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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.

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Making “Basic” Florentines

If there’s a better complement to a scoop of vanilla ice cream than a well-made florentine, I don’t know what it is. Crisp and nutty, but also a little caramelly, with a sophisticated citrus tang….these really make you feel like a person who understands what’s good in life.

The secret to knocking these out of the proverbial park is home made candied orange peels. Yes it’s an extra step, but who doesn’t want to be able to tell the world that they candy their own orange peels? Begin by assembling your ingredients and placing the nuts and orange peel in the bowl of a food processor.

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Really Fancy Florentines Recipe

The main difference between this recipe and the previous one is the tart crust base. It’s an idea I’d never seen before young Joan found it in Thomas Keller’s Bouchon Bakery cookbook. What I like about Keller’s combo is that it provides something of a balance between riches and sweetness…and also makes the florentines a little less melty on the fingers. This recipe makes a half sheet pan of florentines (which is a lot). The recipe can be cut in half and made in a 1/4 sheet. Or doubled to make a full sheet. Depends on how hungry you are. It goes like this:

1 lb. 9 ounces tart crust (one and a half recipes) pâte sucrée
4 ounces milk
5 ounces sugar
3 ounces glucose syrup
3 ounces honey
7 ounces butter
1/8 teaspoon Kosher salt
11 ounces sliced blanched almonds
3 ounces shelled raw pistachios
3 ounces finely diced candied orange peel
About 14 ounces coating chocolate

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Basic Florentines Recipe

This is the more basic of the two florentines recipes we’ll be putting up. Note that you can use just about any kind of nut you’d like, though slivered almonds are the classic. I myself do about half almonds and half…whatever…just to keep things interesting. So here we go:

1 cup (5 ounces) nuts of your choice: slivered almonds, walnuts, unsalted pistachios or a combination
1 ounce (about 2 tablespoons) candied orange peel, finely chopped
1.5 ounces (3 tablespoons) butter
3.5 ounces (1/2 cup) sugar
1.5 ounces (2 tablespoons) golden syrup, glucose syrup or corn syrup
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 ounce (3 tablespoons) all-purpose flour
8 ounces coating (compound) chocolate

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Making Amaretti

Coffee lovers, meet your new favorite cookie. These things are dynamite with an afternoon cup, just small enough and and light enough that you won’t feel guilty crunching your way through a couple of them with your three o’clock pick-me-up. They store well, which means a batch will last you a week or two, and who knows? You may find them handy for crushing and sprinkling over some cut fruit or a little sorbet. They’re handy for all sorts of things. Start yours by preheating your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and assembling your ingredients.

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Amaretti Recipe

For simple-but-elegant Italian preparations like these I always turn to Gina DePalma first, and she rarely disappoints. In fact I don’t think I’ve ever been disappointed by a Gina DePalma recipe come to think of it, which is why I recommend her book, Dolce Italiano so highly. This recipe is in The Babbo Cookbook. If the ingredient list looks an awful lot like what you’d need to make marzipan, that’s no coincidence. Amaretti are basically baked, fluffy marzipan.

6 1/4 ounces (1 1/4 cups) blanched whole almonds
1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch
2 ounces (1/2 cup) powdered (confectioner’s) sugar
2 egg whites
2.75 ounces (1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons) granulated sugar
pinch of kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1 tablespoon Amaretto
3.75 ounces (1/2 cup) turbinado sugar for sprinkling (optional)

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Making Rugelach

I like to make rugelach in the shape of croissants because it’s very likely that rugelach were modeled on croissants. Or the other way around, it’s hard to say. What’s true is that croissants, rugelach and kipfel are all members of the same pastry family, and none of them have anything to do with the Battle of Vienna.

These are cream cheese short pastry rugelach, just one of several possible styles. They’re a bit fussy to make but worth the results. And anyway after the first dozen or so the shaping process will become so automatic you’ll scarcely know you even doing it. This recipe makes either 24 or 32, but can easily be scaled up if you like. Start by combining the butter and cream cheese in the bowl of a mixer fitted with a paddle.

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Rugelach Recipe

Rugelach come in a couple of different styles. There’s the classic croissant shape and what you might call the “strudel: shape. Either one will work with this formula. Any time I take on a classic I try to be aware that there are dozens of possible alternatives, most with an equal claim to the “definitive version” title. That rule certainly applies to rugelach. Some versions are made with sour cream and are a little more cake-like, some with cream cheese and are a little more pie crust-like. This formula is the latter, because that’s the version I first tasted and learned how to make. Calle me sentimental. The proportions for this style of rugelach are fairly standard:

For the Pastry

For the Pastry

4 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
4 ounces (1 stick) butter or margarine, room temperature
1 tablespoon sugar
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
5 ounces (1 cup) all-purpose flour

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Making Alfajores

My first alfajor was a powdery-caramelly masterpiece with a layer of dulce de leche that I swear was an inch thick. That could just be how I remember it of course. But I was overwhelmed. Where had these been all my life? Happily it was’t long before a kind Peruvian lady clued me in to what they were and taught me how to pronounce them. Alfa-whuh?

Yor-ess.

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Alfajores Recipe

How can you tell these are New World cookies? By all the cornstarch (corn flour) of course. Some readers have written in to tell me they don’t like the taste and/or texture of cornstarch even when it’s baked. If that’s the case no worries, you can still make these with cake flour. Yuca flour is another alternative that’s used quite a bit in alfajores, assuming you can find it. Note that the proportion of the different flours can be changed to suit your taste. Some like a firmer alfajor, in which case you can use 100% wheat flour, all-purpose if you like. For those who prefer theirs ultra-tender, you can use up to 65% non-wheat flour and they’ll still hold together. Here’s what I did. These aren’t very sweet because the filling is extremely so.

5 ounces (1 cup) all-purpose flour
4 ounces (1 cup) cornstarch
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 ounces (1/2 cup) powdered (confectioner’s) sugar
4 ounces (1 stick) butter
1 whole egg
1 egg yolk
2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest
2 tablespoons pisco (Peruvian brandy) or cognac
1-2 cups thick dulce de leche or about 1 cup jam for filling

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