A Writer at Home: In the Swing, Part 2

I spent Saturday baking cookies, five varieties, 15 ½ dozen in all.  Saturday was a true workday, on my feet from 10 am to 5 pm, no lunch and only one brief break for a trip to the grocery store.  I worked like I used to at the bakery, getting a batch of one product weighed, measured, portioned, baked, and cleaned up after, before moving right on to the next.

And I loved every minute.

Truth.  In fact, at one point in the later afternoon, I stopped what I was doing and spoke aloud to myself in wonder: “I’m loving every minute of this!”  I was completely in the moment, loving the work’s physical nature, the tactical planning and timing, the execution, the attention to detail, the sense of accomplishment, and the satisfaction that all my gifts of food were coming to a successful fruition.  I love those kinds of moments where every part of oneself is actively engaged in doing a much-loved activity.

Of course, by 7 pm I was physically and mentally winding down for the day and nursing a tired back.  And I was in bed and asleep at an embarrassingly early hour.  But still.  I loved every minute and wouldn’t trade the experience of Saturday for anything.

Here are the fruits of my labors, in order of completion.

Ginger-Coffee Shortbread is a brand new cookie for me this year, straight from the pages of the December 2010 Bon Appetit.  Freshly ground coffee beans were added along with powdered ginger and cardamom to the buttery shortbread.  I wish you could have smelled my kitchen while they baked.

Appearing together: Biscotto #1, Toasted Hazelnut, elegantly understated but nutty and delicious; and Biscotto #2, Dried Cherry and Pistachio, a little more embellished and dressed up in the colors of the season.

Almond Macaroons, formed langue de chat-style.  For these I broke out the rarely used pastry bag fitted with a ½-inch round piping tip.

And finally, a modified Florentine.

Well, no, that’s not my modified Florentine.  That is, instead, a picture of the essence of a Florentine.

If you, like me, think chocolate and orange make for a sophisticated and yummy flavor combination, then you will love Florentines.  The confection itself is crisp-chewy, a not-quite cookie, not-quite candy made with sliced almonds and candied orange peel bound together in an orange blossom honey-enriched goo (and yes, I insist that goo is a technical pastry term, used when referring to any sticky filling) before being baked and finished with a dip in melted chocolate.

In the bitterest of ironies, this most delicious of treats is notoriously tricky for me to make. Someone may have discovered the secret to baking delicate lacy rounds that lift easily from the baking sheet and cool to the perfect texture, but not me.  I’ve suffered through enough trays full of run together, adhered to the pans, burned to a crisp Florentines that I now bake the almond-orange-honey goo on top of a brown sugar and butter shortbread base and dip that sturdier base in chocolate.  The finished flavors are not much changed and I’m assured of beautiful results every time.  And I think the neat, clean edges of triangles hold their own next to tradition’s perfect circles.

Don’t you?

Florentine Bars

For the base:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup (packed) light brown sugar
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  • 1 ½ sticks unsalted butter at room temperature, cut into 12 pieces

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Spray a 13-inch by 9-inch baking pan lightly with non-stick cooking spray.

Add flour sugar, and salt to the bowl of a food processor and pulse a couple of times to combine.  Add the butter pieces, and process using pulses until fine crumbs form (you may also use a pastry blender to make the base by hand).  Pat the crumbs into the prepared pan and bake for 20 minutes.

For the topping:

  • 2/3 cup unsalted butter, melted
  • ½ cup honey
  • 3 Tbsp. heavy cream
  • ½ cup light brown sugar
  • 3 cups sliced blanched almonds
  • ½ cup diced candied orange peel

While base is baking, melt the butter in a medium saucepan.  Remove from the heat and add the honey, cream and brown sugar.  Stir until sugar dissolves and mixture combines well.  Stir in nuts and orange peel.

Remove the base from the oven after the 20 minutes is up.  Turn the topping into the pan and spread gently and evenly over the hot base.

Return to the oven and bake for 25 to 30 minutes more (check after 25 minutes).  Topping should be bubbling and evenly browned all over.

Cool completely before cutting.

To finish:

8 – 12 ounces of your favorite milk or dark chocolate

Melt the chocolate in a double boiler over steaming but not boiling water.  Stir until melted and smooth.  Remove from heat and let cool slightly.

Cut the bars lengthwise in four strips.  Cut again crosswise in six equal strips to make 24 bars in total.  If you like a larger square, stop here.  If you like a small triangle, cut each square again on the diagonal, corner to corner, forming two triangles.  These smaller bites are nice for giving.

Lay a sheet of waxed paper or parchment on the counter.  Holding the bar gently by the topping, carefully dip the base into the melted chocolate.  Allow to cool on the paper, chocolate side up.

When the chocolate has hardened, your Florentines are ready for packaging or eating.

©2010  Jane A. Ward