Friday, December 21, 2007
Panforte is a dense chewy confection made with honey, nuts, spice and candied citrus with origins dating back to the Middle Ages in Siena, Italy. It was once used as a tithe to the monasteries at the beginning of each new year, so you will often find it in abundance throughout Italy at this time of year. Each regional shop carries its own distinctive brand. Some say a proper panforte should have 17 ingredients to reflect the 17 different contrade, or city subdivisions, within the city walls. The most famous contrade are the 17 Contrade de Siena that form the teams of the Palio di Siena.
As new ingredients were discovered over the centuries, many different recipes for panforte evolved throughout the regions. The Parenti bakery developed a chocolate one in the 1820’s. There are now three principal varieties, Panforte Margherita, a lighter and sweeter version named after Queen Margherita; Panforte Nero, made with an emphasis on bitter almonds; and my favorite, Panforte Panpepato, typically the highly spiced version that comes from 13th century Siena.
The best recipe I’ve found so far has hazelnuts, almonds, candied citron (or Buddha’s Hand), cocoa and an intriguing combination of spice. It comes from Room for Dessert by David Lebovitz. A warm and personal cookbook, every recipe is timeless, well tested and easily employed. I used to work with one of the recipe testers for the book, so I jumped right in when it was first published in 1999. Over the years, I think I’ve prepared nearly every recipe. David lives in Paris these days and has since published more cookbooks. You can follow his adventures at http://www.davidlebovitz.com/
- You will need a candy thermometer or be able to test for the softball stage (240 degrees).
- I candy Buddha’s Hand each year for panforte. It is an essential ingredient! The unique aroma and flavor will knock you out. And, no! It bears no resemblance to those icky fruits you see in plastic containers! Buddha’s Hand or citron can sometimes be found at farmer’s markets or specialty markets. In an absolute pinch, you can use candied lemon peel.
- I added a pinch of cardamom to the recipe because I just had to.
- You can also bake in eight 3 1/2” tartlet pans for individual gifts.
- Traditionally, panforte is baked on a piece of edible wafer paper to make removal from the pan a bit easier. I use butter and cocoa as stated in the recipe. The trick is to remove from the pan while it is still warm. But if you wish to remain true to tradition, you can order wafer paper online.
- Enjoy with a good cup of coffee or a little glass of vin santo.
adapted from Room for Dessert by David Lebovitz
Makes 1 9 1/2” disc, 16 to 20 servings
5 T unsweetened cocoa, plus 2 teaspoons more for dusting pan
3 oz bittersweet chocolate
1 C hazelnuts, toasted and loose skins removed
1 1/2 C almonds, toasted
3/4 C flour
3/4 C chopped candied citrus peel (preferably candied citron)
1 T ground cinnamon
2 t ground ginger
1 1/2 t freshly ground black pepper
Pinch grated nutmeg
Pinch chili pepper
Pinch of cardamom (optional)
1 C granulated sugar
3/4 C honey
Powdered sugar for dusting
Prepare a 9 1/2" springform pan with butter. Dust with 2 teaspoons of cocoa, tapping out the excess. Preheat your oven to 300 degrees.
Chop chocolate into small pieces and melt in a bowl set over simmering water. Be sure the bowl is not touching the water.
Chop the nuts coarsely but leave a few whole.
Stir together nuts, flour, 5 tablespoons cocoa, candied citrus and spices in a large mixing bowl.
Attach a candy thermometer to a small heavy saucepan. Place granulated sugar and honey in the pan and heat to 240 degrees F.
Mix melted chocolate into nut, fruit and spice mixture. Stir in honey syrup. Work very quickly because the batter will begin to stiffen very rapidly. Transfer batter to prepared pan. Dampen your fingers or the back of a spoon with a bit of water and spread batter evenly, smoothing the surface.
Bake for 50 minutes and cool for about 30 minutes. While still warm, loosen the edges from the pan with a thin knife. Remove from pan with the help of a metal pastry spatula, if necessary. When cooled completely, rub powdered sugar into the top and sides of the panforte with your hands.
Panforte improves with age and will keep up to one year wrapped and packed away in a cool dry place for your journey to the New World. When you open the container, you will be completely blown away by the absolutely other-worldly fragrance of panforte. Buen appetito!