So Chinese New Year is around the corner and sadly I’m in Sydney where there’s not much fanfare about CNY I miss listening to CNY songs at home (my mom will blast them about a month or two before CNY), eating lots of CNY cookies and bakkwa, and most of all, just soaking in the general festive atmosphere back at home. I made a whole army of cookies, not the traditional Chinese New Year cookies, but cookies I love – chocolate sables, chocolate chip cookies, pineapple tarts, earl grey blossoms, matcha cookies, crunchy almond cookies, ginger-and-lime slices, healthy oatmeal cookies and my new favourite florentines!
I’ve recently joined 2 Facebook groups on baking in order to stay up to date on what’s popular in Singapore and Malaysia, and I’ve seen many people baking florentine cookies using a german or italian-brand florentine mix. I was quite amused to say the least because I’ve been making lots of florentines at the patisserie I’m at now. By lots I mean like hundreds of florentines every week for sale.
If you’re wondering what a florentine is, it’s basically a lacy looking cookie made with nuts, sugar and butter. Although its origins are unclear, it’s most definitely NOT from Florence, Italy. I think Honest Cooking has it most correct – it was most likely a confection made by French patissiers, who then named it in honour of their Florentine Queen, Catherine de Medici who was a foodie (think of Quiche Florentine or Eggs Florentine). If the name Medici sounds familiar, well, this is the family whose acquisitions fill the hallways of the Uffizi Museum in Florence and built the Boboli Gardens, amongst other things in Florence.
The list of ingredients in this florentine mix was quite familiar – it had dried glucose syrup, sugar, dextrose, powdered honey, vegetable fat, maltodextrin, dehydrated butter fat, and a number of other preservatives. Now, I’m not sure about you, but I definitely don’t like the idea of vegetable fat and weird preservatives in my cookie. Admittedly, making florentines from scratch means a lot more than just mixing the premix together with flaked almonds, but it really is not that difficult. Plus, you can make a huge batch at one go, and keep the mixture at room temperature for a week or refrigerated for longer. What’s more, the flavour from real butter, honey and cream is unbeatable and you can control how ‘caramelly’ you want your florentine to be.
I always thought I would find florentines too sweet for my liking, but I fell in love with them after making them at Le Cordon Bleu. The trick is to add some dark chocolate to the florentines to balance the sweetness out with some bitterness. Alternatively, if you bake the cookies to the point where it is almost burnt (think of dark salted caramel), and add sufficient salt to balance the sweetness, the florentines will taste really moreish! Check out the varying shades of brown – the right-most florentine looks almost burnt, but trust me, it tastes awesome. You would not want to go any lighter than the left-most florentine, because it will be undercooked and the cookie will be chewy instead of crispy.
What I have also tried is to substitute almond flakes with other things like pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds and sunflower seeds. These worked perfectly as well, as you can see in the photographs. The addition of black sesame seeds makes the florentine seem less sweet, and if you add puffed rice, you will get sachima or sak ke mah (沙琪瑪, 薩琪瑪) or what my family calls mi cang, or rice krispies, for the Americans. You can also bake the florentine mix on a blind-baked tart crust, just like the one below. It tastes like pecan pie! ;]
- 60g unsalted butter
- 60g sugar
- 25g honey
- 35g cream
- 25g glucose
- 170g almond flakes
- 15g mixed peel (I used my own candied oranges)
- 25g glace cherries
- 10g plain flour
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- ¼ tsp salt
- In a pot, add butter, sugar, honey, cream and glucose. Place on medium heat and heat until boiling (it should reach about 110 degree celsius).
- In the meantime, finely chop the mixed peel and cherries.
- In a large mixing bowl, weigh almond flakes and flour. Add vanilla extract and chopped fruit into the mixing bowl.
- Pour the boiling liquid mixture into the mixing bowl with the almond flakes and mix well with a spatula. Be careful as the mixture will be very hot. Make sure the fruit is evenly spread out and all the sliced almonds are well coated with the liquid mixture. Let the mixture cool slightly before using.
- To get perfect round and uniform shapes, use disposable aluminium tart cases (I've used a mixture of 1.5 inch and 3 inchones but you can use any size you prefer). Spoon the mixture into the aluminium tart case (weigh the mixture for uniformness - I used about 10g for the small cases) and spread with the back of your spoon. You just need to make sure it is generally flat. Do not worry about the gaps because they will fill up during baking (the mixture will spread slightly).
- Bake at 170 degrees for about 20 minutes until golden brown.
Substitutions: I have already tweaked my recipe below to reduce the amount of sugar, and I would suggest that this amount should not be reduced more than 20% to begin with, as the structure of the cookie will be affected. To make the florentines gluten-free, you can omit the flour (I have tried making without flour and the texture of the cookie was not affected) or substitute with 10g of a gluten-free flour mix. You can play around with the ingredients by substituting ingredients for the almond flakes. In one recipe, I have used 140g almond flakes together with 20g each of sunflower and pumpkin seeds and 8g of black sesame seeds. You can use pine nuts, walnuts or any other thing (puffed rice or grain) you fancy. You can also do what many patissiers do - blind bake some excess pie dough and put the florentine mix on top. It's almost like a pecan pie, and it tastes amazing!
Taste: Do not leave out the salt as this is vital in balancing out the sweetness. I love florentines plain, but I absolutely adore those which have been dipped in chocolate.
Texture: The cookie shatters when you bite into it. It's almost like eating caramel nut brittle.
Storage: Store at room temperature for up to 2 months. Alternatively, store in the fridge and let it reach room temperature before eating.
Would I make this again?: Definitely!