A few hundred years ago in Italy and other European countries, imported and exotic spices were linked to nobility – they were expensive!
Going back to the Middle Ages, panforte (it literally translates to “strong bread”) is a rich fruit and nut cake. It is a specialty of the Tuscan city of Siena. Made with “strong” spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, cardamom and black pepper, panforte is traditionally made at Christmastime.
However, you don’t have to go to Siena to enjoy panforte because I’m sharing my favorite version of this delicacy with you. Happy Holidays to all my Friends!
Active prep time: 25 to 30 minutes
Bake time: 30 minutes
Makes: one 9-inch cake
2 tablespoons butter (to lightly grease a 9-inch round springform cake pan)
Parchment paper, trimmed to a 9-inch round to fit in bottom of cake pan
2/3 cup dried figs, minced
2/3 cup dates, pitted and minced
1/4 cup honey
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon each ground cloves and nutmeg
3/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 cup candied fruit (a mix of lemon and orange rinds and citron)
1 cup mixed white raisins and dried cranberries
3/4 cup unsalted almonds, coarsely chopped (preferably skinned and roasted)
3/4 cup unsalted hazelnuts (roasted first, then skinned), coarsely chopped
1/2 cup unbleached, all-purpose flour
1/4 cup Vin Santo or Sweet Vermouth
Confectioner’s sugar, for dusting
1. Preheat oven to 300°F.
2. Butter the bottom of a springform cake pan and cover it with the parchment round. Set cake pan aside.
3. Place the figs and dates in a 1 to 2-quart saucepot. Add enough water to barely cover the dried fruit. Add the honey, brown sugar and the spices.
4. Cook the fruit-spice mixture on low heat for 4 to 5 minutes. NOTE: TO PREVENT BURNING OR SCORCHING OF THE FRUIT MIXTURE, DO NOT OVERCOOK. IF IT BEGINS TO “SMELL” BURNT, YOU MUST DISCARD IT AND START ALL OVER AGAIN.
5. When the fruit mixture has cooked and reduced for 5 minutes, transfer it to a medium bowl. the fruit mixture should be sticky.
6. Stir the candied fruit and nuts into the hot fruit-spice mixture, mixing well. Stir in the flour and Vin Santo or Vermouth and mix until the mass is sticky.
7. Carefully spoon the panforte mixture into the springform pan. Place the pan on a rack set in center of oven and bake for 30 minutes.
8. After 30 minutes, check to see if the panforte is too soft (undercooked) or if it is firm. If it is too soft, bake the panforte for an additional 5 minutes.
9. Remove the panforte from oven and place it on a counter to cool. When the panforte has cooled but is still a little warm, remove it from pan by releasing the sides. Carefully invert the cake onto a serving platter and peel off the parchment paper.
10. Cool the panforte completely. When cool, generously sprinkle it with confectioner’s sugar and serve the panforte in tiny wedges.
Note: Panforte can be stored, covered with plastic wrap and refrigerated, up to two weeks.
Text and Photograph ©2012 Nancy DeLucia Real