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Making Really Fancy Florentines

You’ve got to hand it to Thomas Keller, he never does anything half-way. Take florentines. He starts with a simple nut-and-candied-fruit cookie, and by the time he’s done he’s got an ultra-rich, hand-held nut-and-chocolate tart. I guess that’s why he’s out there making the big bucks and I’m sitting here typing in my garage. But then I bet he doesn’t get to listen to Bootsie Collins while he works like I do. Ahh…the name is Pastry baby!

So where was I? Oh right, florentines (again). Start by assembling your ingredients and preheating your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Place the sweet pastry (pâte sucrée) dough on a piece of parchment on your work surface. The parchment sheet will be your template as you roll. Make sure the dough isn’t rock hard, just out of the fridge. Let it sit until it softens up.

So then. While the dough is still cool but warm enough to be pliable, flour it and roll it. A few times in one direction, a few times in the other until the dough extends over most of the sheet. Be patient to avoid large cracks.

Roll at an angle to pull it into the corners. Note that our pastry crust has little flecks in it. That’s because we used TK’s recipe, which has about 15% almond flour in it. All we had was almond meal, which has some bran in it, but hey, needs must.

Run your hand over the dough to feel for thick spots, and roll those out as best you can. Cracks? Just squeeze them back together and keep rolling.

Trim off the excess with a pizza cutter.

Slide the dough-covered piece of parchment into a sheet pan (a half-sheet pan in this case). Trim the edge of the dough so it doesn’t creep up the sides.

Now then. The next time I make these I’m going to do an extra step for reasons that will become clear later. I’m going to line my half sheet pan with parchment or tin foil sheets laid crosswise (I’ll crease those corners), then lay the above dough-covered parchment sheet on top of them. This will prevent syrup from running down onto the pan and causing problems. More on that below.

For now it’s time to par-bake the crust. Keller’s instructions call for laying a sheet of parchment on top of the dough sheet, then filling the whole pan with rice or beans. I don’t have that much rice handy, and anyway, when it comes to weighing down dough for a blind bake, I’m a loose change man.

I know some people find that idea off-putting, but I have a special jar of coins that I soaked in bleach solution and washed before I first used them. They take the place of ceramic pie weights, which I really don’t like. Pie weights are expensive, they roll all over the place, and they make dimples in your crusts. Worst of all they’re porous, so they soak up any liquid they come in contact with, especially butter, which eventually spoils and makes them smell like old cheese. Coins lay flat, are basically indestructible, are less bulky than rice or beans, do not attract mice when stored the cellar, and can be easily re-bleached and washed when needed. Overall they are a way, WAY better than pie weights.

And Carthage must be destroyed. Thank you.

So then, back to business. Bake the weighted crust for 12-18 minutes until the edges just begin to brown. Gently remove the parchment with the money on it. Turn the oven down to 325.

Now for the filling. Combine your honey, glucose and sugar in a medium saucepan. Heat that until everything’s melted, then crank the heat and cook it to 248 degrees Fahrenheit.

At that point remove the pan from the heat and add the butter. The heat in the syrup should be enough to melt it. If not, give it a bit more gentle heat until it’s all liquid.

Stir in the nut and candied orange mixture…

…and pour it onto the crust.

Spread it around with an offset spatula, gently pushing it into the corners. Put the pan into the oven and bake for about 30 minutes, rotating it at the 15-minute point. You’ll go from this:

To this:

This medium caramelization can be a touch tricky to achieve. You want the syrup to brown without getting too brown, which will make the nut layer too crispy. On the other hand, if it doesn’t get brown enough, it’ll be too chewy. A good indication that you’re getting to the right point is the bubble activity on the top. At the mid point of the baking the top will be almost foamy. By the end there will be just a few scattered bubbles around the sheet, and the very edges will be nut-brown. Let it cool completely.

So. To de-pan, run a knife along the edge of the tart to loosen it from the sides.

Now here’s where an extra layer of parchment or foil would have been nice. You can see on the pan edge there that liquid syrup (now caramel) ran under the parchment and turned to sugar glue. When it cooled I had to scrape the edges of the parchment off the pan with a big metal spatula. Not a disaster, but it compromised the integrity of my crust as you’ll soon see.

Once the tart is loose, invert it onto a work surface for finishing. Place your parchment sheet onto the top.

Gently lay on another sheet pan…

…then flip the whole mess over.

Take off the bottom pan and the liner parchment. And here you see the result of all that prying: cracks. Not the end of the world since the crust is actually the middle layer, and anyway I’ll be gluing the whole thing back together with chocolate. Still, the cracks have an effect on how the squares slice (some simply fell apart as I cut them). It’s a flaw that could have been avoided.

Anyway. Leave the baked tart to cool completely. At least an hour.

So then, to finish, pour on about six ounces of your melted coating chocolate.

Spread that on. You only need a thin coat. Just enough to cover everything, because believe me, there’s more coming later.

Let that cool and set up until it’s firm, about 20 minutes depending on how warm a day it is.

Now add another 8 ounces or so of melted chocolate.

Spread it evenly over the top as before, then using a cake comb, makes some waves in the top. Here young Joan is using a $1.29 plastic epoxy spreader from a hardware store. TK uses one, why can’t we?

You can see why we have two layers now, yes? A firm bottom one as a sort of backdrop, then another on top that we can just have fun with. The overall effect is a textured, all-chocolate finishing layer. Very cool.

Of course you’ll end up scraping quite a bit of chocolate off the top. You’ll probably want to throw that away, not let it firm up, then crumble it on ice cream or dip it into peanut butter or anything like that, you wasteful person you.

Joan says: What’s nice about coating chocolate is that is stays melted for a long time, so if you make a mistake with the wavy lines on the top you can just scrape it off, spread more chocolate on and try again. I did that here and it was really easy. See?

Let the whole thing sit and firm for at least and hour before cutting. They look lovely on a plate. They taste even lovelier.

Even pretty underneath, no?

6 thoughts on “Making Really Fancy Florentines”

  1. Ooh la la! Too much trouble for me, but purty!

    The coin trick is genius. Too bad I recently* got rid of the massive bag of pennies** my husband carried around with us through something like six moves…

    I tend to use sugar these days, anyway, thanks to the also-genius of Stella Parks (aka BraveTart). But coins would certainly be easier to corral – I find the toasted sugar doesn’t want to stay in a parchment sling neatly.

    * probably more than two years ago now
    ** yield: something like 20 bucks (sad trombone)

    1. Yes I’ve seen the sugar trick as well. I admire it, but I feel like it would get a little messy for me. Still, extremely innovative.

      But it’s never too late to start on a coin jar, even during times like these when you see less cash. It really is amazing how fast a curse jar can fill up…especially when you’re making finicky pastries. Young Joan has been a bit taken aback these last couple of months!

      Cheers,

      – Joe

  2. Oooh, so nice to see a fresh post, Joe! Glad you are baking. Those Florentines look amazing, and as usual, you manage to make them look possible even for those of us who are home cooks rather than pastry chefs. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

    1. Maura! Hello once again. So glad you stopped by. And these are very doable. You can make half this amount in a 1/4-sized pan as well…it makes the project more manageable. Try them sometime!

      Cheers,

      Joe

  3. That is so purty! I am even considering the 1/4 sheet pan version, it’s just my husband and I at home now so we cannot eat the full recipe. Nonetheless, verrry tempting.

    1. Let me know how they turn out, Melinda!

      I’ll add that they freeze very nicely, so you can always store them for later. A frozen florentine on a hot afternoon makes a lovely treat…or so I am discovering!

      Cheers,

      – Joe

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