GINGER FLORENTINES…World of Spice Cookies Event!

“C is for cookie, it’s good enough for me; oh cookie cookie cookie starts with C.”
Cookie Monster

It’s a race against time, like a fight to the finish. Thankfully no resolutions for me this year, otherwise, one would most certainly have been not to work under pressure. But this time, cookies I have to make, & the reason is Meeta. I’m on the deadline, with ginger in one hand, & crystallised ginger in the other, getting to her World of Spice Cookies episode of Monthly Mingle @ What’s For Lunch Honey. This is one event I try very hard not to miss, & the large-hearted lady has allowed me on-board late a couple of times. This time I shall make it by a whisker…I think!! She is looking for traditional spiced cookies from around the world. My cookies come from Italy, & the spice within is GINGER. For some strange reason, ginger is pretty much ruling my life ever since I recently crystallised the root! So, armed with a jar of ginger, I scanned the Internet, & all my books for ginger cookies. The minute I saw the Florentines in The Great Big Cookie Book, I knew I had reached my destination. They had crystallised orange peel & fresh stem ginger, in addition to ground ginger. YES…Mama Mia…this was it! I substituted fresh stem ginger for crystallised ginger, increased the powdered ginger & got the most amazing traditional spice cookies I’ve ever made. Florentines sound like they should come from Florence, Italy. Though their origin is largely unknown & uncertain, Florentines are traditionally associated with Italian cookies. I hope you enjoy these as much as I did Meeta. Made them specially for you & Anita!I never get into the kitchen early in the morning, but I did today. Handsome lace cookies these, but obviously not for the faint-hearted again. The first batch I put in floated away merrily & became rivers of Florentines, something like Rivers of Babylon? I got delicious, calorie ridden, shards from batch number 1. How whimsical & ironical…pretty lace in shards?I think I’m partially to blame, because when it comes to cookies, I am over confident, & tend to ignore exact measurements. I sometimes throw in a little bit more of this, extra that, a little less something else! Not lucky every time, & certainly not this time. Have to admit though, the floating cookies of batch 1 made delicious & pretty shards, bursting with many unsuspected calories, & a nice crunch. I had to add some more flour to batch number 2 which went in to bake next. Life then looked up with the remaining batches; cookies which made a Leaning Tower of Pisa as compared to the earlier rivers. My word of caution here, for cookies like these, make sure you don’t deviate at all from the basic recipe. Was my callousness altogether, because these are very similar to lace cookies, & I should have knownFlorentines are a delicious mixture of toasted nuts and candied fruit that are coated with a sweet sticky mixture of honey and sugar and baked until golden brown and bubbly. The crowning touch is a layer of melted chocolate. Florentine cookie; a thin caramelized disc of candied fruit and nuts also with a layer of chocolate on one side. When you hear the name ‘Florentine’, you instantly think it must be from Florence Italy. Unfortunately, history does not tell us its true origin. What we do know is that it is popular in Europe and that there are different forms of this sweet confection. Since Florentines contain candied fruit and glace cherries, this confection is especially popular during the holiday season. If you want to make it other times of the year you may want to stock up on candied fruits in December, as they are often hard to find other times of the year.

GINGER FLORENTINES
from The Great Big Cookie Book, pg 94
Ingredients:
Double Cream – 1/2 cup
Unsalted butter – 1/4 cup
Granulated sugar – 1/2 cup
Honey – 2 tbsp
Flaked almonds – 1 1/2 cups ( I used 1 cup)
Plain flour – 1/3 cup
Ground ginger – 1/2 tsp (I used 1 heaped)
Candied peel/ginger – 1/2 cup
Plain chocolate – 200 gms
White chocolate – 150 gms

Method:

