A Feast of Florentines
My mum loved Christmas. And, around this time of year she’d start stocking up with things…not to give away but for all of us to feast on through the holiday. Even though none of us liked Christmas cake, she’d make a large one…and the freezer would be stacked up with home-made mince pies. But, most of all I remember her making Florentine biscuits.
Her recipe came from a cordon bleu cookery book. And what she produced were little, crisp, lacy biscuits with chocolate bottoms. They were her own personal favourite…I know she adapted the recipe so there was no peel (she didn’t like it!) and extra almonds. So this year, I decided to find some Florentine recipes to try out as gifts for Vanessa Kimbell’s Let’s Make Christmas
My first creation is something called Florentine butter. If you think of brandy butter, with melted chocolate, dried fruit and flaked almonds…well, that’s what this is. Kind of like Nutella for grown-ups. The recipe has been adapted from one published in Delicious magazine. It’s pretty fabulous stuff – my jar for the Let’s Make Christmas event has only stayed safe because there was enough left over for a spare jar for me to help myself to the odd teaspoonful.
100g unsalted butter, softened
75g caster sugar
50g light muscovado sugar
1-2 tbsp brandy (ummm, I used 2 and some)
75g plain chocolate, melted
25g sunflower seeds
25g candied mixed peel
25g sultanas (I chopped mine roughly)
25g glacé cherries, roughly chopped
25g flaked almonds, toasted
- Beat the butter, caster sugar and light muscovado sugar together until smooth. Beat in the brandy to taste, then fold in the melted plain chocolate. Chill for 15 minutes.
- Reserve a pinch of each of the remaining ingredients and fold the rest into the chocolate butter mixture. Spoon into a cooled sterilised 350ml sealable jar. Sprinkle the top with the reserved sunflower seeds, mixed peel, sultanas, glacé cherries and almonds, then seal and store in the fridge. Once opened, it should be used within 1 month.
I’ve been eating this in teaspoonfuls when I want something sweet. And I’ve tried it spread on a warm brioche roll for breakfast. It’s like eating chocolate brandy butter with a crunch. VERY yummy!
Then, egged on by Laura from the Dessert Deli, I decided to try the real thing. I’d love my mum’s old recipe – but I don’t have the book. But, I’m quite sure that they were not made with cream (Delia’s recipe) and they were fragile little crispy things unlike some of the versions I found. The recipe that was closest to my memory was very simply so I decided to try it out. Then, after my first ‘not quite right’ attempt, I adapted the recipe just a little
This recipe is very, very simple. The original is here.
My second and rather more successful attempt was adapted just a little bit. I toasted the almonds before I crushed them in a pestle and mortar and I added a couple of extra cherries and a little more flour. 50% of the batch were then coated with milk chocolate and 50% with dark. And, I didn’t bother trying to make wavy lines on the bottom. My Florentines are lacy – and the coating of chocolate is very, very light and oozes through the biscuit in places.
55g (2oz) butter
55g (2oz) demerara sugar
2tsp clear honey
1 rounded tbsp plain flour
6-8 glacé cherries, finely chopped
55g (2oz) mixed candied peel, finely chopped
55g (2oz) flaked almonds, toasted then crushed
90g (3oz) good-quality dark chocolate, broken into pieces
90g (3oz) milk chocolate, broken into pieces
- Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F, gas mark 4) and line a baking tray with non-stick baking paper.
- Mix the candied peel, almonds and cherries into the flour. This will help spread them evenly into the butter mixture at the next stage
- Tip the butter, sugar and honey into a small pan and heat gently until the butter has melted. Remove from the heat and add the flour, cherries, candied peel and almonds to the pan, stirring well.
- Spoon tiny heaps (about half a teaspoon) of the mixture on to the prepared baking tray, leaving plenty of room between each for them to spread. The original recipe says ‘teaspoonful’ but they spread a lot and my memory from childhood is of tiny little biscuits. You don’t need to flatten them. My baking tray took about 1/3 of the mixture and second time round I realised it was easier to bake a small batch than to have 3 trays all ready at the same time. Bake in the oven for 6-8 mins or until golden brown. Allow the florentines to cool on the baking paper for a minute or so before lifting on to a cooling rack with a palette knife. If you have little ‘orphan’ bits of Florentine you can push them back into shape with a teaspoon while they are still very hot. Or, just be happy you have misshapes to keep and eat!
- Meanwhile, melt the chocolate in a bowl set over a pan of hot water. Spread a little melted chocolate over the flat base of each florentine. I got something of a conveyor belt system going, with one tray baking while I coated the first tray and another tray was waiting to cool down!
- Allow the chocolate to harden then store in an airtight tin with layers of non-stick baking paper to keep them from sticking.
I don’t try to shape them with a metal cutter as some recipes suggest – they are far too fine for that. I do push back bits that have spread out too far on the baking tray. But otherwise, I’m happy enough with my very home-made looking Florentines. In fact more than that, I love them because they look just like the ones my mum used to make. And I’m giving the best ones away!
BUT – The misshapes are MINE, all MINE!!!!