Is there a more elegant post-Christmas treat than the florentine? Thin and lacey, full of candied fruit and golden nuts, they are indisputably the fancy party-season choice, regardless of whether there are any parties to go to. Florentines are the epitome of elegance: glammed up in their party dresses, glossy with butter and syrup, they are little caramelised, sparkling jewels.
Florentines are piles of toasted nuts and fruits, set in a caramel – crunchy and slightly chewy – usually with soft chocolate on the bottom, bearing a distinctive wave pattern. It is, I suppose, technically a biscuit, but to call it such seems to do the florentine a disservice. But for all their elegance, they’re easy to make at home: butter and sugar melted together, stirred into the fruit and nut mixture, dolloped onto baking trays and baked in the oven briefly. There is no need for finesse or precision; indeed finesse probably runs counter to a homemade florentine.
Because – and let me be frank with you – you are unlikely to achieve the perfect circles of the supermarket florentine. Made at home, they will frill and bubble and spread slightly unpredictably – splodges more than Oreos. But then, what’s the point of making your own florentines if they’re indistinguishable from the shop-bought? And the making is part of the joy: I love the moment when you pour the buttery syrup into the floured nuts and fruit and they transform from dulled and drab to lustrous and glinting, like edible tree decorations.
As with all the best bakes, I make these according to what I have in my cupboards – something that is obviously dictated by my tastes. I love flaked almonds, toasted and crunchy, and pops of sour cherry, and I’ll put tiny little flecks of fiery, candied ginger in anything I can. But if you have dried coconut hanging around, or loathe candied peel and love dried figs, you can work to your own culinary tastes: just try to keep roughly to the overall weight of filling, and make sure that none of your components are too big or chunky. You can omit the flour to make the biscuits gluten-free.
The chocolate serves a purpose beyond its flavour: it pulls the florentine together, giving a soft bite to the base of the florentine, guarding against tooth-clinging stickiness (it also helps preserve the shelflife of the florentine, preventing it from going too soggy too quickly). If you have a really sweet tooth, you can replace it with milk or white chocolate, but for me, a syrup-based nut mixture needs the slight bitterness of dark chocolate to balance it.
Florentines can be given as a gift but they also make the perfect accompaniment to a cup of coffee during a quiet moment to oneself after the festive madness, which in my household means they rarely make it as far as the front door.
Makes: 16 florentines
Takes: 10 minutes
Bakes: 8-10 minutes
45g salted butter
40g caster sugar
20g golden syrup
45g glacé cherries, quartered
60g flaked almonds
40g candied peel
25g pistachios, halved
40g dried cranberries or sour cherries
20g crystalised or stem ginger in syrup, chopped small
1 tablespoon double cream
200g dark chocolate
- Preheat your oven to 180°C and line two baking trays with greaseproof paper.
- In a small pan, melt together the butter, sugar and syrup until the sugar dissolves. Stir in the cream.
- Place the nuts, dried and candied fruit and ginger in a large bowl, and toss in the flour. Pour in the buttery syrup mixture and stir together to coat.
- Roll the mixture into teaspoon sized balls, place well-spread apart on baking trays and flatten with the back of a spoon.
- Bake for 8-10 minutes, until the florentines are spread and golden, the nuts caramelised but not scorched. Remove from the oven and leave to cool.
- Break up the chocolate and melt it in a bain marie (a heatproof bowl suspended over a pain of barely simmering water). Set the bowl of melted chocolate to one side, and leave to cool for just a couple of minutes.
- Dip the base of each florentine in the melted chocolate, set it chocolate-side up on the baking paper, and run the tines of a fork along the chocolate to create waves. Leave to set completely.