  • Preheat the oven to 180C. lightly grease 2-3 baking sheets.
  • In a medium saucepan, stir the cream + butter + honey + sugar over medium heat, until the sugar dissolves. Stir continuously & bring to a boil.
  • Remove from heat & stir in the almonds + ground ginger until well blended.
  • Stir in the candied peel + ginger + 50gms of chopped plain chocolate.
  • Drop teaspoons of the mixture on the prepared sheets at least 3″ apart. Spread each round as thinly as possible with the back of a spoon. (Dip the spoon into water to prevent sticking)
    Bake for 8-20 minutes until the edges are golden & bubbling. Do not under bake or they will be sticky, & do not over bake as they burn easily.
  • If you like, use a 3″ round cookie cutter to neaten the edges of the Florentines while on the baking sheet.
  • Remove & cool baking sheets on racks for 10 minutes until cookies are firm. Then transfer cookies to the rack with a spatula & cool completely.
  • Melt the plain & white chocolate separately in a double boiler, stir till thick (about 5 minutes), & spread half the Florentines with white chocolate, & the others with plain on the flat side of each biscuit. Chill for 5-10 minutes to set completely.
  • Makes about 30 deliciously rich Florentines.
Just got a mail from Arfi @ Homemades to say I’d won a badge at DMBLGIT December 2008! Made me feel so good. Never in a million years did I think I would get to display something as good as this on my blog. YAY!!

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GLAZED PRUNE CAKE…SPICED UP FOR SHF!

“winter dusk
the rhythm of her knife
chopping fruit and nuts”
Elizabeth St. Jacques
I had a bag of prunes looking at me for ages. Sometime last week, when the weather began to change, getting cooler by the day, I was in a mood for experimenting on the baking front. Surfing the net gobbled up hours as usual, but gave me a match for a prune cake. I liked this recipe on Recipezaar & the reviews too, when I read them, though the glaze had me a bit sceptical. A milk glaze for heavens sake? Threw my thoughts to wild abandon, & plodded on with the cake. Turned out to be an interesting blend of spices & prunes…a healthy & comforting cake in all. if you’re thinking rich, luxurious fruit cake, then this is just not it. This was a light, healthy nice cake. I say ‘nice’ because the kids ate it & quite enjoyed it, i.e. asked for second helpings! (When I sliced it up, I had my doubts & was already thinking of what in the blue blazes I would do with such a HUGE cake!) Thanked my lucky stars & danced a silent jig because they enjoyed the difference in taste. The daughter didn’t take very well to the roasted almonds I sprinkled over the glaze on top, but the son was quite happy with them. You win some, you lose some I guess. This recipe would do well to head for Sugar High Friday, being hosted this month by Anita, the pastry girl @ Dessert First, the theme being spices. In her words, “For my inaugural turn as Sugar High Friday host, I’m choosing Spices as the theme. I think it’s fabulously appropriate, as fall is the perfect time for filling your kitchen with the alluring and cozy aromas of cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and all those other spices that put one in the holiday frame of mind.” Well said Anita!
Glazed Prune Cake as adapted from this recipe at Recipezaar
Ingredients

1 cup cooking oil
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup buttermilk
3 large eggs
2 cups self-rising flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup chopped pitted prunes
1 cup roasted chopped almonds
Glaze
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup buttermilk
2 teaspoons butter
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
Method:
  • Combine the dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl. (Maybe I should have tossed the cut prunes in a bit of flour; that way they wouldn’t have sunk to the bottom)
  • Add all the remaining ingredients and mix well.
  • Pour the batter into a greased and floured 9″ ring pan (or 13×9 pan) and bake at 350 degrees for 50 minutes.
  • While the cake is baking, combine all the glaze ingredients in a small saucepan and cook slowly over medium heat until thickened slightly.
  • When the cake is done, remove it from the oven; prick holes over the surface of the hot cake with a fork, and pour the glaze over the top. Top with roasted almonds immediately if you like. (I turned the cake upside down to get the smooth side on top)
  • Cover and allow to cool slightly before serving (this allows the glaze to soak down into the cake).

A CRACKER OF A CHALLENGE…GOING SAVOURY THE DARING WAY

“Once you get a spice in your home, you have it forever. Women never throw out spices. The Egyptians were buried with their spices. I know which one I’m taking with me when I go.”
Erma Bombeck

Make Lavash Crackers and create a dip/spread/salsa/relish to accompany it. This challenge allows for large helpings of creativity and personality, with the crackers, your flavor choices for the crackers, and with your dip/spread choice…

