose levels of the accompanying dessert seem to go up to balance this. Unlike ordering a teh tarik at our local mamak stall, one can’t exactly ask for kurang manis (less sweet in Malay).
Of course, this is hardly a complaint from me as Australians also make some of the most delectable desserts I’ve tasted. My favourite treat from Down Under is a small, oval-shaped cake called friand. It’s not unlike a financier, though slightly larger, and is made from almond meal and egg whites.
One of the best friands I tasted in Melbourne was made with raspberries. There is something about the slightly acidic flavour of the raspberries and the nuttiness of the almond meal that go so well together. The only drawback, naturally, is its cloying sweetness.
Fortunately I got some advice from my friend Wayne (who is of Italian Australian descent, so he knows his sweet treats); the trick, apparently, is to halve the amount of sugar of any Australian-based dessert recipe. Initially, I was sceptical; cutting down one of the ingredients by half seems rather drastic.
But so enamoured was I by these raspberry friands that upon returning from Melbourne, I immediately set out to put his tip to the test. In addition to halving the sugar, I also added some dark chocolate to the mix, to tone down the sweetness further while giving it a little bit of an edge.
I shouldn’t have worried. Wayne was right; the resultant friands are as delicious as any that I’ve had in Melbourne and far less sweet. Try this for a kurang manis treat from Oz.
“Kurang manis” raspberry and dark chocolate friands
Most friand recipes use about 3½ to 4 times as much icing sugar as flour but I find this incredibly sweet. I prefer an icing sugar to flour ratio of 3:2. This means halving the amount of sugar, which I find doesn’t compromise the texture of the friands discernibly while preventing a sweetness overload.
If you don’t have friand trays, you can use muffin moulds or even ramekins (like I did). I also tried a loaf tin and the resultant “giant” friand holds its shape well though you need to rest it till it has completely cooled. Incidentally, though friand means “dainty” in French, I assure you my super-sized version tastes just as good as its more refined cousins.
6 egg whites
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
200g unsalted butter, melted
120g almond meal
120g icing sugar, sifted
80g plain flour, sifted
A pinch of salt
1 small box of fresh raspberries (about 125g)
125g dark chocolate (at least 70%), broken into small pieces
Preheat oven to 180ºC. Grease a dozen ramekins or a couple of 6-hole friand trays. In a large bowl, lightly whisk the egg whites and vanilla extract until just frothy; they don’t need to be stiff peaks. Add the melted butter, almond meal, sifted icing sugar, flour and salt to the bowl. Beat to combine well.
Pour the batter into the prepared ramekins or trays, until each is about a third full. Add a few raspberries and pieces of dark chocolate to each. Continue to fill the ramekins or trays with the remaining batter till two-thirds full.
Bake for 25 - 30 minutes or until a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean. The friands should be golden brown on top. Allow to cool before serving with any extra raspberries.
Yield: Makes a dozen friands, perfect for a tea (or coffee) party.
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