Wednesday, December 11, 2013

eggnog florentines

pecan florentines with eggnog filling

Today, because we don’t have enough bronzed and crisp, sugary, buttery thoughts already circling our heads, we’re going to talk about two recipes in one, a thin and lacy nut-caramel cookie known as a florentine and a filling that tastes exactly like eggnog, as if either of these things alone weren’t enough reason to gallop into the kitchen with your mask, cape and sense of urgency.

the high-low pecan florentine lineup
grinding the pecans with flour and spice

Florentines are essentially nuts, usually almonds or hazelnuts, coarsely or finely chopped, that have been baked into a buttery caramel disc. They hail, like so many delicious things, from Italy although I’ve seen versions from many other places, because once you try them, you’re going to want to make them your own too. Here, in a recipe that was published last year in the Tasting Table newsletter, someone did, a chef named Aaron Vandemark or Panciuto restaurant in Hillsborough, NC, a place I’d like to go immediately to applaud him in person for his creativity. Instead of almonds or hazelnuts, he uses pecans and a touch of cinnamon. He doesn’t stop there.

ground pecans, flour, spice

all the caramel ingredients
a light caramel
mixing the florentine dough
florentines going into the oven
from the oven -- crispy splats!
lacy pecan florentines

While florentines are usually glued together with a smidge of melted chocolate, or dipped in it, he opts for an eggnog filling that I had deep, serious hesitations going into making. To begin with, I’m generally disappointed with filled cookies. The fillings are always too soft, and squeeze out when you take a bite, making a mess of everything and rarely giving you that cookie-cream-cookie taste you were hoping for. This one seemed especially suspect, requesting that you cream not one, not two, but four hard-boiled egg yolks (it’s a theme this week) with butter, powdered sugar, nutmeg, cloves, salt, a spoonful of milk, vanilla and rum, if you choose to make your eggnog filling appropriately boozy. I’ve made birthday cakes with fewer ingredients. But oh, silly Deb. This filling is, in fact, a revelation, firm enough not to excessively squish out (especially not between those featherweight florentine discs) and quintessentially eggnog-like (oh right: eggs will do that!), rich and spiced and so, so, so very December.

eggnog filling lineup. yes, i numbered my eggs.
four, yes four, egg yolks. don't fight it.
looks suspect going into the mixer
whips up like frosting
spreading the eggnog filling
this eggnog filling is ridiculous

I love them. I want you to have them too, but you’re going to have to make your own. Ours are going quickly.

pecan florentines with eggnog filling

Cookie Week! This week is all about the cookies. Monday, we talked about Cigarettes Russes (Piroulines), Tuesday, Sugared Pretzel Cookies (made, in part, with rye flour). Stay tuned for more as the week goes on.

More Cookies: There are over 85 cookie recipes in the archives. My favorite holiday-ish ones, as in, get these away from me or I’ll eat them all, are Austrian Raspberry Shortbread, Crescent Jam and Cheese Cookies, Grasshopper Brownies, Seven-Layer Cookies, Tiny Pecan Sandies, Nutmeg-Maple Butter Cookies and Peanut Butter Cookies. For a cookie ideal for gingerbread men, “ninja”-bread men or gingerbread tenements houses, try these Spicy Gingerbread Cookies. [All The Smitten Kitchen Cookies]

Signed Smitten Kitchen Cookbooks: In case you were interested, copies of The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook can be ordered with custom inscriptions — i.e. not just the usual signature but anything you’d like, be it Merry Christmas! or Congratulations on your engagement! (Now bake me some cookies.) or No matter what anyone else tells you, you’re my favorite reader. No seriously. It’s you. all of which have happened because you guys really are that funny and awesome, through McNally-Jackson, an independent bookstore in Soho. This year, we have a hard deadline for Christmas shipping (i.e. you’d pay standard and not rushed shipping and the book will reach you by Christmas) of this Saturday, December 14th. Thank you! [Order Custom Inscribed Smitten Kitchen Cookbooks from McNally Jackson]

