Last year was my first time making food gifts for the holidays. My chocolate truffles and my mendiants were such fun to make and were so well received, that I was determined to repeat the experience this year. For a few weeks before Christmas I toyed with various ideas (all carefully written down for future reference, I hope I have long years of food gift giving ahead of me), and these florentins were among the elected ones.
Florentins are small disks of slivered almonds and candied fruits, baked together in sugar, honey, butter and/or cream, and dipped in chocolate (I mean, how can you go wrong with that?). I have had difficulty tracing the origin of the name, but a couple of sources say (in the exact same words so they should probably be counted as one source, the one from which they both copied!) they were invented by a pastry chef in Versailles at the time of Louis XIV, and named in honor of the Medicis who were then visiting from Florence.
A more defining thing about florentins to me, is that they were one of my sister‘s favorite things to buy at the corner boulangerie when we were younger and we purchased our goûter together after school. She liked palmiers and oh, those big fluffy meringues, too. Florentins generally come in two sizes: you have the large ones like Céline used to buy, which are about the diameter of a big orange, or you have the bite-size ones which fall into the petit four category, and it is the latter ones I wanted to make.
I did a little e-research to find a recipe and was, as often, amazed at the number of widely different recipes out there. It seems to me that this confusing profusion is enough to discourage anyone who doesn’t feel super-confident — not that I do, but I usually adopt the shoulder-shrugging, what’s-the-worst-that-could-happen attitude which has worked for me so far. I think that this is one of the big reasons why food blogs have the success that they have: the recipes that bloggers share are tested, you know where they come from, and if you have a problem or if there is something you don’t quite understand, you have an actual living human being to turn to with questions (provided they are kindly put and polite and *not* in all caps, thank you).
In the face of so many different combinations of more or less the same ingredients, I resorted to doing the one thing I have often wanted to do but could never quite bring myself to, because it felt so wrong and so out-of-touch with my inner cook’s instincts: I created an Excel comparison spreadsheet. And well, however geeky that sounds, I’ll admit it helped, allowing me to clearly compare the proportions of fruits to nuts to sugar to fat that all of these recipes used, and leading me to create my own recipe, which I’m sharing below.
I packaged up the florentins in the little crystal bags I bought a box of last year, and put them at the foot of the tree for my parents, my sister and Maxence on Christmas morning. They were much enjoyed with coffee after lunch, my pretty little confections that crunch and stick and melt, delivering their mini jolts of buttery, fruity, nutty and sweet flavors. Yum.
– 150 g (1 C) assorted dried or candied fruits (orange rind, apricots, raisins, dried blueberries…)
– 100 g (3/4 C) slivered almonds
– 50 g (1/4 C) other nuts, chopped (pistachios, hazelnuts…)
– 50 g (1/4 C) butter
– 50 g (1/4 C) whipping cream
– 75 g (1/3 C) sugar
– 25 g (2 Tbsp) maple syrup or honey
– 60 g (1/2 C) flour
– 100 g (2.5 oz) dark chocolate
(Makes about 50.)
Preheat the oven to 180°C (360°F), and line a cookie sheet with parchment paper (or use a silicon tray for mini-tartlets or petits fours).
In a medium mixing bowl, combine fruits and nuts. In a medium saucepan over low heat, heat the butter, cream, sugar and maple syrup until the sugar is completely melted and the mixture is just simmering. Whisk in the flour. Add in the fruits and nuts, and stir with a wooden spoon until thoroughly combined.
Use two spoons to deposit small lumps of mixture onto the cookie sheet or into the tartlet molds. Flatten the lumps a little with your finger. Put into the oven to bake for ten to twelve minutes, until the tops are golden. Transfer to a rack to cool. If you couldn’t bake all of the mixture in one batch and you need to bake a second batch, reheat the mixture over low heat to make it easier to work with.
When the florentins have completely cooled and hardened, melt the chocolate in a double boiler (or in a heat-resistant bowl set in a saucepan of simmering water). Dip the flat bottom of the florentins in chocolate, holding them delicately by the sides, and let cool on a sheet of parchment paper or a feuille guitare (a special sheet of plastic that chocolate makers use to ensure a shiny finish to the chocolate), until the chocolate has hardened.