June was a difficult month in our household and I didn’t feel able to do any blogging. Somewhere in the middle, I experienced a crushing disappointment.
It wasn’t completely unexpected, and I found myself responding as I usually do to life’s hurts. I withdrew from all but my dearest. I ignored pinging text messages, the telephone and the doorbell. I took time to cry, sleep, think and mooch about. I know from experience that solitude and space help me recover.
But what I hadn’t anticipated was a sweet moment of grace that taught me something new about myself.
In the midst of my sadness, I thought about baking. Seriously.
And this from a woman who in the past could have given lessons in kitchen avoidance techniques.
It wasn’t so much the idea that some extravagant treat would produce a feel-good sugar rush and sweet-coat the bitter pill I had swallowed. It was more that the process itself might have some kind of mind-and-heart soothing effect.
Perhaps I reasoned subconsciously that a concentrated focus would help me forget the ache for a while. Or perhaps I was inspired to create something new and satisfying out of disparate parts, or to bring joy to those who would eat the treats. I really don’t know.
But I trawled through my recipes and settled on Florentines. Despite them being one of my favourite indulgences, I haven’t made them before. So bake I did.
And those mouthfuls of crunchy nut-and-toffee deliciousness, layered with dark chocolate turning more gooey with every mouthful, not only delighted friends and family, but – surprisingly – took me a step closer to my healing. Making them brought a fresh and different rhythm of grace into difficult circumstances.
It is such sweet moments of grace, gifted to us by a loving Father who knows what we need just when we need it, that often sustain us on our journey.
Here’s the Sainsbury’s recipe I used (it makes about 12). The combination of nuts, toffee and chocolate is difficult to resist (and why would you want to)!
50g unsalted butter
100g light brown soft sugar
1tbsp plain flour
75ml crème fraiche
50g flaked almonds
¼ tsp mixed spice
125g unsalted peanuts & raisins
50g Brazil nuts, roughly chopped
125g dark chocolate, broken into pieces
25g white chocolate, broken into pieces
1. Preheat the oven to 180°C (fan 160°C). Line two baking trays with baking parchment.
2. Put the butter and brown sugar in a pan and melt over a gentle hear. Stir in the flour and bring to the boil. Stir in the crème fraiche and remove from the heat. Add the almonds, mixed spice, peanuts and raisins, and Brazil nuts, and mix well.
3. Spoon tablespoonfuls of the mixture onto the trays and gently flatten with a spoon. Space them well apart as they will expand as they cook.
4. Bake for 12 – 15 mins until golden. Leave the Florentines on the baking parchment and lift onto a cooling rack. Once cooled, turn them over ready for the melted chocolate.
5. Melt the chocolate in separate bowls in the microwave (on medium, in 30 second bursts; keep checking). Or bring a little water to a simmer in a pan and suspend a heatproof bowl over it (don’t allow the base of the bowl to touch the water). Add the chocolate pieces and stir until smooth and melted.
6. Spread the Florentines’ bases with the melted dark chocolate. Then drizzle over the melted white chocolate in thin lines. Chill to set.
If I make them again I’ll probably avoid adding the crème fraiche when the mixture’s boiling, and follow the Hairy Bikers’ instructions to gradually combine it over a medium heat, stirring continuously.
The Florentines really do spread over the baking sheet, making them thin round the edges. Next time I might try spreading the mix into a baking tray, and cutting it into neat squares once it’s cooked and slightly cooled. Another recipe suggested using walnut-sized scoops of the mixture and, once baked, immediately reshaping them into circles using a cookie cutter or knife, before allowing them to cool. Enjoy!