Eggnog Florentines
Adapted, just barely, from Aaron Vandemark via Tasting Table

So, this is a very unfair place to mention this (after spending 500-plus words extolling their awesomeness) but although I loved the florentine cookie part of this recipe, I worry that there is a better recipe out there — these feel almost excessively buttery. I was thisclose to auditioning two more yesterday when I ran out of time. Normally, I’d rather do full cookie auditions before posting, but the fact is that these cookies are: 1. delicious and 2. the recipe works, so they do still pass SK muster. But, if you have a florentine recipe you adore, feel free to use it instead here (swapping pecans, because they’re wonderful). And if I get to those auditions today or over the weekend and feel confident that another approach is better (or realize, as I often do, that the first recipe is the best one), I’ll update this recipe. For now, fret not: it works.

The filling, though, my goodness, the filling. Don’t even think about skipping it. Okay, fine, technically you could use this filling for another cookie or just make the florentines and dip them in chocolate, you could. But I won’t be.

Yield: 3 dozen

Pecan florentines
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons (6 tablespoons or 45 grams) all-purpose flour
1/2 cup (about 55 grams) pecan halves
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon (I halved this, found it to be just-enough)
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt (I recommend doubling this)
1/2 cup (115 grams) unsalted butter, cold is fine
2/3 cup (65, oops, sorry, it is 130 grams) granulated sugar (I would drop this by a tablespoon or two next time)
2 tablespoons heavy cream
1 tablespoon corn syrup, honey, or golden syrup
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Eggnog filling
4 large eggs, hard-boiled
4 tablespoons (55 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 1/2 cups (300 grams) confectioners’ sugar
1 tablespoon whole milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg (I halved this because I’m a spice wimp)
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves (I halved this too)
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons dark rum (can be skipped or reduced)

Make the florentines: Heat oven to 350&#176F. In a food processor, combine the flour, pecans, cinnamon and salt and pulse until the nuts are very finely chopped, about 1 minute. Turn the nut mixture out into a large bowl.

In a small-medium saucepan set over high heat, combine the butter, sugar, heavy cream and syrup and bring it to a boil. Boil the mixture for one full minute, then turn off the heat and add the vanilla. Pour this caramel mixture over the nut mixture and stir to combine them. Set aside for at least 30 minutes, until it has cooled. Mixture will firm up and seem worrisome, but you should not be worried.

Line baking sheets with parchment paper. Using a 1/2 or 1 teaspoon measure (the original recipe recommends a 1/2 teaspoon measure to scoop the cookies but I misread this and used a full teaspoon scoop — mine became 2 1/2 inches in diameter on average, which felt like a good size), scoop the dough into small balls and place them 3 inches apart on prepared baking sheets. Bake until the cookies are thin and golden brown, 7 to 9 minutes. They will not crisp until they are cool, so don’t worry if they’re soft.

Let cool on baking sheets for 5 or so minutes (so they’ll set up a little) before using a thin metal spatula to carefully transfer the cookies to paper towels to blot excess oil for a couple minutes. After they’ve been blotted, transfer cookies to a cooling rack, though they should be pretty cool by now. If any butter is left puddled on the parchment, wipe that off too before repeating the process with the remaining cookie dough.

Make the eggnog filling: Peel the eggs and separate the yolks from the whites. Save the whites for another use. Press the egg yolks through a fine-mesh strainer so that they become mashed and powdery. Place in a large bowl with butter, confectioners’ sugar, milk, vanilla, nutmeg, cloves and salt. Beat together until smooth, then raise mixer speed and beat until mixture is thick and frosting-like, about three minutes. Stir in the rum by hand, if using.

Spread a dollop of eggnog filling on one cookie, then gently press a second one on top of it. Repeat with remaining cookies and filling. Place them in the fridge for 10 minutes before serving, to firm up the filling.

Do ahead: The dough and the icing can be refrigerated in an airtight container or up to 3 days before baking. The baked, unfilled florentines can be stored in a loosely covered container at room temperature for up to two (though I had them longer) before filling them. Humidity is their enemy, makes them stick together. The original recipe says that once filled, the florentines need to be eaten immediately but our held up crisp in the fridge in a loosely covered container (not airtight) for a couple days.


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