Florence and Florentines

July 16th, 2011 · 16 Comments · Cookies, Personal, Recipes, Travel

Florentines on dessertfirstgirl.com

Third day of our trip: Florence. This city claimed a soft spot in my heart since I first visited years back, and having only one day to revisit this city was not nearly enough time. Since Florence is inland, our cruise ship docked at the port of Livorno, about an hour and a half’s drive away. This was one port where the limitations of being on a cruise stung. After a whirlwind day of seeing some new sights and returning to old remembered spots, I still have a hankering to return to Florence. It’s like cozy college town, filled with some of the world’s most glorious art and architecture – and it’s next to the Tuscan countryside. How could you not want to spend weeks here? Nevertheless, we did our best to squeeze Florence into a day.

Leaning Tower of Pisa

We took a quick detour first to Pisa to get a look at the Leaning Tower. No, we didn’t do the “pretend you’re holding up the tower” trick shot, although every other tourist seemed to be doing it. The Tower was beautifully clean – our driver told us it had just undergone a thorough cleaning a couple months ago. Certainly much nicer looking than in some older photos where you can clearly see it blackened by pollution.

Pisa Cathedral

The Cathedral next to the tower.

View of Florence

Overlook of Florence – so pretty. You can see Ponte Vecchio (the Old Bridge) to the left and the huge red dome of the basilica to the right.

View of Florence

Another view of the city and the Tuscan hills beyond.

Dante Statue in Florence

Statue of Dante Alighieri outside the Basilica de Santa Croce. Looks like the kind of brooding artiste who would write the Divine Comedy, yes? Well, apparently this wasn’t what he looked like at all: he had a rather ordinary face, but likely the Italians preferred a more heroic image for their immortal poet.

Ponte Vecchio from Uffizi

Ponte Vecchio from the Uffizi Gallery. I love the colors of the buildings, all rainwashed ocher, umber, and siena – the colors of Tuscany. Unfortunately, we couldn’t take any photos of the art inside the Uffizi, but believe me it’s one of the world’s great repositories of art – you could easily spend an entire day there.

Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence

Facade of the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore – look at the beautiful multicolored marble panels. The enormous dome of the Cathedral is another of my favorite historical engineering achievements. It measures almost 144 feet across and it’s a staggering 463 steps to the top – we didn’t have time for the climb on this trip, but the last time I went, the view was worth it.

Florence model

A model of the city in one of the central piazzas – complete with a little Duomo. I really enjoyed just wandering around the streets of Florence – it’s more compact and accessible than Rome.

Marzipan fruit in Florence

Some marzipan fruit in a patisserie window; they do love their marzipan over there. The leaves are a cute touch.

And that was it! Sigh. We really could have used at least one more day here, but the rest of our itinerary awaited.

Florentines on dessertfirstgirl.com

No, I didn’t eat any marzipan fruit in Florence; I ate a lot of gelato instead, because if you only have three days in Italy you should squeeze as much gelato into those days as possible. I didn’t want to offer up just ice cream recipes from my vacation, though, so here’s one of my favorite cookie recipes.

I have to admit this recipe is a bit of a cheat as well; florentines actually don’t originate from Florence. Some stories have them coming from Austria, but the most common story is that were invented in France, as a tribute to the visiting Medici family from Florence. So there’s your connection, however tenuous.

Even if they aren’t a local Italian treat, you should still try florentines at least once: they are a cinch to make, and they are as addictive as potato chips; in fact, hubby calls them “candy chips”. They are basically baked-crisp caramel sprinkled with almonds and drizzled with chocolate; sweet, buttery, chocolatey, and nutty all at once. Many florentines are coated on one side with chocolate; I like to make mine very thin and crisp, but you can modify yours simply by cooking the batter longer on the stove to thicken it even more, or thinning it out with a little extra cream. These florentines also make excellent toppers for a bowl of ice cream…or gelato.

Next stop Naples…and the Amalfi Coast.

