Arlene Elendiuk wrote in requesting a recipe for Florentines like they make at the Piazza di Nardi.
Florentines mean different things to different people. For some it's a caramelly confection; for others, a delicate cookie. Thanks to Mildred Giesbrecht and Edna Mroz, who offered their favourite recipes for the cookie version, and to Lesley Hammerback, who sent in a Craig Claiborne recipe that was published many years ago in the Winnipeg Tribune. The Piazza di Nardi version is baked in a bar with a shortbread layer, so I hunted down a recipe for that as well.
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(adapted from Craig Claiborne)
57 g (1/4 cup) butter
175 ml (3/4 cup) white sugar
175 ml (3/4 cup) whipping cream
125 ml (1/2 cup) all-purpose flour
175 g (1 3/4 cup) flaked almonds
125ml (1/2 cup) candied fruit peel or candied ginger or dried fruit, finely chopped
84 g (3 oz or 3 squares) semi-sweet or bittersweet (not unsweetened) chocolate
Preheat oven to 175C (350F). Butter a cookie sheet or line with buttered parchment paper. In a heavy medium saucepan, combine butter, sugar and cream. Stir over medium heat until sugar is dissolved and then bring to a boil. Remove from heat, stir in flour, almonds and candied peel, candied ginger or dried fruit. (Batter will be thin.) Drop about 15 ml (1 tbsp) of batter about 7.5 cm (3 in) apart onto prepared sheet, and flatten with a wet fork. Bake about 10-12 minutes. Cool on cookie sheet until you can move the cookies without tearing, but don't leave them too long or they can stick to the pan. Continue cooling on a rack. Melt chocolate, in a double boiler or in the microwave on low heat, and spread on bottom of cooled cookies. Place upside-down on wax paper to let chocolate set. Makes about 2 1/2 dozen.
Tester's notes: These cookies are a bit fiddly and fussy, but as Edna Mroz points out, they are really worth the time, with their delicate texture and blend of caramel and chocolate tastes. The rich cookies should be watched when baking as they can scorch easily. Lesley Hammerback finds the baking time is usually less than 10 minutes. If you want to ensure round, even-looking cookies, remove them from the oven at midway point in baking and neaten out the edges using a round cookie cutter or just pushing a bit with a spatula. You can really use anything you like for the fruit addition; I used dried cranberries.
(adapted from Unforgettable Desserts by Dede Wilson)
560 ml (2 1/4 cups) all-purpose flour
1 ml (1/4 tsp) salt
228g (1 cup) unsalted butter, room temperature, cut into pieces
125 ml (1/2 cup) white sugar
2 ml (1/2 tsp) vanilla
85 g (6 tbsp) unsalted butter, room temperature, cut into pieces
150 ml (2/3 cup) white sugar
75 ml (1/3 cup) whipping cream
45 ml (3 tbsp) honey
100 g (1 cup) blanched slivered almonds
125 ml (1/2 cup) dried cherries, chopped
125 ml (1/2 cup) diced candied orange peel
60 ml (1/4 cup) all-purpose flour
56 g (2 oz or 2 squares) bittersweet (not unsweetened) chocolate, melted
Preheat oven to 175C (350F). Butter a 33x22cm (13x9 in) pan, line with parchment paper, and then butter the paper. In a small bowl, whisk the flour and salt. Using an electric mixer, beat butter until creamy, about 2 minutes. Add sugar and continue beating until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in vanilla. Gradually add the flour, mixing until just blended. Pat into an even layer in prepared pan. Bake the crust for 20-25 minutes, or until just dry to the touch and light golden brown at the edges. Meanwhile, prepare filling by putting butter, sugar, cream and honey in a heavy medium saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the butter melts and sugar is dissolved. Turn the heat to medium-high, bring to a boil and cook, without stirring but swirling pan occasionally, until a candy thermometer registers 113C (235F). The mixture will be thickened, the surface will be covered with large bubbles and the colour will be light amber. Remove from heat and stir in nuts, fruit and flour until well combined. Pour the filling over the partially baked crust and bake for another 20-25 minutes, or until caramel is bubbling and golden brown all over. Cool completely in the pan set on a rack. Once cool, drizzle with melted chocolate, let the chocolate set, and cut into small bars. Store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to one week but bring to room temperature to serve.
Tester's notes: This bar version is a little easier than the cookies, and it still has those wonderful flavours. In the Piazza di Nardi version the shortbread layer is a little thinner, making for a nicer balance with the caramel, so I might reduce the shortbread layer a bit and cut down the baking times to compensate. Again, you can improvise a bit with the dried fruit and peel.