Monday, December 17, 2018

Florentines

Almost twenty years ago, when I was first starting my private chef business, a couple of local cookbook authors approached me about cooking a dinner at the Culinary Center of Kansas City for the Les Dames d’Escoffier holiday gathering.   The theme for the menu was an Italian Farmhouse dinner.  It was a large and festive affair, and I still remember several of their menu items…a savory mushroom lasagne…an Italian apple tart…and a lovely, crisp cookie (for the post dinner cookie platter) called a Chocolate Florentine. 




The Florentine was unlike most of the Christmas cookies of my youth:  Not too sweet…refined and petite… with an addictive tender crunch.  I loved them.  I’m not sure I have ever made any of the other recipes from that dinner again, but I make the Florentine cookies almost every year…and I teach them in one of my holiday cookie classes.  They are that good.

For years I thought these were an Italian cookie.  The name sounds Italian…and I encountered them through that Italian-themed dinner.  But they are actually Scandinavian in origin—sometimes called Swedish Oat Crisps…or Oatmeal Lace Cookies.  There is an Italian Florentine cookie that is quite similar, but it calls for almonds instead of oatmeal, sometimes includes minced candied peel…and is made with a cooked base.

The Florentines that I make do not involve any cooked syrups…and could not be easier to make.  All you have to do is combine the dry ingredients, melt some butter and mix it with the liquid ingredients…and then mix everything together and chill until firm.  (You don’t even need an electric mixer.)



Some might consider the baking process a bit tedious, but once you establish a rhythm, the whole process goes rather quickly.  To begin, choose a baking sheet without a rim.  This will allow you to slide the foil sheets of cookies on and off the baking sheet smoothly and quickly.  Cut a stack of foil to fit the length of your cookie sheet.  (I have never made these cookies on parchment paper, so I don’t know how that would work…but you could certainly try it that way if you like.)  Spray the first sheet with non-stick pan spray and arrange level teaspoon portions of dough on the sheet.  Using fingers dipped in water, pat the balls of dough into 2-inch rounds.  Transfer to the oven and bake.  While one sheet bakes, begin forming cookies on the next sprayed sheet of foil.  When the cookie is done baking, slide the sheet off onto the counter or a wire rack and then slide the sheet under the next sheet of formed cookies.  Repeat this process until all of the cookies are baked.


If you have a one teaspoon sized cookie scoop, the process will go very quickly.  But if you don’t (and I didn’t for years), just use a measuring teaspoon.  Scoop the dough, using the edge of the container (or your thumb) to level the dough off.  Then, use your thumb or index finger to push the dough out of the scoop and onto the sheet.  Since you will be flattening the cookie anyway, it won’t matter if your scoop isn’t perfectly round…you can make it round when you flatten it out.  The process of using a teaspoon instead of a scoop is a bit messier, but if you keep a bowl of water handy (to dampen your fingers) and a towel to occasionally wipe them off, you will soon find a rhythm and be working very quickly.

When the cookies are cool, peel the foil away.  I find it easiest to do this by holding the sheet in one hand and using the fingers of the hand holding the foil sheet to simultaneously pull the foil down and back while supporting and lightly pressing on the underside of each cookie…all while holding the cookie itself steady with the other hand.   This is much more difficult to describe than it is to actually do.  Once again, you will find a rhythm and will do it quickly without thinking.  If you try to chisel the cookies off the foil with your fingers or a spatula, they may shatter or break…they are fragile. 

To form the sandwiches, arrange half of the cookies with the bottoms (the smooth side that was attached to the foil) turned face up on your work surface (or parchment lined baking sheets).  Using a small parchment piping bag, drizzle a small amount of chocolate over each cookie (or smear on a small amount with a palate knife…or small offset spatula…or the back of a spoon...).   



Use a light hand with the chocolate.  If you use a lot, it will ooze through the lacy holes of the cookies.  A thick layer of chocolate will also make the cookies hard.  These cookies are all about the tender crunch…and the caramel flavor of the baked sugar and butter.  The chocolate is an accent flavor—not the main event.  Place the remaining cookies with the bottom side down on top of the chocolate drizzled cookies, picking up each one as you do and gently rotating the two cookies in opposite directions to smear/spread the chocolate into an even, thin layer. 



I love the way this cookie straddles the world of cookie and candy.  Because of its size, it is a nice little sweet to offer at the end of a large meal—with coffee and tea..or a fortified or dessert wine—when larger, richer cookies (or a big dessert) would just be too much.  It also makes a great afternoon treat (with coffee or tea).  And of course, it is a beautiful addition to any cookie platter that you might be making.  I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.



Florentines

2 c. quick cooking oats (200g)
1 c. sugar (200g)
2/3 c. all-purpose flour (76g)
1/4 t. salt
1/4 c. corn syrup (83g)
1/4 c. milk (60g)
zest of 1 orange
1 t. vanilla
2/3 c. (10 T. plus 2 t./ 151g) melted butter
4 to 5 oz. milk or bittersweet chocolate, melted



Combine the first four ingredients in a medium bowl and stir to combine.  Add the next five ingredients and stir until homogenous. Chill the dough for at least 1 hour.



Cut 6 sheets of foil to fit your cookie sheet (see note).  Lightly spray a sheet of foil with pan spray.  Place level teaspoon-sized scoops of dough on the prepared sheet, spacing the mounds of dough 2 inches apart (you should be able to place 20 scoops on a sheet).  Dip your fingers in some water and pat the dough out into flat rounds that are about 2-inches in diameter.  Bake in a preheated 375° oven until the cookies are golden brown—about 5 to 7 minutes.  Rotate the cookie sheet at the half way point.  Remove the sheet from the oven and slide the sheet of foil off of the hot cookie sheet onto a rack or the counter.  Let the cookies cool completely. 

Repeat with the remaining dough with more sheets of prepared foil. 

Peel the foil away from the cookies.  Spread or drizzle a small amount of the chocolate on the flat side of half of the cookies.  Top each with the remaining cookies, twisting the two halves in opposite directions to help spread out the chocolate.  Let the chocolate solidify.  Store the cookies in an airtight tin or Tupperware-type container (being careful not to crush the cookies…they are fragile!)  Makes 60 sandwich cookies

 (Recipe adapted from A Kansas City Christmas: Traditions & Recipes from the Heartland, by Karen C. Adler & Jane D. Guthrie)

Notes: 
  • Use a rimless cookie sheet so that you can slide the foil off without having to pull it over the rim.  If you don’t have a rimless cookie sheet, simply turn a rimmed cookie sheet upside down (which will give you a rimless surface.)
  • It is not necessary to temper the chocolate for these because you will not see the chocolate once it’s sandwiched between two cookies.  However, tempered chocolate has a much nicer texture.  To obtain a quick temper, melt half of the chocolate (over a pan of simmering water or in the microwave at 50% power).  While the chocolate is melting, chop the remaining half very finely.  Stir the unmelted, finely chopped chocolate into the melted chocolate, continuing to stir until the chocolate is smooth and all of it is fully melted.  Use immediately.

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