Florentines on dessertfirstgirl.com

Florentines

makes about 36 4-in florentines
  • 1 cup (8 oz) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar
  • 2 tablespoons corn syrup
  • 1 tablespoon all purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 1/3 cups sliced almonds
  • 4 oz bittersweet chocolate, roughly chopped
  • Preheat oven to 374 degrees F. Line several cookie sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats. Set aside a 3-in round cookie cutter.
  • Combine butter, sugar, and corn syrup in a medium saucepan. Melt together over medium heat on the stove, stirring occasionally.
  • Add flour and stir to combine.
  • Add cream and salt and stir to combine.
  • Continue cooking until mixture comes to a boil. Add the almonds and stir to combine.
  • Continue cooking, stirring constantly, until mixture thickens and moves around the pan as one mass. Remove from heat.
  • Drop tablespoons of batter onto prepared cookie sheets, 4 to a sheet (the batter will spread out quite thin so space out the batter). Flatten batter with a wet hand or back of a spoon.
  • Bake for 5 to 8 minutes, until edges are brown and centers are golden. Remove sheets from oven and use cookie cutter to "scoop" the batter back into a circular shape (use the edge to move the batter - do not press down like cutting out a cookie).
  • Cookies will begin to harden in moments. Let finish cooling and hardening on wire racks before removing from parchment.
  • To finish: Melt the chocolate in a metal bowl over a pot of simmering water. Drizzle melted chocolate over the cooled florentines. Let chocolate set before serving.

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Nice et Clafouti Encore

July 1st, 2011 · 12 Comments · Cakes, Fruit, Personal, Recipes, Travel

Cherry Clafouti on dessertfirstgirl.com

Now, I try not to repeat recipes on this site, even if there are some filed-away-by-heart recipes that I make over and over again just for myself (World Peace Cookies, I’m looking at you). However, once you read through my day trip to Monte Carlo and Nice I hope you’ll see just why I had to revisit this clafouti recipe.

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Summer Vacation: Stracciatella in Rome

June 23rd, 2011 · 10 Comments · Ice Cream, Personal, Recipes, Travel

Stracciatella Ice Cream Sandwiches on dessertfirstgirl.com

Two weeks back from a 12 day cruise through the Mediterranean and I’m trying to hold on to the post-vacation glow (figuratively and literally – I got quite a lot of sun). I’m really excited to share some vacation photos and dessert inspirations with you all over the next couple of weeks!

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Snapshots from Hong Kong

February 2nd, 2011 · 20 Comments · Personal, Photography, Sweet Spots, Travel

HKShangrila

Hello dear readers! Apologies for the long absence – and thank you for all of your kind notes! My trip to Hong Kong was very cold – record cold temperatures, I believe, and filled with family and lots of food. Hot food, preferably, to keep warm. It was difficult not to make this a 100 photo-long post, but I hope the following ones give you a taste of my visit overseas.

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Food and Light: Best Workshop Ever

July 2nd, 2010 · 21 Comments · Events, Photography, Travel

Blueberries

I've been playing hooky from work and blogging the last few days to enjoy bucketfuls of sunshine, outrageously good food, and the company of some of the most talented bloggers around.

The Food and Light Photography Workshop, organized by Jen of use real butter in collaboration with Helen of Tartelette and Todd and Diane of White on Rice Couple, was hands down the best photography workshop I went to. It really didn't feel like class…more like summer vacation with some great friends.

Although food bloggers are a wonderfully friendly and giving lot, Jen, Helen, Todd, and Diane stand head and shoulders above the rest. I have never met more generous people, so ready to share their knowledge and experience with others. And they are also FUN…see the dinner Jen threw for several of us out-of-town bloggers the night before the workshop (Yes, the workshop also sort of felt like a overachievers' convention).

When I talked to Jen about the workshop, she told me that her goal was to create a class that offered more than the average photography class: a class that gave real, practical advice to photographers on how to take photos, and would give them the tools to let them continue improving their skills on their own after the class.

I think she and the other instructors succeeded fabulously; from the moment the workshop started we could tell how much preparation had gone into organizing everything, and how passionate the instructors were about photography and food. We had lectures that covered the gamut of concerns that many a food blogger has: photography basics, equipment, lighting, and styling.

The lectures were broken up by hands on sessions where we could practice shooting different food items, implementing things we had just learned, and getting instant feedback from the instructors. I really thought this was what set this workshop apart and made it so useful and rewarding. There's no substitute for learning by doing, and having an experienced professional to give you a personal critique was pretty much worth the value of the workshop. I know all the participants appreciated that all four of the instructors were willing to open themselves up and answer endless barrages of questions!

Below, a few shots I took during class. The rest of the class shots are at this flickr group  – you can see how quickly people starting picking tips and tricks from class!