The Definitions: Vegan – no animal products of any kind
Alternative Daring Bakers, Natalie @ Gluten A Go Go, and Shel @ Musings From The Fish Bowl are the hosts for the September challenge & I was THRILLED to see a savoury choice. I’ve looked at savoury crackers for as long as I can remember, but somehow never got down to baking them. This was a great chance. The recipe is from the book, The Art Of Extraordinary Bread, By Peter Reinhart. You can find the recipe, great links & instructions on Natalie & Shel’s blogs. In the girls words… Here’s a simple formula for making snappy Armenian-style crackers, perfect for breadbaskets, company and kids…It is similar to the many other Middle Eastern and Northern African flatbreads known by different names, such as mankoush or mannaeesh (Lebanese), barbari (Iranian), khoubiz or khobz (Arabian), aiysh (Egyptian), kesret and mella (Tunisian), pide or pita (Turkish), and pideh (Armenian). The main difference between these breads is either how thick or thin the dough is rolled out, or the type of oven in which they are baked (or on which they are baked, as many of these breads are cooked on stones or red-hot pans with a convex surface)…The key to a crisp lavash,…is to roll out the dough paper-thin. The sheet can be cut into crackers in advance or snapped into shards after baking. The shards make a nice presentation when arranged in baskets.

Of course DH said…Oh savoury; you don’t have to do it. I said Spoilsport…I’m gonna have ‘em all. I just lurve the idea!! This was 3 weeks ago. Didn’t attempt the challenge until this morning…procrastination never did me any good! Hit the ground running, lost in my own world, thinking now that Sunday’s almost here, the challenge better be done. Thankfully did the honours this morning & the kids LOVED them. About an hour ago, stopped by at Marie’s Proud Italian Cook to check out her balsamic marinade recipe for grilled chicken…almost passed out. Missed the date completely…so am hurriedly putting this post together. Sorry if it is ‘very hurried’, but think destiny dragged me to Marie. Thanks a million Marie!!

Onto the the challenge, huff puff, very simple, very crackling & different. Have been waiting for a savoury for ages, & this was a great one. I was skeptical in the beginning as it sounded SO simple. I think as a DB I’m not used to simple stuff anymore. This was a pleasant surprise with so much creativity allowed. Can sneak in a comment to say that the hub enjoyed them a lot too!YAY for you girls. Great choice.
I made 2 variations on the toppings…1 sweet & 1 savoury. The only deviation to the recipe was to substitute 1/2 a cup of plain flour for wholewheat flour. A crackling good cracker it turned out to be!!

The savoury one was rolled out as thin as possible, gave it a brushing of roasted garlic ( I store a jar of home-made roasted garlic in olive oil in the fridge), followed with a sprinkling of alternative rows of black sesame & white sesame. Had made black sesame shortbread a while ago, so had some of these delightful seeds in the cupboard. I cut the dough into wavy strips using a pizza cutter. In 20 minutes, they were beginning to get brown on the edges, but once they were cool I found they were not crisp enough. Broke them up into curves & baked them on a rack for another 10 minutes…perfect!! Served them with a Roasted Tomato Salsa. Simple, tasteful & straightforward. Roasted the tomatoes in the oven for 30 minutes at 180 degrees C. Skinned them, chopped them up, added chopped garlic, lime juice, 1 chopped green chili, 1 tsp of olive oil & sea salt to taste. Chilled before I served it so the flavours matured nicely. Unfortunately all my herbs have fallen prey to unseasonal rains last week which ruined all the leaves. all I salvaged was 1 sprig of fresh mint for garnishing. We all loved the crackers…& the son announced they were like garlic bread, only crunchy!!
I made the sweet version following some posts on DB that I read. Rolled out the dough really thin, misted it, sprinkled cinnamon powder & brown sugar, a little more mist, a sprinkling of sliced almonds & off it went. Served these with APRICOT RELISH…recipe HERE. The relish complimented these crackers beautifully as it had brown sugar & cinnamon too. Wonderful fall flavours came out of it. And despite the savoury soul that I am, I have to say my vote went for the sweet crackers with the apricot chutney…was WAY OUT!! Next time will increase the garlic a bit in the savoury crackers. They were wonderful too! YUM challenge!

Thank you, Natalie & Shel, for such a brilliant adventure into vegan food. I don’t think I would ever have ventured this far had it not been a challenge. I’m glad I did!! Do stop by & check our ever growing ranks of Daring Bakers Blogroll & their crackling posts here.
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