Panforte

panforte

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.

honey, chile, cocoa powder

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.

candied citron almonds

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 are unlimited amounts of red wine (and salumi) on hand.

panforte

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 heavily taxed imported goods. 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 the pricey black pepper.

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.

panforte panforte

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. 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.

Panforte

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; if you touch it, your finger will come away clean when it’s done. (Do not overcook it, or it will be too firm once cooled.) 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

Chocolate FAQs

Cocoa Powder FAQs

Panforte (King Arthur Flour)

Panforte (Divina Cucina)

Fruitcake Bars

Candied Citrus Peel (Simply Recipes)

Panforte with Candied Quince (Wednesday Chef)

Chocolate Tart

Candied citron recipe

77 comments

  • wow looks so yummy and rustic

  • I’ve never made panforte but I’m quite the expert at eating it! My local Italian grocer has made sure it has been as big a part of my Christmas as mince pies these last few years. (Is it considered a Christmas cake in Italy? Stacks of it appear in his shop at that time of the year) Yours actually looks beautifully moist compared to most I’ve tried so finally I am tempted to start making my own….

  • Luv it. I fell in love with panforte last year when I was trying to bake it for the first time. It’s really great.
    Your looks delicious :).

  • We had this and often while in Tuscany and I’d love to make one. Thanks for the recipe! Oh and some things do taste better with age, too! .

  • Glace ginger is totally awesome in panforte. And drink amaretto with panforte. Oh yes. I am sitting in a mediocre hotel room in Sydney after working a 12 hour day with no minibar :( . I want to eat panforte to make me feel better.

  • I’m very happy to see in your blog the recipe of this traditional italian christmas cake. the cake has his origin in tuscany, very famous ist the panforte from siena. the original panforte has a host or wafer on the bottom. I will try this recipe!

  • Looks fantastic. Do you think you could use marmalade instead of candied peel, and lessen the amount of sugar or honey?

  • This looks great! Is there any good substitute for Amaro?

  • Looks wonderful. I had no idea you could keep panforte for that long. Good to know. :)

    Looking forward to what else you find as you prepare for the move.

  • I see you’re using a non-serrated knife. I know it’s likely quite sharp, based on your previous posts on the subject. Is that the key to getting a clean slice through baked goods with nuts? So often the nuts pull out, making my cuts look quite ragged.

  • Lucky David for having such nice things at the back of the cupboard. I mainly have pasta fragments. I adore panforte, which I get from an annual Christmas market here in Toronto, and am most pleased to know that it can be made so quickly; I had imagined it would take hours in a slow oven. Thanks for posting this!

  • I like that you covered all your bases for all those smarty-pants readers. Looks delish!

  • I’ve never made panforte with pepper – definitely must do it again – t’s always been a Christmas treat here. I’m inclined to agree with the story of black pepper and taxes – just sounds so wonderfully Italian.

  • Susie: I just use a long, very sharp chef’s knife. (It’s sharp because I don’t let anyone else use it!)

    Claudia: It sounds plausible to me, too, although I couldn’t find any direct references to it online to back up the claim. But I do know the Tuscans don’t put salt in their bread – even nowadays… when a pinch of salt costs almost nothing. I guess they hold grudges ~

    Francesca: I used to use (edible) rice paper when I lived in San Francisco, but am not sure where to find that here in Paris. But happily, using parchment paper works well, too.

    Chrissy: I’m learning ; )

  • I tried your panforte icecream from perfect scoop and it is amazing, I have done it many times now, I think this also will be a staying recipe!

  • Wonderful! Thanks for this article.

  • oh, another winner! i love, love, love panforte. and let me tell you, you can visit Siena under one condition: you have a delicate skin…. this ensures that you leave this absolutely wonderful place because it gets hot beyond bearing. i was twice, once end of march, and the 2nd time end of april. i nearly died of the heat that get’s caught up like in a bowl… but dio mio, it’s a brilliant place to be!
    i wouldn’t dream of making my own panforte but i get it whenever and wherever i can and i (too) cut it with one of those deadly knives without ‘teeth’ but sharp, oh so sharp. it seems to me that panforte doesn’t want to be eaten and thereore tries to resists the cutting as long as possible :)
    i am amazed at the things you find in your cupboard – sounds fascinating ;)
    thank you for this brilliant post and the stunning photos.

  • I love the combination of pepper and chocolate. There’s a restaurant in San Antonio that serves chocolate cookies that have cayenne pepper in them for brunch on the weekends. They’re so tender and moist, almost like little round cakes. Saveur magazine featured them in their 100 issue a few years ago, but they changed the original recipe.

  • My first attempt at making panforte was a few years ago after returning from Italy. It was ok, but did not meet my expectations. Perhaps I will try again with this recipe. Thank you!

  • Great way to use up the glazed citron in my icebox, which – as you say – looks a little wierd but tastes great. Still, it does need to be used.

    Thanks
    dws

  • David, as someone who is married to an Italian I know what you mean when you say not to argue with them about food:) I once had the great pleasure of listening in to a conversation at a bar in Milano between 2 elderly Italian gentleman. You would have thought that they would be talking about football, but no, they were discussing the merits of a good pizza! Only in Italy. I too love panforte and this past Christmas made a gluten and refined sugar free version which even The Italian rated as rather good. I never used pepper or chile, so will definitely try my gluten free version with these next time.

