I have always loved florentines. I like the way they are mostly composed of all the “good bits” with a minimum of anything boring (like, oh, flour) to hold them together. They are, in turn, nutty, citrussy, fruity and chocolately, and might even be a little bit spicy if you’ve made a tweak and used preserved ginger.
Now, the name. Do they come from Florence? The name suggests they might, but that ever reliable source of information, ‘t Interweb, suggests that they are more likely to have a royal pedigree, first appearing in Paris in the court of the Sun King, Louis XIV. I think I like this tale better, makes them sound far more grand. You can imagine Queen Maria Theresa nibbling one as she peers out of the window at Versailles.
One of the major draws of florentines is not just taste, but how they look. Little discs of golden caramel, studded with nuts and jewel-like cherries. In the past, I always used the bright neon red type of glacé cherries, but recently I got all snobbish, and used a more natural variety, which have a deep purple shade. They still tasted nice, but the lack of the vivid colour meant they lost a little something. So another batch made, this time with the more flashy bling-bling glacé cherries, and they did indeed look like they should.
This recipe uses a simple base of butter, golden syrup and flour, but if you find yourself in a part of the world that doesn’t have golden syrup to hand, you can use honey or use caramelised sugar with a dash of cream. They are great either as large cookies, or very small discs of sweet, sticky goodness, so perfect for an afternoon tea or as a petit four for after a fancy-schmancy dinner. And of course don’t feel restricted by the ingredients I have used – candied ginger, different candied peel, glacé angelica, hazelnuts…whatever you like! Be creative!
To make florentines (makes around 16 mini-biscuits):
• 85g butter
• 85g golden syrup
• 30g plain flour
• 60g flaked almonds
• 15g preserved ginger, sliced
• 15g candied peel, finely chopped
• 60g sultanas
• 60g cherries, quartered
• 100g dark chocolate(*)
• 50g milk chocolate
Preheat the oven to 180°C (375°F). Lightly grease a non-stick baking tray(**).
Put the butter and syrup into a pan. Heat until the butter melts, bring to the boil, then add all other ingredients apart from the chocolate. Allow the mixture to cool for 2-3 minutes (it should thicken slightly).
Place teaspoonfuls of the mixture on the baking sheet, flatten slightly and cook for 8-10 minutes until golden (turn the tray half way). Remove from the oven and allow to sit for a few minutes until hard (when they come out of the oven, if they have spread too much, use a spoon to push the edges back into shape while still soft). Move the florentines to a wire rack to cool completely(***). If they seem oily from all that butter, place the warm biscuits on kitchen paper.
Once the florentines are cool, melt the chocolate in a double boiler, and coat the base of each biscuit. If you like, use a fork to make a wave pattern or swirl on the base of each florentine.
(*) You can also use all dark chocolate (150g) if you prefer.
(**) Really – I cannot stress how much easier it is to use a non-stick tray!
(***) If the biscuits do not come from the tray when they have hardened, place the tray over a hob flame for a couple of seconds, and then they should come right off!
Note: this recipe is for making small florentines (4-5cm diameter). In the pictures, I doubled the recipe to make cookies that were almost 10cm diameter (tablespoons of the mixture rather than teaspoons) – if you do this, reduce the heat slightly (to 160°C (320°F) and cook until they are golden – and really, watch like a hawk! Don’t let them burn!