First, the figs. Years ago, my colleague and friend, Stephen McCauley, asked me to bring him back fresh figs from a shopping adventure in Florence, Italy. At the time, he worked for the PR firm Porter Novelli and was in charge of the meeting I was attending. The month was February, not exactly fresh fig season. So I bought him dried instead. (No need to elaborate on the benefits of dried fruit for older adults!) Every year since — probably 10 years by now — I look for a fig treat for Stephen.

Next, the fats. Earlier this year, I attended a partially sponsored conference in London, coordinated by Stephen’s Ginger Network. We heard several presentations on fat, including dairy fat, soybean oil (from soybeans farmed by farmer Nancy Kavazanjian), and trans fat-free margarine. It turns out the “industrial” trans fats may be the most harmful, and that others, including dairy fat, may be okay, even for older adults.

Last, the financiers. Stephen spotted a NY Times recipe for fig financiers and sent it my way (to motivate me to bake him something?). The recipe calls for browned butter. I wondered — what if I make them with butter and again with the high oleic soybean oil sent to me by Nancy to play with. So that’s what I did. Changing the recipe to use dried figs instead of fresh and ground almonds rather than hazelnuts, I made one batch with browned butter and one with soybean oil combine with a bit of sesame oil for its toasty flavor. The results were surprising.

Eric and I tasted the financiers side by side. The browned butter financiers tasted like, well, browned butter. Not like figs and not like almonds. The soybean oil financiers were much more nuanced. Without the distraction of the butter flavor, the fig and almond flavors popped. Our only complaint — the ones made with oil didn’t brown as well.

These are really easy and really elegant, no matter which fat you use. For guests, I might drizzle them with liqueur and/or serve them alongside fruit sorbet.

Stephen’s Fig Financiers

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter or 6 tablespoons soybean or vegetable oil plus 2 tablespoons sesame oil

155 grams (1 1/4 cups) powdered sugar

56 grams (1/2 cup) finely ground almonds

40 grams (1/3 cup) all purpose flour

Pinch of salt

4 large egg whites

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

8 dried Calimyrna figs, cut crosswise into thirds (I also used Mission but they’re not as pretty)

Directions

  1. Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Spray a 24-cup mini-muffin pan with cooking spray.
  2. If using butter, place in a small saucepan over low-medium heat and cook until light brown, about 5 minutes. Pour into a heatproof bowl, leaving behind the browned milk solids on the bottom of the pan, and set aside to cool.
  3. Whisk together sugar, almonds, flour, and salt in a medium bowl. Add the egg whites and beat with an electric mixer on low speed for one minute. Add the butter or oils and beat on medium-high speed for 2 minutes, until smooth and creamy. Stir in the vanilla.
  4. Pour the batter into the muffin pan, filling each cup approximately 2/3 full. Top each with a fig slice. Bake for about 13 minutes, until lightly browned. The top should bounce back when lightly touched.
  5. Cool in the pan before carefully removing with a tablespoon.