Krista's Florentines #1

I have to admit that I'm a total pushover for a simple chocolate chip cookie. Like Sophie Winston in The Domestic Diva Mysteries, I make a big batch and freeze the uncooked dough so I can bake them at a moment's notice. Soft, gooey chocolate in warm cookies. Yum!

But when it comes to Christmas cookies, for some odd reason, I lean to cookies that take a lot of time. I adore Linzer cookies with sweet raspberry jam in the middle, and Lebkuchen, a traditional German cookie that heralds the holidays. Even simple sugar cookies take a lot of time to decorate.

Today I'm sharing my recipe for "Florentiners." (Somewhere along the line, my family added an “r” to the end, don’t ask me why!) If you've never had one, they're chocolate on one side, and fruit and nuts on the other. Almost healthy! I'm picky, though, and had a few problems with the Florentines I often found for sale. I'm not a huge fan of the candied fruit that's found in fruitcake.

Why use it when there are so many wonderful dried fruits available? The traditional three inch diameter of the cookie is a bit daunting, so I make them smaller. Plus, using a cupcake pan for the smaller version makes it far easier to manage the cookies. Without it, they took an enormous amount of counter space and a lot of time to allow the chocolate to harden before they could be moved.

A word about the chocolate. I have made these with milk chocolate and with dark chocolate. There's just no doubt about it -- dark chocolate is far superior in these cookies. I recommend using the best dark chocolate available. Whatever you do, resist the temptation to use coating or dipping chocolate, or to substitute margarine for the butter. The taste simply isn't the same.

Krista's Florentiners #1

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour 2 12-muffin tins or 2 12-mini-cheesecake tins very well. You can also use a greased and floured baking sheet but your cookies will be thinner and less uniform.

1 & 1/2 cups chopped dried fruit and sliced almonds

(Note: This recipe is very flexible. My mother, who adores nuts, uses one cup of sliced almonds and half a cup of dried fruit bits. I use one cup of dried fruit and half a cup of sliced almonds. You can even omit the almonds if someone has a nut allergy. I make my own mixture of dried fruit from dried apricots, dried cherries, dried cranberries and raisins. If you’re in a hurry, Sun-Maid Fruit Bits work very well, too.)

6 tbsp butter

1/3 cup milk

1/4 cup sugar

2 tbsp honey

1/4 cup flour

1 cup high quality semi-sweet or dark chocolate chips or chunks chopped into bits

3 tbsp butter

1/2 tsp vanilla

In a saucepan, heat the 6 tbsp. butter, milk, sugar, and honey and bring to a good boil. Cook, stirring constantly until melted together and well-mixed, about 45 seconds to one minute. Remove from heat. Stir in the mixed dried fruit and almonds, and flour.

Spoon the mixture into the 24 muffin or cheesecake rounds. Do not fill to the top, there should be enough dough to make 24 cookies. (If using a baking sheet, drop the dough by the teaspoonful. It will appear very thin.) Bake at 350 for 8 to 10 minutes. The edges will be golden brown.

When the cookies are cool, melt the chocolate with the remaining butter. This can be done in the microwave at low temps for 20-30 seconds at a time. Stir with a fork and add the vanilla. Using a teaspoon, spread the chocolate mixture over the cookie. Use the back of the spoon to make a swirl. If you prefer less chocolate, this can also be done with a brush. (If you have used a baking sheet, this process is a little bit messier because it works best if you flip the cookies and add the chocolate to the flat side.)

Allow to remain at room temperature as the chocolate sets. Loosen (but do not remove) the cookies from the muffin or cheesecake tins before covering them with plastic wrap and refrigerating overnight. The next day, the cookies can be removed and stored in the refrigerator in an airtight container with waxed paper between layers. Enjoy!

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