One of my favourite cities is Florence. Its proper name is Firenze, and for various family reasons, I spent my youth dying to go there. When I grew up and got a proper job, I saved up enough money to go to Italy and went. I had studied Italian in high school, when my brain was still pliable, and I had a good review for a year before I went on vacation. I used my knowledge in the Florentine pastry shop I bounced into as soon as I saw it. I was on a mission for a certain kind of cooky, and there it was:
"Two florentines, please," I said, in good Ontario Florentine Italian. Florentine is the R.P. of Italian, so that is what you learn in school.
"Va bene," said the lady behind the counter.
"My mother makes these at Christmastime," I said.
"Oh," said the lady. "Is she from here?"
No, in fact, but her florentines are the best in the world, and I should know because wherever I go, I try the local version. In most places (like Edinburgh) they are mostly candy and not enough cooky. This version, I think, has the right cooky-candy balance. They keep for weeks, so you can either limit yourself to one a day or share with neighbours, whichever you like.
Aged P's Fantastic Florentines
1/2 cup butter
1/4 cup granulated (white) sugar
1/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
2 Tbsp honey
3/4 cup ground almonds
1/2 cup flour
1/3 cup coarsely chopped candied cherries
3/4 cup candied peel
1/2 slivered almonds
112 g chocolate (Aged P uses semi-sweet, but I use fine dark Belgian, 'cause I can.)
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C).
2. Combine butter, sugars and honey over low heat in an ordinary (not non-stick) saucepan. When butter is melted, take pan off the heat and set aside.
3. In a bowl, thoroughly mix the ground almonds and flour.
4. Gradually stir the almond-flour mixture into the saucepan.
5. Gradually throw in the candied cherries, candied peel and almonds. Mix well.
6. Drop tablespoonfuls of dough on two non-stick cooky sheets, a dozen per sheet. Press each spoonful down with the back of a spoon so the cookies will have the right amount of crisp.
7. Bake cookies for 12 minutes, switching the trays from one rack to the other, and turning the trays around for even baking. When done, the edges will be golden brown and the middles will still be soft.
8. Cool cookies on their sheets for five minutes or so, and then put them on a rack.
9. While cookies are cooling, melt the chocolate over a double boiler. Then turn over all the cookies and paint their bottoms with chocolate. I use a spoon to do this. Aged P is enormously skillful and uses a knife to create zig-zag patterns. As yet I haven't mastered this awesome skill.
10. Let the chocolate harden before putting cookies in a tin.
If you eat too many all at once, you will get a tummy-ache. They are very expensive to buy in shops (1 quid 50 here), so if you bring them to parties, hostesses will think you are marvellous, which you are. The candied fruit screams "Christmas!" (or, perhaps, "Natale!"), and I eat them only in December, unless on a foreign-florentine tasting mission.