I’ve been going through my kitchen cabinets, and refrigerator…and freezer…and desk drawers, which has meant unearthing all sorts of odds and ends. Some were long-forgotten for a reason, and others brought back fond memories. Like the Pyrex glass container in my refrigerator encasing some remarkably well-preserved slices of candied citron. When I pulled the sticky citrus sections out, I realized that they don’t look quite as pretty as they did last year – which is okay, because neither do I – but they still tasted great. And the flavor of candied citron prompted me to make something I love: panforte.
Panforte is traditionally found in Tuscany. Or more specifically, in Siena, a place I’ve not been. But if I did go, I probably would never leave because a friend did go once and was kind enough to bring me back a huge assortment of different kinds of panforte di Siena for me to sample. And let me tell you — I (and my dentist) were beyond thrilled.
Technically speaking – and I know you’re out there – this is panpepato, or spiced bread, in Italian. And speaking of fact-checkers, one might be able to quibble with Italians calling this “bread”, since it more closely resembles a fruitcake or another confection of some sort. But I’ve learned not to argue with Italians, unless there’s unlimited amounts of red wine (and salumi) on hand.
I’ve been told that Italians in some regions don’t use black pepper because it was imported, and they were upset with the people who oversaw the ports (namely in Pisa), who long-ago taxed imports very high. Hence folks started using red pepper, which could be grown right in their own backyards or fields out yonder, and didn’t need to use that pricey black pepper anymore.
Perhaps someone was just telling me a story. So just to be on the safe side, I’ve used both. To my taste, this panforte is quite lively but not too hot. There’s the simmering heat from a good dose of black pepper (don’t be scared by the quantity) with a hint of zippy chile powder. I think it’s just right.
Aside from using up some of my American cocoa powder, Mexican chile powder, and finishing off a few of the many half-empty jars lingering in my French honey collection, I finally pulled a bottle of Amaro off the shelf that I was saving for no apparent reason other than I liked looking at the pretty bottle from time to time, and poured a few glasses to drink alongside.
If you haven’t had Amaro, it’s a wonderful Italian digestive; slightly bitter, but not as aggressive as Fernet-Branca. So it can be sipped and savored, rather than tolerated. But not that you’ll need any help digesting this panforte. In fact, it’s pretty good with a shot of strong espresso, or simply on its own.
About 16 servings
Panforte is best served cut into thin wedges. You can use any kinds of nuts you like – I prefer a mix of hazelnuts and almonds. To skin hazelnuts, rub the still-warm toasted nuts in a tea towel, to get off as much of the skins as possible. You can use another candied fruit, whatever is available.
5 tablespoons (40g) unsweetened cocoa powder (Dutch-process or natural)
2 1/2 cups (325g) nuts; any mix of walnuts, almonds, or hazelnuts, toasted and very coarsely chopped
- 3/4 cup (110g) flour
- 1 cup (200g) chopped candied citron or another candied citrus
- 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
- 2 teaspoons ground ginger
- 1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
- pinch of grated nutmeg
- 1/2 teaspoon red chile powder
- 3 ounces (85g) bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
- 1 cup (200g) sugar
- 3/4 cup (210g) honey
- extra cocoa powder, for dusting the pan
- powdered sugar, for dusting the panforte
1. Preheat the oven to 325ºF (162ºC.)
2. Line the bottom of a 9- to 10-inch (22-23cm) springform pan with parchment paper. Spray the pan with nonstick spray and dust the inside with cocoa powder, making sure to get it up the sides.
3. In a large bowl, mix together the cocoa powder, nuts, flour, candied citrus, cinnamon, ginger, black pepper, nutmeg, and red chile powder.
4. Melt the chocolate in a small bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Remove from heat and stir it into the nut mixture.
5. In a pan fitted with a candy thermometer, heat the sugar and honey until the temperature reads 240ºF (115ºC.)
6. Pour the hot honey syrup over the nut mixture and stir well. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. I start by using a spatula and as the mixture cools, once it’s cool enough to touch, I use a dampened hand to get it flat.
7. Bake the panforte for 35 – 40 minutes; the center will feel soft, like just-baked custard, and if you touch it, your finger will come away clean when it’s done. Let the panforte cool on a wire rack for 15 minutes, then run a knife around the edge to loosen it from the pan. Remove the springform carefully (sticky edges might tear, so keep an eye out), then let cool completely.
Once cool, remove the bottom of the springform pan and peel away the parchment paper. Sprinkle the panforte with powdered sugar and rub it in with your hands.
Storage: Panforte can be kept for several months, well wrapped, at room temperature.
Related Links and Recipes
Panforte (King Arthur Flour)
Panforte (Divina Cucina)
Candied Citrus Peel (Simply Recipes)
Panforte with Candied Quince (Wednesday Chef)