A Winter Treat
Panforte is a traditional Italian dessert that hails from the city of Siena in Tuscany. It is a dense, fruitcake-like confection made with a mixture of nuts, dried fruit, spices, and honey.
One of the unique features of Panforte is its rich history. It is said to have originated in the Middle Ages as a medicinal treat that was believed to have health benefits. In fact, the word "panforte" means "strong bread" in Italian, a reference to its fortifying qualities.
Over time, panforte has become a beloved holiday treat in Tuscany and beyond. It is often enjoyed during Christmas and other festive occasions and is a staple at markets and fairs throughout the region.
Making panforte is a time-honored tradition that involves mixing together a variety of ingredients, including almonds, hazelnuts, candied orange peel, and raisins. The mixture is then combined with honey and spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves. The result is a treat that is packed with flavour and especially a favourite in the colder winter months.
When staying at one of the stunning Plinius holiday retreats in Tuscany, be sure to ask for Panforte. It is a delicious and unique dessert that is sure to satisfy your sweet tooth.
- sunflower or vegetable oil, for greasing
- edible rice paper (see recipe tip)
- 125g/4½oz whole, blanched almond
- 100g/3½oz shelled walnut pieces
- 75g/2¾oz shelled pistachios
- 100g/3½oz candied peel, whole chunks if you can, finely chopped
- 100g/3½oz dried figs, chopped
- 100g/3½oz stoned dates, chopped
- 50g/1¾oz dried apricots, chopped
- 75g/2¾oz plain flour
- 1 tbsp cocoa powder
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- ½ tsp mixed spice
- ½ tsp ground ginger
- 200g/7oz runny honey
- 200g/7oz golden caster sugar
- 2 tbsp marsala or sweet-medium sherry
- icing sugar, to dust
Heat the oven to 180C/160C Fan/Gas 4. Grease the base of a 20cm/8in springform or loose-bottomed cake tin with a little of the oil, then line it with edible rice paper (or baking paper if you can’t find it). Tip the almonds onto a baking tray and roast for 5–8 minutes, or until lightly golden brown. Remove and set aside to cool. Lower the oven temperature to 150C/Fan 130C/Gas 2.
When the almonds are cool enough to handle, roughly chop with the walnuts and pistachios. Tip into a mixing bowl with all the dried fruit, flour, cocoa, and spices. Mix together.
Heat the honey, sugar, and marsala (or sherry), in a saucepan over medium heat until the sugar has melted. Allow to bubble for 3 minutes. Carefully pour over the fruit-nut mixture and mix through. Scrape into the tin and use a wet spoon to press the mixture down into a firm, flat cake. Bake for 1 hour – 1 hour 10 minutes, or until the surface is still soft, but not sticky to the touch.
Cool the panforte in the tin for 10 minutes, then carefully run a palette knife around the edge to release, and remove from the tin. If using edible paper, keep on, otherwise remove the baking paper. Cool completely on a wire rack, then dust thickly with icing sugar. Cut into thin wedges to serve.
This keeps well for a month after making it, so why not gift it to friends and family at Christmas? Just wrap well in baking parchment first, or use pretty tins.
If you can't find edible rice paper you can use baking paper instead and peel it off after the panforte has cooled.
Recipe by the talented ~ Sarah Cook