When Not in Florence…

If you’ve been reading Eggs On The Roof for a while, you’ll know that I’m crazy about Italy. It’s true that I went off it briefly when covering the Italian elections for BBC radio – I got propositioned by the leading politician I was interviewing and when I turned him down he pushed me out of his car into the middle of a busy roundabout. But that aside, Italy is pretty perfect.

I’ve just spent the weekend in a part of Italy I’ve never seen before. It’s daft word-association, but Lake Como always makes me think of Perry Como and once I start thinking of crooners in cardigans I decide I’d really rather go somewhere else. But this weekend I put that right – and how beautiful it was.

The low cloud and steady rain gave the landscape the feel of Scotland without the midges. But we timed the rain showers to coincide with cappuccino breaks, lunch breaks, dinner breaks and cocktail breaks. We didn’t get wet at all, just a little plump.

On our final day, we enjoyed the wonderful spectacle of a bride stranded on the pavement, apparently looking for transport. She didn’t seem to mind at all.

Watching the stranded bride from our cafe table, I thought suddenly and inexplicably of the day that my mum brought home a large florentine biscuit from a posh London cake shop. It was in a crisp, white paper bag and it seemed to me to be the most exotic, mysterious and sophisticated thing I had ever seen.

I had a yearning to make florentines when I got back from Como. Italians may shudder at the inaccuracy of my version because I’ve left out the vivid green and red candied fruit. The biscuits I’ve devised taste precisely the same as that magical florentine from all those years ago. Italy may have some shockingly sleazy politicians, but let’s face it, so does everywhere else. But only Italy has florentines.

Florentines

200g mixed nuts. I used equal quantities of cashews, hazelnuts, pecans and almonds

100ml double cream

25g unsalted butter

85g sugar

100g milk chocolate and

50g dark chocolate, melted (you can adjust the balance of milk to dark chocolate if you prefer, but my childhood florentine was most definitely more milk than dark)

Spread the nuts on a metal oven tray and toast them at 180 degrees C for about five minutes. Don’t let them burn. Tip them into a plastic bag and bash them vigorously with a rolling pin. Think of a predatory Italian politician if it helps.

Leave the oven on while you melt the butter in a saucepan and stir in the sugar. Add the cream and bubble briefly. Stir in the crushed nuts and mix well. Line two metal baking trays with baking parchment and spoon dollops of mixture onto the paper. Keep them very well spaced out. You should have enough for around 12 florentines. Bake them in the oven for no more than 8 minutes – they burn easily. Don’t be alarmed if the circles run into each other – mine did. Just push them back into shape with the back of a spoon and allow then to cool for a few minutes. They should set, although they will still be a little delicate at this stage. Turn them over so the flat side is pointing upwards and with a teaspoon coat them with the dark and milk melted chocolate.

This part is really important. They have to have wiggly lines on the back. I have no idea why, they just do. When the chocolate is semi-set, sculpt the wiggles with a fork.