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.