The authentic Florentines
The Truth about Florentines
There’s a rumour going around that Florentine cookies are from Florence (Italy). The Food Network website says 'The origin of the recipe is in Florence'. They could not be further from reality.
Take a look at what are truly Tuscan tastes: Florentine baked goods are essentially hearty, rustic types of bread, sweetened only with raisins or the season’s fresh grapes.
Cookies tend to originate from Florence’s neighbouring Tuscan cities. They are long-lasting, hardy and generously served with local dessert wine that will fill you up in a way that makes them a meal in themselves. Quite the opposite of the Florentine cookie.
If you look at Tuscan desserts in general, many have been borrowed from other countries and beautifully made into local favourites: zuppa inglese, tiramisu and zuccotto are all variations on the English trifle.
The closest I have come to finding a reliable source for a recipe for Florentines is in Elizabeth David’s 1979 article on the mid-17th century cookbook, A True Gentlewoman’s Delight: “How to make a Florentine”, which describes a dessert pie filled with veal and mutton kidneys, cream, sugar, eggs, currants, rosewater and plenty of spices. Why it is called a Florentine is still a mystery to be solved, but it is a very far cry from those delicate, lacy, petite Florentine biscuits, drizzled in melted chocolate.
The essential ingredients of today’s Florentine biscuits could not be less Tuscan: cream, butter and chocolate.
It is much more likely that today’s Florentine biscuits come from France, the country whose patisserie shops are known for the best cream and butter-filled delights on the planet, from flaky croissants, chocolate éclairs to heart-shaped palmiers. Not only are the main ingredients typically French but the fact that the base for Florentine biscuits is essentially a roux, an oh-so-French cooking technique, should also signal the true origins of this delicate tea-time cookie.
It really shouldn’t be surprising that the French named a dish after Florence. After all, they have been doing it for centuries thanks to their Florentine Queen, Catherine de’ Medici, who happened to be one of history’s most influential gastronomes.
The origin of the name “florentine” is almost certainly a reference to the gold coins of Florence that were the standard currency of Europe for around five hundred years.
The claims of an Austrian origin make sense: the German Lands were enthusiastic copiers of Florentine coins and equally enthusiastic about importing Italian and French goods but the method of preparation does look more French than anything.
‘Accredited to Austrian bakers, but with origins in Italy, Florentines are cookies made from a wonderful mixture of sugar, butter, cream, nuts and fruit. Crisp to eat, they have the added allure of the optional, though traditional, chocolate base.’
Florentines are not really a biscuit in the sense that it’s made with sugar and wheat flour. There is actually no flour involved. It’s all about controlling the process of sugar cooking and caramelisation.
start with boiling the sugar, butter and honey;
add the shaved almonds;
let it all boil till the sugar starts to caramelise;
at the right moment (and that’s the secret !) you take the pot from the fire;
mix the rest of the almonds with the boiling mass;
it’s a matter of timing to roll and cut out the nougat mass into small portions;
a second cooking and caramelisation takes place when you bake the biscuits in an oven.
The result is a crunchy, caramelised biscuit with a rich taste of almonds, butter and honey. To finish this decadency they’re dipped in a thick layer of Belgian dark chocolate.
We have to go back to 1976, when Marc Hauspy and his wife Harolda started their own production of fine confectionery and chocolates. Very soon he started to create his own version of ‘Florentines’.
Raised with the ‘old school’ methods of cooking he had the knowledge to manufacture this hand-made sugar baked biscuit. For many years the production of Florentines ran besides other biscuits and chocolates.
As a good teacher, he learned his son David the skills to make the Florentines himself and later on he started his own company.
In the next 20 years David Hauspy built up a nation wide reputation as the best supplier of ‘Florentines’.
These days, Jean-Pierre Hauspy, who leads the production, and his team have the ambition to export this delicacy and to develop attractive retail packaging.