Have you ever had a florentine? A lacy, crisp little cookie with caramelized sugar, almonds, and a swirl of dark chocolate. These are one of my husband’s all-time favorite cookies. They sell them in a quaint little bakery in Boston’s Italian North End neighborhood that is both a local favorite and a magnet for tourists.
In fact, when we were in Florence on our honeymoon, Josh had us stop in every bakery we passed, searching for the city’s namesake cookie. Desperately hoping to try the “real thing,” we were sorely disappointed. We found plenty of delicious treats in Florence–hearty Tuscan ribollita, killer dark chocolate sorbetto, complex Chianti–but no florentines.
The wild world of the interwebs cannot agree upon the origins of this cookie. Food Network claims that it does indeed hail from Florence, where it is a popular Christmas cookie. This could be one reason we didn’t find any in May. On the other hand, Martha Stewart says they are an Austrian invention. Others claim they were invented in King Louis XIV’s kitchen in Versailles.
I’m no food historian, so I will just tell you that these are delicious enough to be Italian, and elegant enough to be from Versailles. Moreover, they are fun to make and a lovely break from your usual cookie.
The process is simple, and it reminds me of candy-making. The dough is a very thick mixture of finely chopped almonds suspended in melted sugar and margarine. Drop small balls of this dough on your baking sheet. In the oven, the sugar will begin to melt and bubble and the cookies spread like crazy. Use your best quality baking sheet for this, and line it with a silicone baking mat or parchment paper. A warped pan will make your cookies spread into uneven ovals instead of uniform circles.
The cookies are done when they are completely flat and have turned lightly golden as the sugar begins to caramelize. Take them out of the oven, and let them cool on the pan for a few minutes before you try to remove them.
Adapted from The Food Network. Made vegan and without corn syrup.
Yields 3-4 dozen
1 3/4 cups sliced almonds
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 tbsp finely grated orange zest (from one small orange)
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup sugar
2 tbsp non-dairy milk
2 tbsp brown rice syrup or light corn syrup
5 tbsp nonhydrogenated margarine
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 oz. semisweet vegan chocolate
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, and make sure you have a rack in the center of the oven. Line a baking sheet with parchment or a silicone mat.
2. Pulse the almonds in the food processor until very finely chopped, but don’t let them form a paste. In a mixing bowl, stir together almonds, flour, and zest.
3. Put the milk, sugar, and margarine in a saucepan on medium heat. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Sugar should dissolve fully. Let the mixture boil for 1 minute. Remove from heat and add vanilla.
4. Pour the sugar mixture over the almond mixture and stir until combined. Set aside for 30 minutes, until cool enough to handle.
5. Using a teaspoon or half-tablespoon measure, spoon rounded balls of dough onto a cookie sheet. Leave plenty of space between each cookie, making 6 cookies per sheet.
6. Bake for 10 minutes, rotating half way through to ensure even baking. Remove from the oven when cookies have fully spread and are slightly golden. Cool on the pan for 3-5 minutes, until they are firm enough to transfer to a cooling rack, using a thin offset spatula. Repeat with the remaining batter.
7. Put the chocolate in a microwave safe bowl, and microwave for 30 second intervals, stirring between each burst, until fully melted. Using a knife, drizzle the baked cookies with chocolate. Let the chocolate set up before serving.
Note: Store refrigerated in an airtight container, for up to 1 week.