This specialty of Siena is a famous Christmas treat. Panforte (strong bread) is not bread but a firm, chewy sweet made by baking a mixture of nuts, candied fruit, honey and medieval spices. Originally these sweets were sold in apothecaries, where spices were sold, as they were considered to be pharmaceuticals. In Siena the famous pasticceria “Nannini” makes panforte in a light and dark scuro version.
Because of its rich and intense flavor it should be served like candy- cut into very thin wedges and served with after-dinner coffee or Asti Spumante. Of course you can come into the neighborhood to buy an imported panforte, but send a little love from your kitchen by making one from scratch.
- 1 C. hazelnuts, blanched and lightly toasted
- 1 C. almonds, blanched and lightly toasted
- 1 C. candied citron, chopped
- 1/2 C. candied orange peel, chopped
- 1/2 C. candied lemon peel, chopped
- 3/4 C. flour
- 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp. ground cloves
- 1/4 tsp. ground coriander
- 1/4 tsp. ground allspice
- 1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
- 1/8 tsp. ground white pepper
- 3/4 C. sugar
- 3/4 C. honey
- confectioners edible wafer paper (rice paper) or parchment paper
- unsalted butter for the pan
- 2 T. flour mixed with 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
- confectioners sugar
Prepare a 9-inch springform pan by lining the bottom with confectioners edible wafer paper. Butter the paper and the sides of the pan and flour with the mixture of flour and cinnamon. Reserve some of this flour mixture to sift over the panforte before baking.
Preheat the oven to 300°F.
Coarsely chop the hazelnuts and half of the almonds. In a large bowl, mix the candied fruits with the flour and assorted spices. Combine the sugar and honey in a saucepan and slowly bring it to a boil. Simmer for about 2 minutes without stirring after it comes to a boil. Add the sugar syrup to the candied fruits and flour, stirring vigorously with a wooden spoon until well blended. Immediately scrape the dough into the prepared pan. Wet the palm of one hand and pat the mixture into the pan, making the top as flat as possible. Sift some of the reserved flour/cinnamon mixture over the panforte through a small fine strainer.
Bake in the preheated oven for about 30-40 minutes. Check occasionally to see that the dough does not come to a boil. It might seem undercooked, but will harden as it cools. Cool on a rack for 10 minutes, then with the tip of a small knife, loosen the panforte and remove the side of the pan. Slide a knife or spatula under the panforte to loosen it from the bottom of the pan and slide it onto a rack to cool. If parchment paper was used, invert and peel it off after the panforte has cooled. Brush the flour and cinnamon away from the top of the panforte and sprinkle with confectioners sugar before serving. Serve in very thin wedges.
Panforte scuro (dark version): Follow the same recipe as for light panforte, but decrease the citron to 1/2 C. and add 1/2 C. dried figs and 1-2 T. bitter cocoa powder.