Tag Archives: dark chocolate

{7} Florentines

I can never resist a good Florentine. There is something about those golden discs of caramel, studded with cherries, citrus, nuts and ginger and dipped in chocolate that is just magical. They might not strictly be a Christmas treat, but I think they lend themselves very well to this time of year.

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In my younger days, I assumed that Florentines were named after the city of Florence, but it turns out this is only partly true. I should have suspected this to be the case when, years ago, I had a few hours to explore Florence while waiting for a train connection (and hey, it was Florence, I was hardly going to hang out at the station for three hours!). Were there shops groaning under the weight of these biscuits? No. I found one pasticceria selling square Florentines, so I cut my losses and went with one of them. But clearly this was not a biscuit that the citizens of this city were clutching close to their collective bosom.

So what is the truth? Well, this is lost in the mists of time, but the name probably has something to do with the French, and the resemblance of these caramel discs to the gold coins of Florence (incidentally, the British two shilling coin was also known as the florin).

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There are two ways you can make these cookies. If you drop spoonfuls onto a baking sheet lined with greaseproof paper, they will spread out and you get large, crisp and delicate Florentines (there is enough butter in them to prevent sticking). However, you can drop small teaspoons into the bottom of a non-stick muffin tray – they’ll be slightly thicker but perfectly round so good if you’re giving them as a gift and need to travel with them and want them to look fancy. My pictures are of these “neat” Florentines, and I think they look very pretty.

However…if you’re going to use a muffin tray, please make sure that it is sufficiently non-stick! I assumed non-stick means non-stick. Well, I have two pans. One works like a dream, but the other is anything but non-stick. I found myself trying and ultimately failing to remove one batch from the tray, and had to junk the lot. As the mixture does not need to be baked quickly, you can take your time and do a test version to make sure it works. If it doesn’t, just switch to making the bigger versions using a tray with greaseproof paper. You don’t want all that work to go to waste and they will still taste fantastic!

To finish them off, you can leave them as they are (or “naked Florentines” as I’ve seen them called) but I think you really do need to spread one side with chocolate. If you are a milk or white chocolate fiend, then by all means go for it, but I think it really has to be dark chocolate on these little beauties. I think it works so well with the toasted nuts, ginger and citrus in the biscuits, and why mess with a classic? To make them look impressive, use tempered chocolate for a nice shine and snap, and use a fork to make a wave pattern in the chocolate.

Incidentally, if you think you’ll do a lot of dipping things in chocolate, it really is worth getting a food thermometer. They are not expensive and it means you can get your chocolate to the right temperatures. I’ve tried various methods over the years, but using the thermometer is hands down the easiest and most reliable method I’ve every tried. Never have dull chocolate again!

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In terms of the ingredients, you can play around with them to get a mixture that you like. You can use slivered almonds instead of flaked, or swap some of the almonds for pistachios, hazelnuts or even a handful of jumbo rolled oats. You can also adjust the proportions of cherries, peel, ginger and sultanas, or even omit some of them altogether, but try to keep to the same overall weight. You can even go for a retro vibe if you can get your hands on some green candied angelica – I remember those flecks of bright green in Florentines from my childhood, but it seems to have vanished from most supermarket shelves these days. If you find some – it’s a sign that you should make Florentines!

To make Florentines (makes around 24)

Dry ingredients

• 90g flaked or slivered almonds
• 90g glacé cherries
• 60g candied peel, chopped
• 20g glace ginger
• 30g sultanas
• 15g plain flour

For the caramel

• 45g butter
• 30g soft brown sugar
• 30g white sugar
• 1 tablespoon double cream
• large pinch of salt

To finish

• 150g dark chocolate

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F). For large Florentines, line two large baking trays with greaseproof paper rubbed with a little butter. For small Florentines, get a non-stick muffin tray and rub lightly with butter.

2. Prepare the dry ingredients – chop the cherries, peel and ginger as you prefer, then add the almonds, sultanas and flour. Toss so that everything is coated and well-mixed.

3. Make the caramel – in a small saucepan, heat the butter and sugars. Bring to the boil, then take off the heat, add the cream and salt, and stir well. Pour onto the dry ingredients and mix well.

4. Put generous teaspoonfuls of the mixture onto a baking sheet or into a muffin tray. If using a baking sheet, flatten them as much as you can, but leave enough space for them to expand as they bake.

5. Bake the Florentines for 8 minutes, turning around half-way to get an even bake. They will be soft at first, but will harden as they cool.

6. To finish the Florentines, melt the chocolate (for a professional finish, you want to temper it – find out here). Using a teaspoon, spread some chocolate on the underside of each Florentine, then using a fork to make a wave pattern in the chocolate. It might not be obvious at first, but you’ll see it once the chocolate sets.

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Dark Chocolate Spread

I made this amazing salted chocolate tart a few weeks ago (I can say it was amazing as, frankly, it was). It also got me thinking – could I adapt the filling to make a chocolate spread to enjoy in the morning? Because, you know, I’m greedy sometimes.

As it turns out, the answer to the question of “is it possible?” is a resounding “yes”. I went easy on the salt in this version, but otherwise it’s exactly the same ratios as used in the tart filling – equal weights of dark chocolate, muscovado sugar and double cream, heated until glossy, then poured into a jar and left to cool until the next morning.

So I made it, and had it the next day with breakfast. It really was truly delicious – spread on warm sourdough toast, and allowed to melt slightly. A pretty decadent way to start the day!

