Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Flimsy frilly things

I was relaxing comfortably on the couch on Sunday afternoon, trying to motivate myself to get up and do something productive. "One more recipe," I told myself, "how much effort can that be?". Well, considering the recipe I chose was florentines (p39), quite a lot of effort, actually!

Maybe you don't recognise the name 'florentine'. You know those things you see in bakeries sometimes, that have a very thin kind of toffeeish biscuit with fruit and nuts in it on one side, and chocolate on the other? That's a florentine: that's what I talked myself into making on the Sunday afternoon of the weekend before Christmas, when I was already worn out from being in the kitchen all weekend.

What a great idea.

The recipe didn't look too daunting at a glance - just cream butter and sugar, beat in syrup, then add flour, almonds, glace cherries, walnuts and mixed peel. That bit took mere minutes. It's the cooking that took forever - you can only make four at a time (though by the end of it, I was squeezing five or even six to a tray, just to get it done), each biscuit being a tablespoonful of the mixture, squashed flat, and cooked for 10 minutes.

Well, I cooked my first tray for 12 minutes, and they came out scorched far beyond edibility. On the second tray I reduced the cooking time, but they were only marginally better. On the third tray, I realised that I was supposed to be lining my trays with baking paper, a process which helped reduce scorching and also limited the spreading of the biscuits.

I finally settled on a cooking time of five minutes. My new but totally ineffective oven seal had now broken on both sides, and for such a short time, I wasn't bothering with trying to poke it into place, so plenty of heat was probably leaking out during the cooking process. The trays I made towards the end of the baking seemed a bit underdone, which may be the result of the oven losing heat due to aforementioned seal issues and the frequent opening of doors.

If you're mad enough to decide to make florentines after reading this, you'll have to experiment with the first few trays and find the ideal cooking time for your own oven. Take my advice and don't start with the recommended ten minutes.

Eventually, I settled into a system of rotating trays; one in the oven at all times, one cooling after just coming out of the oven, and one in preparation for going in. Once I'd seen how much the first few spread, I made sure I squashed down the spoonfuls of mixture and spread out the fruit and nuts - it didn't matter if the bits weren't joined up when they first went into the oven, they soon would be once the biscuity mixture started spreading.

Plenty of the florentines shattered or were either over or undercooked; I lost count of the casualties, piled higgledy-piggeldy on a nearby tray. It was well into the evening when I took the final tray out of the oven and took stock of the successful florentines.

I had sticky stuff all over the kitchen and surrounding areas; the kitchen was covered with dishes and trays of cooked florentines; and I still wasn't done yet. I was tempted to call it a night, but I decided it was best to get the job done. I took a deep breath and started melting some chocolate.

I'd been dreading the bit where I had to try and ice these flimsy shards of brittle biscuit. I was sure hardly any would survive the process. To my surprise, however, it wasn't actually that difficult. I'd hold a florentine in one hand while I scooped chocolate onto the flat surface and spread it around. Just as the chocolate started to ooze through and burn my hand, I'd spin around and deposit the now-iced florentine, chocolate-down, on a sheet of baking paper.

No, they did not all survive this process. But a surprising number did. At the end of a very long evening, I had a bench covered in completed florentines. They were all shapes and sizes, and did not actually look that impressive. They were finished, though, and that's all I cared about. I packed them carefully between layers of baking paper, turned my back on the dishes, and went to bed.

Florentines taste quite nice, I suppose. When you have a combination of chocolate, fruit, nuts, and a biscuit that's more like a thin layer of toffee than anything else, it's not surprising that it's nice to eat. The thing is, it's really not worth the effort. If you want a florentine, go to a bakery and buy one.


  1. Just also tried to make my first florentines...disaster.

  2. When you say your "first" florentines, do you mean you're planning to try again..? If so, you're braver than I am!


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