Being a lover of candied fruit, toasted nuts, and spice, Panforte has always been appealing to me, even as a child. An Italian confection of sorts, somewhere between candy and fruitcake, Panforte is dense and rich with the the traditional smells of the Christmas season.
Panforte dates back to 13th century Siena originally prepared by the monks of a local monastery. The ingredients were costly thereby making Panforte a rather fashionable sweet of the noble classes. History notes that slices of the rather durable Panforte were carried by the Crusaders to sustain them during long ventures.
Recipes for Panforte vary from family to family, village to village and are often well kept secrets. Tuscan shops, particularly those in the provence of Sienna feature numerous varieties. Some are lighter in color, others with cocoa, and the more traditional with candied melon which is said to be an ingredient hailing back to Medieval days.
This recipe from the newly released cookbook Sweets by Yotam Ottolenghi & Helen Goh intrigued me as it included not only cocoa powder but an amount of bittersweet chocolate. The chocolate added a nice balance to the sweetness of the honey and the spices. The finished Chocolate Panforte is a bit firmer than some of the more traditional versions due to the fact that the chocolate obviously hardens once cooled.
Panforte has a mysteriousness linked to it, perhaps the result of the historical accounts of its origins or maybe the allure of spices used. There is nothing difficult or complicated about preparing Chocolate Panforte, the single most important factor is to be certain that the nuts and spices are as fresh as possible and that the fruits are of the highest quality. Refrain from using supermarket candied fruits, as there are many quality products on the market.
Chocolate Panforte, is to be enjoyed in thin slices with perhaps a Vin Santo after dinner or with a well selected piece of cheese. It couldn’t be easier to prepare and makes an ideal addition to a cookie tray or if you are feeling generous, an impressive gift for a special friend.
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- 1 cup of whole blanched hazelnuts
- 1 cup of whole blanched almonds
- 7 ounces of candied orange peel, in ⅓ inch pieces
- 3½ ounces of dried figs, stemmed and chopped into ⅓ inch pieces
- Grated zest of one large organic orange
- 1¾ cups plus 3 tablespoon of all purpose flour
- 1 cup Dutch-processed cocoa
- 2 tsp. ground cinnamon
- 1 tsp. ground ginger
- ½ tsp. ground cardamon
- ½ tsp. ground cloves
- ½ tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
- ½ tsp. sea salt
- ½ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
- 5½ ounces of 70% dark chocolate, roughly chopped
- ¾ cup plus 1 tablespoon of honey
- ¾ cup plus 1 tablespoon of granulated sugar
- You can either use a 9 inch springform pan or an 8 inch square pan, in both cases grease well and line with parchment paper, grease the parchment paper. Using the square pan is recommended if you are cutting the Panforte into pieces to add to a cookie tray or wrap and give as holiday gifts.
- Preheat the oven to 350 º.
- Spread the hazelnuts and almonds on a baking sheet and roast for about 10 minutes or until they are light brown and fragrant. Reduce the temperature of the oven to 250 º and allow the nuts to remain in the oven if you are proceeding with the Panforte at this time. If not, remove the toasted nuts, reserve and warm when you are ready to proceed with the recipe.
- Place the chopped candied orange peel, figs and orange peel in a large bowl and combine with a wooden spoon or with your hands.
- Sift together the flour, cocoa powder, spices, salt and pepper twice, the second time sift directly over the fruit. Combine the dry ingredients well with the fruit to insure that the fruit is evenly coated.
- Placed the chopped chocolate in a small heatproof bowl over a pan of barely simmering water, making sure that the bottom of the bowl does not touch the water - standard procedure for melting chocolate. Stir every so often to insure that all of the chocolate is melted. Once the chocolate has melted, turn off the flame however leave the bowl on top of the hot water to keep the chocolate warm.
- Have a candy thermometer ready at the stove. Place the sugar and honey in a small saucepan over low heat, stirring from time to time. As soon as the sugar dissolves stop stirring and increase the heat to high. Allow the mixture to simmer until the syrup has reached 237º, the soft boil stage. The syrup comes to the correct temperature rather quickly, so keep a close watch. If the temperature rises about 237º, the recipe will still work but the panforte will be firmer.
- Carefully pour the hot syrup over the chopped fruit and dry ingredients, add the warmed nuts straight from the oven. Adjust the oven temperature once again to 350º.
- Pour the warm melted chocolate over the fruit and nuts and immediately stir everything together. Having the nuts warm will help the mixture come together as this is a very dense batter. The mixture will be thick and rather difficult to combine, have faith it will be fine.
- Turn the mixture into the prepared pan with a large wooden spoon or spatula. Dampen your fingers and pat down so that it is even.
- Bake for 18 minutes until the Panforte is set but not too hard. Remove from the oven and cool completely in the pan before slicing it into segments or bars. The Panforte keeps quite well, wrapped in plastic and stored in a cool dry place. It is actually better after a week when the flavors begin to develop. This is a very rich sweet and thin slices or small segments are all that is needed.