I dusted this book off the shelf, looking for a moderate challenge over a few weeknights. I can't recall how I arrived at this recipe, but I do know that I had two, neglected Seville oranges in a bowl on the kitchen counter. So the first step was to make the candied orange, following a recipe also in this book. Blanching the peels several times is a standard step anytime I've made candied citrus peel, but this recipe oddly instructs you to save the boiling water between rinses. I ignored that, and used fresh water for each boiling. After over an hour of simmering in the peppercorn-star anise-vanilla syrup, the Seville peels were still firm and slightly bitter, but were fragrant with the spices.
I made the Sweet Tart Dough (a full recipe) using freshly ground almonds (with the skins on, as I'm lazy). It's quite buttery and soft, and was easy to pat flat in a large freezer bag. After an overnight refrigeration, it was stiff and firm, but didn't take long to soften to a workable consistency. I rolled it out between two sheets of wax paper, guiding it into my sheet pan.
I made the first two components ahead of time. At this point, it was time to make the caramel mixture, and get ready to pour it onto the warm crust. Notice the cookie base shrunk quite a bit in the oven, and is a little too brown. It's so thin that it's quite easy to overbake.
Before starting on the caramel, I diced up the orange peel into small cubes, and put a tray of sliced almonds in the toaster oven to keep them warm. The caramel is made using the wet method with water and corn syrup. When it's dark enough, I added butter, heavy cream and honey. Once it recovered, I continued to heat it on a moderate flame. It took more than 10 minutes to reach the target temperature of 125°C (257°F). This photo was taken just before reaching that point.
With all the topping ingredients ready, I mixed the almonds and orange peel into the pot with the caramel, then used a wooden spoon to stir it all up. It didn't immediately thicken and harden as I expected, but stayed fluid enough for me to spread it all over the cookie layer. In the oven, it spread out just a little bit, but I took it out when it started to bubble, about 5 minutes later.
Once the base was completely cool, I tempered some 60% bittersweet chocolate and poured it over the florentines, cookie side up. Working quickly with an offset spatula, I spread it all the way to the edge, then took a cake comb and drew a wavy pattern on it. This turned out to be problematic, as the thin layer of chocolate set very quickly, and the comb wasn't able to leave a trail once the chocolate became firm. I was inspired by this post to apply the chocolate this way, but the original recipe calls for dipping each corner up to the midpoint of each cookie square.
The next morning, as I used a chef's knife to cut the florentines into squares, I was disappointed to discover that the chocolate was tempered so well, that it snapped and broke cleanly away from the cookie base. Even using a long, 12" serrated slicer to gently saw through the layers couldn't prevent most of the chocolate from separating. I did the best I could to keep the chocolate squares together with the florentines, before layering them in a container for transport.
Were these cookies worth a few evenings of effort? You bet. I love the chocolate and orange combination, plus the crispy nuts and cookie base. There's so many tasty things going on here! These freeze nicely too: a few minutes in a toaster oven make them warm and gooey and even more delicious.