To make dark chocolate spread (makes 1 small jar):

• 120g dark chocolate
• 120g muscovado sugar
• 120ml double cream
• scant 1/2 teaspoon salt (or more or less, to taste)

1. Put the sugar, cream and salt in a bowl. Stir well until a lot of the sugar and salt are dissolved, then taste the mixture – add more salt if needed (but only if needed – it’s easy to add too much).

2. Add the chocolate, and place the bowl over a pan of simmering water. Heat, stirring from time to time, until the mixture is thick and glossy.

3. Pour the mixture into a clean jam jar and store somewhere cool and dark until you are ready to eat it, most likely with a spoon!

Note: this will keep for 2-3 days in the fridge.

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Salted Chocolate Tart

I was invited to a dinner last night, where the hostess was promising curry. Then came the casual request…and you can bring dessert, yes?

So I was up at 6:30am yesterday, reading some cookbooks for inspiration. My inclination was to start with something Indian, but I quite quickly realised that most of the recipes involved making some sort of paneer cheese and then frying it (yup, deep-fried desserts). I’ve bookmarked them to try another time, but I was left scratching my head nevertheless.

I had initially resisted the idea of something with chocolate as I was not too sure that it would be a good follow on from hot, spicy food, but then I came upon a recipe from the Paul A Young cookbook for a salted chocolate tart, topped with caramelised pecans. It looked like a winner, especially when I remembered that I had a tiny pot of edible gold leaf in the cupboard. I could make that, then top it off with gold leaf! And that’s basically the thought process that was going on in my head as I was drinking a cup of tea and finishing off toast with marmalade.

I made one large tart that I took along, and had enough extra pastry to make two small tartlets for later. Sadly I don’t have a picture of the big one, so you’ll have to be content with these two. I have to say, small as they are, they are still just about the richest thing I’ve made for a long, long time.

I really liked the way that this recipe turned out. The pastry is pretty easy, and the filling is a complete doddle – equal weights of chocolate, cream and muscovado sugar, then round out the flavour with some sea salt. Think salted caramel meets dark chocolate. As a flavour experiment, it was quite interesting to taste a spoonful of the cream and sugar mixture on its own (very sweet!) and then appreciate how much it changes once you add the salt. The flavour becomes so much deeper and richer.

However, my eyes did pop open when I saw how much salt was supposed to go into the mixture – I had made one-and-a-half times the filling, but still thought the suggested 10 grams was too much. I measured it out, and just didn’t trust it, and I didn’t have enough other ingredients to make another batch if the worst were to happen. I went with my gut, and added about two-thirds of the amount suggested, and the taste was great. So if you’re going to have a go at this tart, I recommend mixing the cream and sugar in a bowl, and add just enough salt to the cold mixture to suit your taste. There is a fine line between tongue-tingling salted caramel and a salty, sugary mess, and this is a recipe where less is more and you may wish to err on the side of caution.

So how was this tart received? The recipe book said it would silence a table of dinner guests, and it seemed to have the desired effect. This is definitely a keeper for the dessert portfolio, and I’m already planning to use the filling as the base of a tart to be topped off with fruit. I’m seeing great things involving passion fruit, or a few punnets of juicy ripe raspberries.

To make a salted chocolate tart:

For the pastry:

• 175g butter
• 75g caster sugar
• 2 egg yolks
• 35ml water
• 20g cocoa powder
• 250g plain flour

For the filling:

• 300g dark chocolate
• 300g light muscovado sugar
• 300ml double cream
• 1 heaped teaspoon sea salt (or more or less, to taste)

For the topping

• 100g nuts (pecans or skinned hazelnuts)
• 100g caster sugar
• 1 level teaspoon sea salt, finely ground

To make the pastry:

1. Cream the butter and sugar until soft. Add the egg yolks and water and combine. Add the cocoa and flour, a quarter at a time, and mix to a dough. Wrap the dough in cling film and chill for an hour.

2. Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F). Roll out and use to line a 24cm loose-bottomed flan tin (no more than 5mm thickness). Place the pie crust in the freezer for 15 minutes.

3. Line the pie crust with greaseproof paper, and fill with baking beans. Bake the pie crust blind for 20 minutes, then remove the greaseproof paper and baking beans, and bake for another 8-10 minutes (the base should look dry and cooked, but the edges should not be dark). Leave to cool completely.

To make the filling:

4. Put the sugar and cream into a bowl. Stir well, then add salt to taste, then add the chocolate.

5. Place over a pan of very hot water, and allow everything to melt together. The mixture is ready when the chocolate has melted completely and the mixture looks thick and glossy.

6. Once ready, pour into the prepared tart shell, allow to cool slightly, then chill in the fridge for two hours.

To make the topping(*):

7. Lightly toast the nuts in the oven – they should be just toasted, not dark. Remove from the oven.

8. Put the sugar into a saucepan with a dash of water, and warm over a medium heat until you just have a light caramel. Don’t be tempted to stir it.

9. Once the caramel is done, add the salt, stir well, then add the nuts. Stir briefly, then turn out onto a sheet of non-stick baking parchment.

10. Leave the nuts to cool completely. Break or roughly chop the nuts into smaller pieces, and sprinkle generously on top of the tart.

(*) The topping can be made ahead of time – if you do this, be sure to store in an airtight container to stop the caramel from getting sticky.

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