Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Florentine lace cookies and almond brittle ice cream

Thump. Thump. Thump.

With every step I get closer. And with every step I go farther.

Closer to home, farther from her.

Thump. Thump. Thump.

Just keep running. Keep your mind on your breathing, on the beautiful moon, on the vans delivering boxes and boxes of goods to stores.

Thump. Thump. Thump.

My watch reads 6.35am. If I run a little faster, I might just make it home before she gets into the taxi to leave. Maybe, but probably not. I know her well enough to be pretty certain that she is already downstairs with her luggage, waiting. As soon as the taxi arrives, she will get in and they will drive away.

So just keep your rhythm, stay with the others, chit chat about your day. Get rid of your blues by keeping your body and mind busy.

Thump. Thump. Thump.

As I approach my street, I look over to see if the taxi is there. It isn't, as I suspected. It is 6.40am on the dot, the time the taxi was due, but I know they always come early hoping to make and extra buck or two. They left, she is on her way to catch her plane.

I run on, no point going home right away anymore. I still have five minutes to spare. I watch the sky turn from pink to grey-blue. Then I say good bye to my running companions and sprint across the street.

Thump, thump, thump.

I enter the apartment. It is dark and quiet. The kids and F are sleeping behind closed doors but it feels empty. I smell her perfume, or something more subtle, perhaps her face cream? I glance into her room, see the tousled sheets. She has been gone for so little that her pillow might still be warm, but probably not. I smile remembering how much I had to insist last night for her to leave the bed undone... no bed making allowed before 7am when you have a flight to catch.

I am sad I missed her on my way back from my morning run. I would have loved to have said goodbye again. I am glad I missed her on my way back from my morning run.  Good byes are hard.

It does not matter who you are or what you have achieved in your life, whether you have a career, whether you have won a Nobel prize, whether you are a mother, a father, a husband or a wife... when you are with your mother you are a daughter, you are a son, you are her child.

It takes time to readjust, to go back to being an adult with responsibilities and a family of your own, to protecting others instead of feeling protected.

We spent some lovely days together, the two of us alone and the two of us with my children and F.

We spoke, we laughed, we remembered, we ate, we drank. We went to museums and shopping.

We spent a decent amount of time in my kitchen chatting, looking through recipes and planning meals. I cooked, she watched and took note. She researched and suggested and I listened.

I may have mentioned before that growing up my mother was not a woman to wear an apron and cook up a Sunday roast. Having lunch out and seeing an exhibit was a more normal way for us to spend a Sunday. That does not mean we do not have our share of family favorites or that she does not know how to cook up a feast. And even if I do not have childhood memories of tinkering in the kitchen with her, I have her to thank for my love of good food and cook books, my fearlessness of trying pretty much anything.

We came up with this recipe together (and I created a new Pinterest addict in the process).

This, in short, is how it went:
1. Mom tastes friend's failed (friend's words, not mine) delicious cookies and is reminded of her love of florentines.
2. Mom starts obsessing about florentines.
3. We decide to dedicate an afternoon to baking together.
4. We make florentines, love them, but both agree they should have baked a little darker.
5. I want to show off my ice cream making skills and machine to her.
6. I decide to crumble the florentines and use them in said ice cream.
The florentines were truly delicious on their own, but the ice cream was sublime: each custardy, rich spoonful studded with crunchy morsels of caramelized nuttines. I am sorry I did not get a better picture of it, just to get your taste buds going, but there was none left the next day to photograph in day light.

 Recipe for cookies adapted from here.
Florentine cookies (makes about 20)
1¼ cup sliced almonds
¼ cup flour
2½ tsp finely grated orange zest
⅓ cup sugar
¼ cup butter
¼ cup light corn syrup
1 tbsp milk or heavy cream
¼ tsp salt
Heat oven to 350°F/175°C and line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
In a small bowl mix almond slices, flour and orange zest.
Place sugar, butter, corn syrup, milk and salt in a saucepan over medium heat. Stir to combine and bring to a boil. As soon as it starts boiling remove the pan from heat and add in the almond mixture, stirring to coat evenly.
Drop heaping teaspoonfuls of the batter on the prepared baking sheets, leaving a lot of room between one mound and another because they spread a lot during baking. Pat the batter out into a single layer, into approximately 2-inch/4-cm wide circles.
Place both sheets in the oven and bake for 5 minutes. Rotate the baking sheets back to front and top to bottom and bake until the florentines are golden brown around the edges, about 3-4 minutes more. The recipe I followed suggested taking them out when they were light golden brown, which I did knowing they would continue baking out of the oven and fearing they would overbake and turn bitter. However, both my mother and I agreed that they could have used a couple more minutes in the oven: the center was more chewy than crackly and the darker edges had a more complex, caramel flavor.
Remove from the oven and let cookies cool on the baking sheets for a couple of minutes, then carefully remove with a spatula and transfer to wire racks.
Traditionally you add melted chocolate at this point, either spreading some on the base of the cookie, or drizzling some on top. Candied fruit is also traditional for a Florentine, but we skipped that step too as we are not big fans. 
Store the florentines in an airtight container.

Mother's little tip: do not leave out the orange zest. F and I are not fans of citrus zest in desserts and I had my heart on skipping this ingredients. I only added it on my mother's insistence and am grateful I did. You barely notice it is there but it cuts through the sweetness of the caramel and brings out the nuttiness. Also, it looks pretty!
Florentine brittle ice cream
Follow these instructions to make the custard.

A few changes:
1) you may want to add more sugar. The custard was very sweet at room temperature but not so sweet once it froze. The cheerio powder in the other recipe contributed sweetness. My mother liked it the way it was, but F would have liked it a touch sweeter.
2) you obviously omit the cheerio powder step.
3) you break up the florentine cookies into little shards and mix them in AFTER you have churned the ice cream, BEFORE putting it into the freezer.
Quick shot!

In the making



  1. I more than love these cookies! And I have almond slivers in my pantry....

  2. Aw, I'm sorry you missed your mother! But this is a sweet, lovely post in tribute to your mother. And I have a feeling even when I'm 80 and toothless, if my mother is still alive then, she'll still see me as her baby. :)

  3. I love reading your posts, your writing. This makes me want to visit you, to meet your intriguing mother and to make Florentines. Yours are so beautiful! Beautiful post...

    1. aaaw, thanks! Well, I at least hope we can meet one day.

  4. Ice cream with cookies crumbled in is one of my absolute favourites so I can imagine these nutty florentine biscuits go sticky and crunchy and divine!
    As for baking with your Mum, what fun. I think some of my favourite moments have been spent in the kitchen with mine :-)

    1. It sort of tastes like macadamia nut brittle

  5. Beautiful writing! I felt like I was there with you :D I made some Florentines like this. When I first tried them I was so smitten that I immediately asked the chef for the recipe and she thankfully shared it. Now I am careful not to make them too often or I'll eat them all :P

    1. Yes, they are totally addicting. I had to hide the container from the family to be able to make the ice cream the next day!

  6. Wow What a good food. my mouth is watering. thanks for sharing this delicious food.


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