By Vita Forest
Last Saturday, my mother held a master class in how to cook her special Florentine biscuits. In attendance were Saskia, my sister Briony, and I. My father drifted in and out for taste tests as a break from his current carpentry project. It was just like old times.
Florentines are a toffee-like biscuit made with slivered almonds and orange peel and coated on the back with a thin layer of chocolate… Is your mouth watering yet? My mother and her friend Jenny, used to sell them to a number of shops including a swanky boutique, whose owner used to serve them as elegant treats at her regular fashion parades. They were packaged in glistening cellophane bags which were sealed with a length of ribbon, ringletted into curls with the blade of a scissor, and finished with a hand-made paper rose inserted through the knot. Very fancy. Let’s just say they are something of an institution.
There have been numerous experiments over the years, leading to adaptations and alterations of the original recipe (its page in the old recipe book is now covered with updated ingredient quantities, tips and conversions for making larger batches. Oh and splatters of butter and chocolate. It is a messy operation), and the technique has been honed and perfected.
Mum marshaled the troops, ordering us about, as is her wont. It was a regular production line, one apprentice placing blobs of the mixture onto one tray, while another tray cooked (carefully monitored to reach just the right golden brown), another minion peeled cooled, cooked discs off baking paper, while another picked these up and applied a thin coating of warm dark chocolate, before setting them down on another tray to be packed. Quite an operation.
I took time out from apprentice duty to type out the recipe on the laptop, adding in all the special tips. These included – if the cooked Florentines harden before you get to adjust the spilled edges to form perfect circles, pop the tray back into the oven to soften again, and – coat the back, not the front with chocolate – it’s smoother. Saskia and Briony reviewed the document and added their own observations.
We chatted as we cooked, and remembered how after a session of Florentine-making, Dad would often find smears of chocolate on the underside of the kitchen bench where Jenny had wiped her fingers. About how we were (and mostly still are) a family that needs to have some project on the go, even while watching T.V. – be it knitting, quilting, cross-stitching, leather or woodwork.
During the cooking, I dropped the chocolate knife on the floor, leading to another story of how I once spilled silk paint on the very table we were using, leaving a permanent stain. Oops. Apparently I am a rusher.
I gave out small packets of the finished product to some of my work colleagues today. One of my friends, who is trying not to eat sugar, just rang to tell me how she and her kids have devoured the whole lot already. Her conversation was punctuated with quite a few “Oh my Gods!” I might have to go an eat one myself.