Florentine Fairy Tales?

Ever wondered why a Florentine is called a Florentine? Or where it came from?

Well, you wouldn’t be alone. The topic has been the subject of debate and disagreement – think the ‘Pavlova debate’ between Australia and New Zealand. It’s the stuff of story and legend…

It is widely believed that the Florentine biscuit originated in Florence, Italy, simply because that is what its name suggests. However, in spite of what Wikipedia says, they’re quite probably not. This mouth-watering biscuit (or cookie, for our American friends) is odds-on to have originated from France, or so the legend tells us.

The first written mention of Florentines is to be found in a recipe book dating back to 1891: Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well, written by Pellegrino Artusi. However this recipe refers to a dessert that has much more in common with an English-style “Bread and Butter Pudding” – a far cry from what the world considers to be a Florentine biscuit today.

These days Florentine biscuits are generally made from such ingredients as butter, sugar, cream, almonds, candied fruit, and a decadent chocolate layer on one-side. (Dartington Barn Florentines actually have two different types of chocolate for double decadence!) In short, they are a delicacy that is completely different to the dessert described by Artusi.

There are many different stories which all claim to know where the Florentine as we know it today originated from – some continue to say Florence, while still others credit Austrian bakers. The most well-known legend however, claims that the Florentine was first made in France at the Palace of Versailles for King Louis XIV. The biscuit was thought to have been created by the king’s top pastry chefs for visiting in-laws, the Medici family of Florence – whose Tuscan relative, Catherine de’ Medici had been Queen Consort of France in the 16th Century. Due to these close ties to Florence, it is not surprising that the French would have thus named the delicacy. King Louis XIV lived at the Palace of Versailles from 1682 till 1715 so, if the legend is true, the likely time of creation was during this period.

There is also another little piece of evidence (albeit a little unscientific) that supports this story of the Florentine’s origin. Many of the main ingredients of the Florentine are typically French, but perhaps the most concrete piece of evidence comes from the base of these biscuits. The base is known as a ‘roux’, which is a French cooking technique, and perhaps alludes to the fact that the Florentine is a French delicacy, that simply took the name of a place that was admired or was deemed to be important at the time of its creation.

However, regardless of its origins, the Florentine has evolved to become a mouth-watering delicacy. And (unless any new evidence comes to light) we feel pretty safe in calling our Dartington Barn Florentines: “A Taste of Europe”.

Bon appétit!