In Cuba, there is not much to eat. When I was studying there for a month, we had a weekly rotation of dinner menu items that repeated itself over and over. We also had eggs for breakfast every day, though we could chose a variety of egg preparations--omelet, scrambled, fried, hard cooked. (We also had a beautiful array of fresh tropical fruit, though, which helped.)
For lunch, between classes, my friends and I would walk down the street to one of the recently legalized paladares, a restaurant (in this case take-out window) operated out of someone's house. The menu was very limited and every day I would order pollo asado, a huge piece of roasted chicken served with moros y cristianos, a savory mixture of white rice and black beans, and a "salad" of un-dressed shredded green cabbage. (All of this for criminally low price of less than a dollar's worth of Cuban pesos.) The food was very good, but very basic. Cuban food is not spicy and this dish was hardly spiced at all for that matter. (Fancy ingredients and fresh vegetables are hard to come by in Cuba--except at expensive tourist resorts---due to our stubborn embargo. Boo.)
Imagine my surprise then, when I first dined at Pambiche, a lively, vibrant and bountiful Cuban restaurant in Portland. They had my moros y cristianos, but everything else seemed much too elaborate and fancy. Of course it is delicious, but I hardly recognized the food given what I had eaten everyday in Cuba.
Pambiche is the dessert. When I am there I usually eat as little as possible for dinner and save my appetite for the good stuff. They serve some of the best cakes--and most inspired dessert flavor combinations--- I've ever eaten. That first evening, I had the arroz con leche---rice pudding. One of my favorite aspects of the dessert was the edible bowl it was served in---my first encounter with a Florentine cookie--- that delicate, crunchy, lacy caramelized sugar goodness. I've been thinking about it ever since.
Chocolate Covered Honey Florentines
(adapted from Martha Stewart's Cookies)
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 tablespoons packed light brown sugar (I only had dark and it was fine)
- 1 1/2 tablespoons honey
- 2 tablespoons flour
- Pinch of coarse salt
- 4 oz good quality chocolate
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
- Melt Butter, brown sugar and honey in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Transfer to a small bowl. Stir in four and salt until smooth.
- Working quickly, drop 1/2 teaspoons of batter onto lined baking sheets, spacing them about 3 inches apart. Bake cookies until they spread and turn golden brown, about 6 minutes.
- Let cool completely on baking sheets on wire cooling racks. Carefully remove cookies from sheets with your fingers.
- Melt chocolate in a double boiler [or a bowl set over (not touching) a saucepan of simmering water], stirring often. Remove from heat as soon as chocolate is mostly melted, continue stirring until it is fully melted.
- Dip Florentines in chocolate, make chocolate Florentine sandwiches, or use a knife to spread half of each Florentine with melted chocolate.
- Cool and serve.
Makes about 2 dozen cookies