Vegan Florentines

Hi everyone! I hope you're all having a great festive period. Personally I haven't been feeling that Christmassy, until last night when our tree went up which Max (my dog - to the unacquainted) duly had a good bark at. Anyway, today I've got a real gem for you. These vegan florentines are so decadent and elegant they basically scream Christmas. I would seriously recommend them as a Christmas present, but I do realise I'm a bit late in publishing this post! Perhaps if you have any presents to give after Christmas, like I will, to other relatives, a few days later?!

Anyway, there was no doubt in my mind who to make these for. My dad has an almost medical weakness for chocolate and anything seriously sweet. And I was super pleased to be able to include a few of his favourite ingredients and still stick to a pretty traditional recipe. My dad loves dried figs on his breakfast, which work well here given their soft, jammy texture. He also enjoys pistachios – cue flashback: holidays as a kid watching him eat pistachio ice cream, bemused as to why he'd choose that over straight up strawberry – which add a lovely nutty, slightly bitter element as well as a beautiful colour contrast. Most of the other ingredients aren't exclusively favourites of my dad, but surely everyone loves them at this time of year: the dark, treacly flavour of demerara sugar; the sticky, bitter zing of candied peel and orange zest; the satisfying snap of caramalised flaked almonds.

To coat the underside of the biscuits, I used a fairly dark chocolate (76% cocoa solids) as that level of dark often tends to be vegan. However, it is also more traditional, and plays well into the bitter-sweetness of these florentines. You may have noticed the small pieces of chocolate on top of the florentines in my photos. This was admittedly unintentional: after the chocolate coating stage, while the florentines were cooling face down, the chocolate managed to seep through the small lacy gaps that appeared when the sugary syrup expanded outwards in the oven. Personally I don't mind this (and my dad certainly won't either), but if you'd like to avoid it, be extra careful before baking to flatten and compress the florentines into a tight, level round.

A word on substitutions. Pleasingly, these biscuits are quite customisable so you can use your loved ones' favourite dried fruit or nuts – see the optional substitutions table below the recipe. I would advise sticking to vegan butter over other fats, though. Coconut oil, or any other oil for that matter, won't work here as the florentines must harden at room temperature: coconut oil's melting point is only a little above that temperature.

And finally, watch these biscuits like an eagle when you're baking them. They took just FIVE minutes in my oven (they continue to cook once out of the oven, as sugar gets very, very hot) and my first batch burnt after just 10 minutes. If your oven is accurate, or indeed if it tends to get hotter than it's supposed to, take them out after 5 minutes as in the recipe below. But, if they don't quite look golden brown, keep 'em in a little longer. Just do not move your person further than 1 metre from that oven: it only takes about 30 seconds for them to change from golden and delicious to dark brown and overly bitter.

Vegan Florentines
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Vegan Florentines

Yield:
Makes 16-18 florentines
Hands-on time:
30 minutes
Hands-off time:
5 minutes + time to cool

Ingredients:

40g (¼ cup) vegan butter*
60g (⅓ cup) demerara sugar
60g (½ cup) flaked blanched almonds
30g (⅓ cup) pistachios, shelled
75g (5 whole) dried figs (=½ cup when chopped)
45g (¼ cup) candied mixed peel
½ a whole orange's zest
15g (1½ tbsp) plain white flour (aka all-purpose)
pinch table salt
200g (7oz) dark chocolate - I used 76% cocoa solids (vegans: check to see if it contains milk)

*vegan butter is hard block baking margarine that does not contain any animal products such as milk. Stork is a popular brand in the UK as is Earth Balance in the US.

Process:

  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C/355°F. Line two baking trays, preferably rimless, with greased baking parchment.
  2. In a dry, small frying pan, toast the almond flakes over a medium heat until slightly brown. Roughly chop the pistachios and figs into quite small dice.
  3. Melt the vegan butter and sugar over a low-medium heat, stirring carefully, until the butter has melted and sugar dissolved.
  4. Put the flaked almonds, pistachios, orange zest, candied peel and dried figs in a bowl. Evenly seive the flour over them and add the salt. Stir this mixture into the melted butter and sugar, making sure everything is coated.
  5. Turn the hob down to the lowest setting. Spoon about a tablespoon of the mixture onto the greased baking parchment. Using your hands, shape it into a circle and flatten it as much as you can without seeing too many holes. Leave space in between each florentine as they expand quite a lot.
  6. Bake for 5 minutes and remove from the oven. If they don't look quite golden brown, leave them in for 1 or 2 more minutes.
  7. Let the florentines cool on their trays for 7 minutes. Carefully take the parchment paper with the florentines off of the baking tray and on to a wire rack. Gently push each florentine on to the wire rack while pulling away the parchment paper in the opposite direction. If they are still too warm and break apart when trying to move them, leave for a few more minutes.
  8. Leave until they're completely cool.
  9. Break up the chocolate and put it in a heatproof bowl. Pour an inch of water into a saucepan and bring to a boil.
  10. Reduce the water to a simmer and put the heatproof bowl on top of the saucepan, making sure the bowl doesn't touch the water, and stir carefully until the chocolate melts.
  11. Gently flip the florentines over so they're face-down on the wired tray. Spoon about three-quarters of a tablespoon of melted chocolate on to each one and spread it with the back of the spoon.
  12. When the chocolate is starting to set, use a fork to make the wavy lines (pictured) on the back of the florentines.
  13. Once they're completely cool again, store in airtight tins in a cool place.

Optional substitutions:

listed ingredient can be swapped for
demerara sugar any other type of sugar
pistachios any other nut
dried figs / candied peel any dried fruit
white flour gluten free flour
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