I’ve now lived in Australia for four years and come to love the easygoing culture, endless sun and even the peculiar flora and (deadly) fauna. What’s surprised me is how seriously they take their pastries. Most every cafe makes Parisian caliber croissants, Danishes, scrolls, cookies and towering cakes. Melbourne’s Lune Croissanterie, for example, has the top-rated croissant in the world, made in an old warehouse down a gritty side road, with a line snaking around the block. I’ve waited and it was worth it.

While the flaky laminated pastries are impressive, my go-to Australian sweet is the sleeper in the display case. Shallow and oval shaped, friands are small, three-bite cakes that have a delicate, almost shattering-crisp golden crust, yet tender, chewy crumb. Feather light, but packed with bold, buttery flavor. I’ve cooked for 25-plus years and never made anything quite like it. A real baking contradiction.

Friands are the Australian take on French financiers. In fact, they are virtually identical outside of the shape—oval vs. ingot-like brick—and add myriad flavors. They start off with a high ratio of almond meal to all-purpose flour, which in part explains the texture and full flavor. Almond meal is a baker’s hack to tenderness. It lends structure—without the potential toughness of gluten—and holds moisture thanks to its high fiber and calcium content. A 5-to-1 ratio yielded the most tender texture and fullest almond flavor (which we further boosted with a little almond extract).

Friand’s intensely buttery flavor comes from browning the butter to what the French call noisette. Cooking the butter not only intensifies the flavor by caramelizing the milk solids, it evaporates the roughly 20-percent water content. That means there’s less gluten developed when mixed with the flour in the batter. I should have guessed considering how much browned butter I use in my own baking.

I was surprised to find powdered sugar, not granulated, the standard sweetener for friands. But it proved out—powdered sugar makes for a more tender cake with a thinner, crisper crust. It turns out the sugar’s fine, chalky texture interferes with gluten formation, and melts more easily to help create that delicately brittle crust.

Egg whites bind the batter together and provide the only leavening. Stiff, thickly whipped whites provided too much lift, yielding more chewy meringue than tender cake. Softly whipped whites—frothy and opaque, but short of billowy—yielded the tight, chewy texture we were after.

The mixing method for friands is a simple wet-meets-dry dump and stir, however the varying texture of dry ingredients tends to clump and doesn’t blend evenly with the whites. Sifting seems fussy, though it quickly solved the problem. Also, following the lessons we learned from baker Claire Ptak, we underblended wet and dry ingredients together, leaving ribbons of fluffy egg white. The batter finishes blending during baking for a homogenous texture.

My favorite friands at the local bakery come studded with a fresh berry or two. It looks stingy, but proves just right. The berries provide accent—a shot of acidity to cut the buttery sweet crumb. Raspberries paired with orange zest or blueberries with lemon zest both tasted great with the almond-flavored cake.

Low, oval friand molds are easy to find at my local kitchen store, but not so much the U.S. Regular muffin tins proved too big, producing friands with a wrong ratio of crust to crumb. Mini muffin tins, however, proved close enough and kept the three-bite size intact.