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Tea Time At Pera Palace Hotel And Ginger Almond Cakes

Jan 11, 2011

Ginger Financiers  
I have always been fascinated with the Pera Palace Hotel, one of the rare 19th century neoclassical buildings in Istanbul, surrounded by such mysterious air, giving you the impression of taking you back to 1800s once you enter through its gates. Aside from its distinctive architecture, the hotel owes its mysterious atmosphere to the renowned writer Agatha Christie who allegedly wrote her novel "Murder on the Orient Express" during one of her stays in this Hotel. No wonder she found inspiration in Pera Palace since even I started imagining crime scenarios in my fairly innocent mind, when I first saw the famous beautiful, yet spooky cast iron elevator.

The hotel changed ownership couple of years ago and went under major restoration works that were finally concluded in November. The renovations unveiled what proved to be an enigmatic story: a secret compartment was discovered in the Hotel, whose door remained locked and hidden behind a kitchen cabinet for decades. The room was piled with 5000 pieces of Christofle silverware. 

Juicy speculations followed. Previous owners of the Hotel declared that their father had hidden the silverware collection in that room to protect it from tievery, hence the room was not a secret to their family. But the new owners found the ex-owners' claims doubtful given that the existence of a silverware collection of such outstanding value wasn't once mentioned during the hotel's transfer talks. I followed the development with curiosity to see what would come out of that, until a journalist tracked the story down and verified that the Christofle imprint on the discovered collection pieces were used during 1950s. The room indeed remained intact for at least 50 years but whether or not the room was a secret remained unclear. I am always bieased to believe in the mysterious version though.

The new owners of the Hotel now possesing the silverware too, made a nice gesture by announcing that the new found silverware would be utilized in Pera Palace's 5 o'clock tea hour to revive the tradition of its early years. My eagerness to visit the Hotel for tea time grew upon hearing this and besides, the newly completed renovations awaited my inspection.

Our visit was a spontaneous one, otherwise I would be prepared to taste the whole tea cookie buffet. But just after having a sunday afternoon cheese-wine-pizza threesome in a pizzeria only a block away, I doubt it was the most perfect timing to rend a visit to the hotel's tea room.

Financiers 
As soon as we were forwarded to the Tea Lounge, namely the Dome Room where the afternoon tea was being served, the colorful sight of the sweets buffet with little cakes, cookies and tartlets blew our initial plan to only have a sip of tea and a cookie bite. When the menu we were offered revealed that it would cost us a price equivalent to a full course dinner in a first class restaurant, we hesitated. The price included all you can eat from the sandwich bar and the sweets buffet plus the privilege to be served with silverware by waiters in penguin suits. Under normal circumstances, my reaction to the outrageous price would be to sneak out as soon as the waiter turns his back. But under this 19th century roof where Hemingway and Agatha Christie had sipped their teas, that would be a demeanour highly inappropriate so we ordered our teas at once instead. Determined to get the best out of what we agreed to pay, I started cruising around the buffet and found something spectacular to bake for my blog.

Financiers 
I started fishing a sample of everything to the pink delicate porcelain plate in my hand: first the last remaining macaroons that proved to be as light as clouds, then strawberry tartlets and apple pies. Finally, I found these little modest almond cakes known as financiers. I always have a soft side towards everything with almonds but on top of ground almonds, these financiers had an extra simple yet magical ingredient in them that knocked my socks off. While groups of tourists with cameras came wandering around, looking blankly at the domes on the ceiling, I kept going back and forth to the buffet to fetch more of financiers. The piano man played the tune while we sipped our Earl Greys and ate more financiers than I can admit here.

As we left the hotel I was feeling sick. A little fresh air and a walk made me feel better. I thought I was never going to see those financiers ever again. Had I known I could bake them so effortlessly at home, I wouldn't be so hard on myself.

There are two tips to make financiers like the ones I ate. The first is to use clarified butter to achieve nuttiness. The second tip I figured while probing is to use as finely ground almonds as possible, for the velvety texture typical to financiers. Other than that, it's crucial that you pretend you are in the Tea Lounge of Pera Palace while you eat. Bon Apetit.

Box of financiers 

Ginger Financiers

makes 12 2 inch/5cm or 24 1 inch/ 2.5 cm financiers

Recipe adapted from epicurious.com

Kitchenware required:

  • 12 mini muffin molds

Ingredients:

  • 35 g flour
  • 90 g clarified butter*+ 10 gr for buttering the molds
  • 70 g fine ground almonds
  • 100 g powdered sugar
  • 2-3 egg whites
  • 1/2 tablespoon powdered ginger
  • small handful of almond flakes, for decoration
  • pinch of salt

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 230 C/450 F.
  2. Butter the molds thoroughly with a brush. Place the molds inside the freezer to let the butter set.
  3. Combine dry ingredients, namely flour, ground almonds, ginger, sugar and salt in a bowl and whisk to combine.
  4. Add egg whites than butter and whisk after each addition.
  5. Pour the mixture into molds. Sprinkle them with almond flakes. Place in the preheated oven and bake for 6 minutes. Reduce the heat to 205 C/400 F and continue baking for another 6 minutes until they are golden brown. Turn the heat off and leave for another 6 minutes for financiers to firm. Remove molds from the oven and let cool for 10 minutes then unmold.

*Clarifying butter: For 100 gr clarified butter, place 110 gr butter in a sauce pan and melt it over medium heat. Skim off the foam with a spoon. Pour the rest of the butter into a bowl leaving the milky residue at the bottom. The clear yellow liquid is the clarified butter.