Another Christmas favorite of mine is Panforte di Siena. Panforte is an Italian cake that originated in Siena, Italy sometime during the middle ages. It’s packed with candied fruit, nuts, spices, and honey. It sounds like the makings of a fruit cake, but it has a much different flavor and texture. In Italian panforte means strong bread. The cake is dense, sweet, and chewy; it’s eaten in small slices. It lasts about as long as a fruitcake, too.
I first had panforte in an airport in Rome. I bought it as a gift to share with my co-workers. The plane was delayed so I pinched off a small piece and snacked. I found the savory nuts mixed with the candied fruit and honey to be addictive. By the time I arrived in New Jersey, not much of the panforte was left. Shameless!
How to make panforte? It’s easy. There are a few notes of caution.
Make sure you line the springform pan with parchment paper and then spray it with baking spray. If you don’t, it will be difficult to remove the panforte from the bottom of the pan. The honey syrup will seal the cake to the bottom of the pan. You can also use a regular 9-inch cake pan, but I find it’s easy to remove the sides of the springfrom pan by unlocking the sides and exposing the bottom. Once you remove the parchment paper (it will be peeled off), you will need to heavily dust the top then flip it over and dust the bottom of the panforte with confectioner’s sugar. If you don’t the cake will stick to the container. The cake should be white with confectioner’s sugar.
Don’t over broil the nuts. It only takes a few minutes to brown them on all sides. The nuts can burn quickly once they start to turn brown.
Once the honey syrup is ready to pour over the dry ingredients, you’ll need to work quickly. They syrup will stiffen and make it difficult to mix the ingredients. You’ll need to use the back of a heavy spoon or spatula to smooth the top of the mixture before baking.
Buy the candied peel already diced. It’s difficult to dice the candied peel—it sticks to the knife. You can buy mix candied fruit. I bought candied orange and lemon peel and a separate container of pineapple. I mixed the three together. Some panforte recipes use only the candied orange and lemon peel. The pineapple adds a nice flavor to the mix.
There’s really no way of knowing when the cake is done. It doesn’t bake like a traditional cake, so you’ll need to bake it for at least 30 minutes. If it still looks a bit wet, leave it in for another 5 minutes. The cake sets as it cools when the honey syrup mixture stiffens.
Panforte di Siena Recipe
Prep time: 20 m
Cook time: 35 m
Yield: 1 9-inch cake
1 cup skinned hazelnuts
1 cup blanched almonds
3 cups diced candied peel (a mixture of orange, lemon and pineapple)
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
pinch of white pepper
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup honey
2/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Preheat oven to 300°F.
Line an 9-inch springform pan with parchment paper. Spray the parchment paper with baking spray.
Toast the almonds and hazelnuts under the broiler until lightly brown. Set aside to cool.
In a large mixing bowl, toss together nuts, candied fruit peel, spices, salt, and flour.
Combine the sugar, honey, and butter in a saucepan. Cook until mixture reaches the softball stage on a candy thermometer (25o°F) or when the hot mixture forms a soft ball when dropped in a small glass of cold water.
Pour the hot syrup over the dry ingredients and mix quickly before it sets. Pour in pan and smooth the top with the back of a large spoon until even.
Bake 30-35 minutes. Remove from oven and let set until it firms up enough to remove from pan. Remove parchment paper. Heavily dust the top and bottom of panforte with confectioner’s sugar.
Store in a tightly sealed tin at room temperature up to two months.