Carrots

Berriestop2

Cupcakes

Bread 

Finally, all the workshop participants were asked to submit their favorite images taken during class to be judged by their fellow classmates and the instructors. We were asked to vote for images in categories such as Best Overall, Most Improved, and Most Original. I'm so thrilled that the class chose this image I shot below as Best Styling :

Cherries 

I call it Little Red Corvette. Thanks again to Jen et al. for awarding prizes and swag bags to the participants – I have never been to a workshop where you got so much free stuff!

Thanks again to Jen, Helen, Diane, and Todd for such a great experience. And another thank you to Lisa, who kindly let me stay with her at her family friend's home and was a blast as a traveling companion. Couldn't think of a better way to start off the summer!

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My Adventure in Hong Kong

February 26th, 2010 · 14 Comments · Sweet Spots, Travel

Anniewebsite

Hello! First of all, thank you all so much for your notes of congratulations – I was so thrilled to read each and every one of them! I already feel like I got one of the best wedding gifts ever with all your heartfelt wishes! I'm also very excited to learn about all the fellow brides-to-be out there! Congratulations to you all as well, and I hope your planning is also going well! I promise I will share more information and pictures about the big event when it happens – only a few months away, eek!

For this post, though, I also want to share a very cool adventure I had last fall when I went to Hong Kong. Although it was meant to be a vacation, one of my aunts there let me know that she was friends with a well known cookbook author, and would I like to meet her? This was an offer I could not turn down.

So that was how I met Annie Leong, a talented chef and intrepid globe-trotter who has written three cookbooks and also has food columns in several of Hong Kong's newspapers. Annie has led the dream life of many a foodie: in love with food from an early age, she ate her way around the world and also took the opportunity during her travels to study numerous cuisines under several chefs. Ultimately she returned to Hong Kong and began to work on her own cookbook, Cooking with Annie, which reflects the breadth and quirkiness of her culinary interests. Annie graciously gave me a copy of the cookbook, and I find the range of recipes, from lobster bisque to drunken chicken to tiramisu, a testament to the her amazing knowledge and skills.

In return I gave Annie copies of my Field Guide to Cookies and Field Guide to Candy. Upon looking at them, she made a surprising proposal to me: would I like to have some recipes featured in her newspaper column? I knew there was no hesitating on this decision. I told her yes!

This meant that for the last couple days of my vacation I was dashing about town gathering ingredients and tools necessary to do a photoshoot of three recipes for the newspaper. Did you know, in Hong Kong home baking is not extremely popular as most apartment kitchens are rather small and lacking in equipment? I had never even tried baking with the oven in my parents' Hong Kong flat, so I had no idea how my recipes would turn out in a foreign setup.

Fortunately, Annie lent me the use of her gorgeous professional kitchen, which was outfitted with all the tools, equipment, and counter space I could need. If you look at the photos in this post, they were all taken in her kitchen! Afraid that I was going to have to improvise Iron Chef-style in some tiny test kitchen, I was very relieved and wholly impressed by her space!

One thing I've noticed about cookbooks in Hong Kong is that they are very fond of step-by-step photos. Annie is a master of this setup: all her recipes in her columns are shown step by step, so that was how I would have to make my recipes for the column. I had never done this before! Fortunately the photographer was a pro and captured everything, getting glimpses of my recipes in-the-making even I'd never seen! I've never done in-the-process photos for this blog; I guess I'm just not organized enough or something. So I'm very pleased and proud that some of my recipes finally have step by step photos! Following are scans of Annie's columns in the Sing Tao newspaper featuring my recipes:

Singtaodec09 

These are my apple crumb bars – Annie was quite enamoured with them and I think we sent the whole batch after the photoshoot to the Sing Tao newspaper staff as a thank you.
Singtaojan10 

This is my almond buttercrunch – I will admit I was petrified of attempting to do sugarwork in a foreign, humid climate, but fortunately it turned out just fine. It's hard to go wrong with sugar, chocolate, butter, and nuts.

I also did the linzer cookies for Annie – you can see them in the post on Annie's website. She was kind enough to write a post about my visit, so I'm (belatedly) returning the favor. Thanks for everything, Annie!

I suppose the lesson of this little adventure is to always be prepared for anything: you never know when an opportunity will come your way! I thought I was just going on a little vacation but it turned out to be a very memorable one! I'm very happy to be able to share the fruits of my serendipitous fortune with you dear readers – hopefully it has given you a glimpse into Hong Kong food scene, plus a look at pastrygirl in action!

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