When my mother and I were in Paris in April, we we lucky enough (and gleefully delighted) to be surrounded by numerous boulangeries full of delicious breads, cookies and pastries. We stopped and sampled goodies at way-too-many places to mention, but my favorite boulangerie was Boulangerie Malineau in the Marais section of Paris.
When I saw the below "rodent roll" there, I just knew that I had to buy it and try it. I really wasn't concerned about whether it tasted good or not (partly because I just knew it would be good and partly because I know that I would have noshed the whole thing anyway). Honestly, I just thought it was cute (and photo-worthy). Well, the joke was on me when it turned out to be one of the best pastries I ate in Paris. It only ranked second to my all-time favorite...a flaky, buttery pain du chocolat topped with toasted sliced almonds and sprinkled with confectioners' sugar. (Oh, I'm drooling just thinking about both of these right now.)
Anyway, the rodent roll had a pronounced pistachio taste with a texture that was dense and moist on the inside and crunchy on the outside. If you look closely at the picture, you can see that the tail is filled with pistachio paste. The miniature chocolate chip eyes and the egg-wash shine added visual appeal, too.
When I got home from France, one of the first things I did was to start cleaning out my pantry by either using ingredients up, donating canned goods and boxed stuff to the Salvation Army or throwing things out. Well, I came across a can of almond paste that, for some reason or another, I decided to hold on to. (It was really close to being trashed.) Well, I forgot all about it until last night when I was making these from the recent issue of Gourmet. For some reason, as I mixed the brownie batter, I remembered that another recent issue of Gourmet (March 2007 to be exact) had a recipe for Almond Cakes that used almond paste. Well, since I had good luck with the brownies last night, I figured I would follow one successful Gourmet recipe with another (hopefully successful) Gourmet recipe. This recipe gave me one last chance to use my miniature muffin pan again, and I have to admit that I was hoping that maybe these would have a similar enough nutty taste to the rodent roll I ate in Paris.
These were really tasty. They're very moist in the middle and the tops have a slight crunch. They have a nice almond flavor to them, but I think that after they sit overnight the almond presence will develop and become even more pronounced. (Or at least I'm hoping so.) I tripled the ingredients which made enough batter for 24 individual cakes. These are super-easy to make, too. These are perfect to serve for brunch or to accompany afternoon tea. I really want to experiment more with nut pastes in baking in the future. Pistachio and almond pastes have a similar fragrance and taste; however, the texture of the Parisian pastry was more toothsome and complex whereas the almond cakes are lighter and more muffin-like.
Source: Gourmet, March 2007
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened, plus 1/2 tablespoon, melted
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour plus additional for dusting molds
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons almond paste (not marzipan; 1 oz)
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 large egg
Confectioners sugar for dusting
Special equipment: 12 (1/8-cup) barquette molds or a mini-muffin pan with 12 (1/8-cup) muffin cups
Put oven rack in upper third of oven and preheat oven to 400°F. Brush molds with melted butter and lightly dust with flour, knocking out excess flour.
Stir together flour (3 tablespoons) and salt in a small bowl.
Beat together softened butter and granulated sugar in a bowl with an electric mixer at high speed until pale and fluffy. Beat in almond paste and vanilla until combined well, then beat in egg until combined. Reduce speed to low and add flour mixture, mixing until just combined.
Divide batter among molds or muffin cups, spreading evenly, then transfer to a baking sheet (not necessary if using muffin pan).
Bake cakes until just firm and edges are golden, about 15 minutes. Turn cakes out onto racks and cool completely, about 5 minutes. Turn cakes right side up and dust tops with confectioners sugar just before serving.
Cooks' note: Cakes can be made 1 day ahead and cooled completely, uncovered, then kept in an airtight container at room temperature.
Makes 12 individual cakes.
Mindy's notes: The recipe yield says 12, but I got 8. Grease the muffin tin(s) generously or line with paper baking cups. I filled each of the mini muffin cups to the top with the batter, so my mini muffins had "mushroom" tops. If you want more refined, professional-looking mini cakes, you will only want to fill your muffin cups about one-half to two-thirds full.