Tuesday, December 20, 2011


Panforte, the traditional Tuscan Christmas confection, is not for the faint of heart.  Its flavors are bold.  So is its texture. That’s not surprising since the recipe includes 18 ingredients, most of which are nuts and dried fruits. But what would panforte be without its stars: nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, black pepper, and coriander?  I am all about spicy tastes this time of year.  I love Danish pebernødder nearly as much as the traditional gingerbread cookies I grew up making in the U.S.  I also make a wonderful fig butter that consists of dried figs stewed in a vat of wine, port, sugar, star anise, cloves, and cinnamon until the mixture is soft, thick, and syrupy.  It makes a wonderful gift.

So does panforte.  Apart from the taste, smell, and dramatic look of this chewy, fruit- and nut-studded cake, it’s most special when shared.  I cut mine into large wedges and wrap in baking paper for a rustic look.  I tie each bundle with a piece of brown twine or red and white checkered ribbon and suggest recipients enjoy a small slice with a mug of hot tea or coffee.

The other reason that panforte is not to be taken lightly is that it takes some planning and time to pull it all together.  There is nothing particularly difficult about it, unless you find candying your own fruit peel difficult.  In that case, see if you can buy some.  I treated the recipe like a puzzle that I worked on over time--three days to be exact.  I find it much more manageable, not to mention enjoyable, if I break a recipe like this down into steps.  First, I candied the quince.  And please, do not let an  inaccessibility to quince stop you from making panforte.  Just up the candied orange peel or substitute another candied fruit.

The day after I conquered the quince, I moved on to the orange peel.  I find that putting the fruit to cook on a back burner while I make dinner or wash dishes is the best way to accomplish this task.  I stored both batches of candied fruit in my fridge for a day and worked on toasting the nuts.  Then came the assembly.  The prep time was key.  Had I attempted to complete the whole thing in one shot I would have been annoyed, tired, and hurrying to finish it.  Instead, the assembly was a breeze and I could relax while patiently awaiting the finished product.

Adapted from Tartine Cookbook and The Wednesday Chef

8oz / 225g candied quince, strained and coarsely chopped
3oz / 100g candied orange peel, strained and coarsely chopped
1c / 225g dates, pitted and coarsely chopped
1c / 225g prunes, pitted and coarsely chopped
3/4c / 175g currants
2T / 30g grated orange zest
1T / 15g grated lemon zest
1c / 225g lightly toasted unsalted pistachios
2c / 450g well-toasted hazelnuts
2c / 450g well-toasted almonds
2/3c / 150g flour
1/2c / 115g cocoa powder
1T / 15g ground cinnamon
Freshly grated nutmeg from 1 1/2 nutmegs
3/4t / 7g ground coriander
3/4t / 7g freshly ground black pepper
3/4t / 7g ground cloves
3/4c / 175g honey
1 1/3c / 325g granulated sugar
1/4c / 60g powdered sugar


1. Heat the oven to 160 degrees. Butter a 26cm springform pan, line with parchment paper, and butter the parchment, making sure to butter the sides of the pan well.

2. In a large mixing bowl, combine the candied quince and orange zest, dates, currants, orange and lemon zest, and all of the nuts. Sift together the flour, cocoa powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, coriander, pepper and cloves over the fruits and nuts. Mix well. Set aside.

3. In a deep, heavy saucepan, combine the honey and granulated sugar over medium-high heat. Stir gently with a wooden spoon from time to time to make sure that no sugar is sticking to the bottom of the pan. Bring to a boil and cook until the mixture registers 120 degrees on a thermometer, about 3 minutes. The mixture will be frothy and boiling rapidly.

4. Remove from the heat and immediately pour over the fruit-and-flour mixture in the bowl. Stir with a wooden spoon to incorporate the syrup thoroughly with the other ingredients. Work quickly at this point; the longer the mixture sits, the firmer it becomes.

5. Transfer to the springform pan and smooth the top with a rubber spatula dipped in water. Bake until the top is slightly puffed and looks like a brownie, about 1 hour. Cool in the pan on a wire rack for 30 minutes. Run a knife around the edge to loosen and turn out of the pan and cool completely.

6. Sift powdered sugar over the top, bottom and sides of the panforte. Lightly tap it over the counter to shake off excess sugar. It will keep, well wrapped, in a cool, dry place for up to 2 weeks, or indefinitely in the refrigerator. 

1 comment:

  1. Panforte has Christmas written all over it. Makes a perfect Christmas gift!