Friday 11 January 2008
To me, nothing feels as comforting as the perfumes that always filled my great grandmother’s house. That slight musky scent from the thin layer of dust, which used to cover the bibelots that sat on the wooden shelves. Those green, almost lemongrass-like, notes – most certainly la verveine [verbena herbal-tea] she had before going to bed every night after a perfectly cooked meal washed down with a glass of red wine and some squares of bitter chocolate.
We used to get on so well. Me, the 8 year-old and her, still glowing after 85 years of a forceful life. I miss her. And her fragrance; at least, the fragrance I think about whenever Mémé comes to my mind. A pungent aroma; a combination of caramel, floral honey and almonds. Les florentins.
I loved to spend the day with her. I would watch her knitting or stitching the beautiful table cloth she later offered to my mum. After lunch, she would start making some sweet treats for le goûter; whether it was some gauffres, crêpes or sablés. But, really, nothing could beat her florentins.
She always started by making a caramel with sugar and honey, then deglazing it with full-fat cream. She would toast some roughly chopped blanched almonds, add them to the golden-brown caramel, and pour this over a thin layer of pâte sablée. I can remember the countless times when I burnt myself by trying to pick some of the piping hot almond and caramel mixture with my fingers. Patience has never been one of my virtues; definitely never.
She’s gone for seven years now and yet I hadn’t found the courage to make her florentins. But well, sometimes life pushes you and before you realise it you’re doing something you never thought yourself capable of.
One day, still an intern at Pierre Hermé Paris, as I arrived to the laboratoire, I was told by Guilhem ‘aujourd’hui, on fait les florentins‘ [today, we’ll make florentins]. This was my fate after all. So I made florentins. And tasted them. The happy memories brought by the first bite made my day. I wasn’t sad. It just felt natural. As if I had been rewarded for those seven years of patience during which I didn’t make or eat florentins. Trust me, those were tough years. Make them and wonder how I managed to resist for so long. Mémé je t’aime fort.
Les florentins de mon arrière grand-mère
Adapted from Mémé’s recipe and inspired from Pierre Hermé’s process.
My great grandmother’s florentins’ recipe is quite close to Pierre Hermé (I’m just she would have jumped from joy if she knew it). However, she didn’t use orange peels and obviously didn’t need a thermometer, which I certainly couldn’t do without. But then, she could make candied chestnuts – something I tried and screwed during the holidays.
She also used coarsely chopped almonds while I decided to go for sliced almonds, just because they look pretty.
Regarding the steps, none of them is difficult. You simply have to make sure to spread the caramel and almond mixture quickly enough so it doesn’t get all sticky. The key is to work fast on a hot pastry crust. If this sounds intimidating to you, you can toast the almonds slightly before incorporating them to the caramel so its temperature doesn’t drop too much.
Les florentins de mon arrière grand-mère
half a quantity of pâte sucrée
2tsp glucose syrup
115g butter, at room temperature
125g cream, warm
300g sliced almonds
Preheat the oven to 180°C.
Roll the dough evenly, transfer to a lined baking sheet and refrigerate for 15 minutes. Bake for 15 minutes or until light brown. Then increase the oven temperature to 220°C and get on with the topping.
In a saucepan, combine the sugar with the glucose syrup and water, and bring to a boil over moderately high heat. Cook the syrup until a light amber caramel forms. Remove from the heat. Add the honey, cream and butter and stir until the butter melts. Cook the caramel topping until the mixture reaches 124°C.
Stir in the almonds and immediately spread the caramel over the just-out-from-the-oven pastry crust with a wooden spoon. Return the baking sheet to the oven and bake the pastry for 10 minutes or until the topping is bubbling. Transfer the baking sheet to a rack and let cool for 30 minutes.
When cold, run a knife around the edge of the baking sheet to loosen the pastry and slide the parchment paper onto a work surface. Using a sharp, 4cm pastry cutter, cut out round shapes. These will keep well in an airtight container for a week.