Cook the Book: Florentine Bars

"I looked over the recipe and realized they were pretty much identical to Keller's—I had to give them a shot."

Thomas Keller's version of the Florentines at Bouchon Bakery. [Photograph: Front Studio]

2009 was a banner year for me, at least when it came to eating out. I was able to enjoy meals at many of the restaurants I had been dying to try for years including a particularly spectacular meal at Per Se, Thomas Keller's New York outpost.

The meal itself was a whirlwind of countless courses, impeccable service, opulent ingredients, and inspired presentation but I have to say that my favorite part was opening up the little bag of sweets they send you home with for the next morning.

Inside the ribbon-tied bag were perfect marble-sized truffles, white, milk, and dark chocolate and a few cookies that I can honestly say are the best I've ever had. I made these little bars of shortbread topped with dark chocolate, almonds, cherries and caramel last for as long as humanly possible but after a few days, they were gone and I assumed the only way I would ever have them again was my next dinner at Per Se (whenever that was).

A few months later I found myself at Keller's Bouchon Bakery, and lo and behold there were my dream cookies with a little hand-written sign: "Florentines." I bought a few and took them home to savor.

Cookies haunt me, but I never thought to make them myself until I stumbled upon this recipe for Florentine Bars in Unforgettable Desserts by Dede Wilson. I looked over the recipe and realized they were pretty much identical to Keller's—I had to give them a shot.

I assumed that something this perfect would require baking skills superior to my own, but they are fairly basic in technique. Three steps in fact: a basic shortbread, a caramel topping with plenty of almonds and dried cherries mixed in, and a finishing drizzle of dark chocolate.

Mine didn't turn out quite as refined-looking as the ones from Bouchon and Per Se, but the flavors were all there. Buttery, caramely, and bittersweet. Honestly, I'm not sure whether having this recipe is a blessing or a curse, since I can now have my beloved cookies anytime I choose, but for now I am just going to enjoy the big tray of Florentine bars sitting in my fridge.

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Cook the Book: Florentine Bars

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About This Recipe

Yield:40 squares

Ingredients

  • Shortbread
  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into pieces
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Florentine Filling
  • 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into pieces
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream
  • 3 tablespoons honey
  • 1 cup blanched sliced almonds
  • 1/2 cup dried cherries, chopped
  • 1/2 cup diced orange peel
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • Topping
  • 2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, about 60%, melted

Procedures

  1. 1

    Position a rack in the middle of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350%deg;F. Coat a 13 x 9-inch pan with nonstick spray, line the bottom with parchment paper cut to fit, then spray the parchment.

  2. 2

    Whisk the flour and salt together in a small bowl to aerate and combine; set aside.

  3. 3

    In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the butter with the flat paddle attachment on medium-high speed until creamy, about 2 minutes. Add the sugar and continue to to beat until very light and fluffy, about 3 minutes more. Beat in the vanilla. Gradually add the flour, mixing until just blended, scraping down the sides of the bowl once or twice. Pat the crust into an even layer in the prepared pan.

  4. 4

    Bake the crust for 20 to 25 minutes, or until just beginning to turn very light golden brown along the edges; it should be dry to the touch. Prepare the filling while the crust is baking.

  5. 5

    Put the butter, sugar, cream, and honey in a medium saucepan, attach a candy thermometer, and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the butter melts. Turn the heat to medium-high, bring to a boil, and cook to 235°F. The mixture will have thickened and the surface will be covered with large bubble. Remove from the heat and stir in the nuts, fruit, and flour until well combined.

  6. 6

    Pour the filling over the partially baked crust and bake for another 20 to 25 minutes, or until the filling is bubbling and has turned light golden brown all over. The color might be darker around the edges. Cool completely in the pan set on a rack.

  7. 7

    Put the melted chocolate in a parchment cone and make freeform zigzag patterns all over the bars. Chill to set the chocolate; cut into 40 bars (5 x 8). Refrigerate for up to 1 week in an airtight container in single layers separated by parchment paper. Bring to room temperature before serving.

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