Sweet Little Friands: Something New for Easter Brunch

Meet my sweet little friend, the Friand. I first discovered friands (free-onds) last spring when I was searching Pinterest for some new baking recipes, and was immediately attracted to their lovely presentation and unique oval shape. I knew that this was a specialty I had to make for Tony and Gio, who are now happily on the friand bandwagon.

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. Seriously, what’s not to love?

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 in case you don’t have a scale to use at home.

Their unusual oval shape makes them the perfect choice for an Easter brunch, but finding the correct pan can be difficult here in the States. After a bit of searching online last year, I found several silicone options available at Amazon.com for under $25. I’ve also used a mini-muffin pan with great results – 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 ten, 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 – they still tasted great, but weren’t as eye-catching as the ones with fruit on top (see pic below).

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 (a bit of genius from Gio, as they were delicious).

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.

CLICK HERE for the RECIPE for Raspberry Friands

Strata, Schmata: this is one delicious Eggbake!

Welcome to part two in our Easter Menu Series. Last week we found our inspiration in a new recipe from Down Under, but this week we’re hearkening back to an old family favorite with a recipe for Easter egg strata.

My mother has served this egg bake on Easter Sunday many times, and she often pairs it with fresh fruit, homemade cinnamon rolls and an apple sausage breakfast ring. This year we’ll be adding the Australian friands from last week’s column to round out our brunch menu.

Our family’s recipe comes from the cookbook “Entertaining with Imagination,” which was produced locally in 1978 by the Lake Agassiz Arts Council (now known as The Arts Partnership). The cookbook features hundreds of interesting recipes, all contributed by area residents to benefit local arts programs. To my surprise and delight, a quick online search revealed that used copies are currently available online for purchase via Amazon.com.

Today’s recipe was contributed by Mrs. J. Robert (Lois) Hanson, whose husband was the much-beloved conductor of the Fargo-Moorhead Symphony Orchestra from 1974 to 1990. The recipe appears in the cookbook under the title “Breakfast Brunch Dish,” but my family has always called it “Easter Egg Strata.”

A strata is similar to a frittata or quiche, and was originally made by layering the bread and filling to create layers, or strata, in the dish. However, this recipe follows the simpler technique of a bread pudding by mixing everything together in one dish.

We love this recipe for several reasons. Mrs. Hanson’s egg strata is visually appealing, moist, cheesy and delicious. But, perhaps best of all, it is extremely easy to make. The recipe calls for eight slices of bread, and we recommend using Breadsmith’s Rustic Italian or French bread as their thicker texture helps to better absorb the liquid. However, day-old or even stale bread will also work great.

After removing the crust from the bread, I cut it into cubes and set it aside. Next, I beat 8 eggs together – a special gift for this occasion from our friend Renee Clasen, whose chickens produce gorgeous, farm-fresh eggs in a delightful variety of natural colors.

Mrs. Hanson’s recipe also includes one pound of grated sharp cheddar cheese, and to further simplify the process I decided to use the grating attachment on my food processor. I’d never tried this before, but I’ll definitely be using it again, because that pound of cheese was grated in about 60 seconds.

To experiment, I decided to make one strata with regular sharp cheddar (I used Cracker Barrel), and one with a good-quality white cheddar. Both were delicious, but Tony and I preferred the creamy, full flavor of the white cheddar version just a bit more.

Whole milk, salt and dry mustard powder make up the remaining ingredients, but you could also use a mixture of lower-fat milk and half-and-half.

The strata needs to be refrigerated for several hours before baking, which enables the bread to fully absorb the egg, milk and cheese mixture, and overnight is even better. The dish will puff up quite a bit as it bakes, but expect it to deflate after removing from the oven. Allow it to stand for about five to ten minutes before serving.

The recipe is perfect as is, but use your imagination to enhance it by changing the type of cheese or adding meat, fresh herbs, veggies, or smoked salmon. We’re sure Mrs. Hanson won’t object.

CLICK HERE for our Easter Egg Strata RECIPE

Springtime Salad Video: Honey Gorgonzola Hearts & Spears

Easter is late this year – April 20th – and this is the perfect time of year to enjoy our favorite springtime vegetable: Asparagus.

This week on North Dakota Today, Tony shares a recipe for one of our favorite salads: Honey Gorgonzola Hearts and Spears, which features hearts of Romaine lettuce shells, red and yellow bell peppers, gorgonzola cheese, toasted walnuts, asparagus spears, all drizzled with my very favorite salad dressing – ever, honey gorgonzola vinaigrette.

This salad is a perfect blend of textures: the crisp Romaine lettuce and asparagus spears balance the creamy, soft gorgonzola cheese and dressing, with just the right amount of crunch from the toasted walnuts.

The secret to the dressing is to add the oil in a slow, steady stream while whisking vigorously. This creates the emulsion required so that the ingredients blend well toether.

I love that this dressing can be made in advance and stored in the refrigerator for up to one week, because once I have it I always want more. Enjoy!

Click HERE for the recipe for Honey Gorgonzola Hearts and Spears

Click the play button on the video below to watch Tony’s live presentation.