  • Okay, I’ll try the pepper. I know I like spicy gingersnaps, why not in panforte. BTW, I do love pannacotta. Is that something in your gigantic repertoire? All that cool creaminess and fruit after a heavier Italian meal. Heaven on top of heaven :-).

  • I’m inspired! I have enjoyed eating panforte (once under a blossoming orange tree while sipping homemade chai tea–I think that might land in my top 5 eating experiences of all time), and love your recipe. I like the idea of adding black pepper. I like my sweet with a little kick. Thanks for another fantastic kitchen idea!

  • I’ve never heard of panforte – sounds, and looks, like another winner! As does the Amaro pairing…

  • David, you would love Siena, and Lucca, and even better, Orvieto. After you get settled in your new place and want to take a trip again, try some of the smaller places in Italy. They are wonderful.

  • Loved your posting–which sent me on a search. Do you know if we can get Citron here is in the States? And, what would you call it? Thanks

  • I am so glad you made panforte!! It looks delicious. I tried making some a few years ago and it was a total disaster, hard as a rock. I haven’t been brave enough to try again but now after seeing this, I am ready to tackle it again. I have some candied citron and orange peel lurking about in the pantry so I’m definitely going to try making this recipe soon.

  • Hi Flor, I got my candied Citron here in the states at local gourmet market, Whole Foods and Fresh Market also carry it.

  • One glance at the photo and I swooned. I love panforte in all its forms. Sienna was a highlight of my one and only Italian trip and I would return in a heartbeat, went in the Fall and loved everything about it. I had mixed results from my one attempt at panforte years ago. Maybe I will have a chance to try your recipe this year. My kitchen remodeling has been stalled for over a year now but is about to get going again.

  • David, I am so glad I found your blog and subscribed! Your posts always get my mouth watering. This looks and sounds delicious!!! Can’t wait to try it. Keep em coming!

  • Dried chilies are the ingredient of the week at la Domestique, and I love the idea of this beautiful panforte! Chocolate and the heat of chile is such a great combination, and I like to chase the building heat with a sip of coffee. It’s the perfect dessert/snack to warm you through on a bitterly cold winter’s day.

  • Thanks David for the recipe, the bread look so delicious, i love to try it out. Is the temperature in step 5 important?

  • In my imagination, I just went to Paris, and I was eating this panforte and drinking a perfect cup of coffee mid-afternoon. Looks so perfect!

  • Love your work, so thank you for sharing so much. For florentines and panforte, where do you suggest i purchase candied rinds and glaceed cherries in Paris? Thanks for advise.

    • G. Detou has a pretty extensive selection of candied and glacéed fruit. Some of the Arab and Asian markets in Belleville and in other parts of the city sometimes carry them as well.

  • I never had any regard for fruit cakes before.. But I am liking the idea of panforte. That looks absolutely yummy :)

  • Your photo of candied citron glitters. I was surprised to learn how easy it is to make. I experimented with just one grapefruit and got a whole pint of candied (or glaceed) grapefruit peel with its syrup. Beautiful and transparent. So far I have chopped up some of them and used them in muffins. Now I plan to dip some in chocolate.
    The syrup is great, too.

  • Well, this is my comeuppance for being lazy. When you wrote about candying that citron last year I was ALL OVER IT, I was definitely going to…and I didn’t. So now I don’t have a hidden stash to discover so I can make this. This year I’m going to do it, I really am.

  • Thank you for the post! I am powerless before panforte. Wondering if you have a date (within a century) for the story about the prohibitive taxes on black pepper. After all, they didn’t get to grow chilies until after Columbus brought them back, right? Very curious.

  • I learned a trick for quickly peeling hazelnuts from “Baking with Julia” on an episode with Alice Medrich. Boil 2 cups of water and add 3 tablespoons. Add the hazelnuts and let boil for 3 minutes. Then drain them and place them in an ice bath and the skins will rub right off!

  • Excellent job David. This baked item not known as well as it should ( no evidence of that from the comments here though) and would be a great thing to keep around for late night blogging snacks. Keep up the good work!

  • For peeling hazelnuts quickly, I like to roast them in a hot oven, throw them in a towel and make a little bag out of it. Then i roll this towel bag around on the table until i think that i’ve been doing it for way to long. the nuts rub all of the skins off of each other. Just make sure they’re very hot when you start!

  • I’m puzzled by your golden citron, because I always thought that cedrat was citron, and it’s definitely a luminous green. Any insight?

  • Do you have any suggestions for what to wrap it in for storage, David? The last time I made panforte I wrapped it in tinfoil and ended up peeling it off scrap by scrap. It’s a sticky little devil, and I’m not sure what would be good for storage without it getting welded to the panforte.

  • David,
    I’m trying to cook gluten-free for my teen daughter (won’t go into it further).

    Do you think substituting rice flour or some mix of gluten-free flour/starch would work?

  • Abra: Cedrat is French for citron, and most of the citron you see in France is from Corsica. (There’s a picture of some in my post about Le Bonbon au Palais.) Perhaps they use unripe citron, although I know in the states, a lot of the candied citron that you buy in the supermarket is tinted green for reasons I don’t understand.

    Gavrielle: I wrap it in plastic film, then foil.

    mimi: I have no experience with gluten-free flours but perhaps something like corn flour or (gluten-free) oat flour or buckwheat might work?

    heidipie: I tried to find a reference to it for confirmation, but I couldn’t. Although the person who told me a few years ago is pretty knowledgeable about Tuscany. If anyone has any information, I’d love to know more as well.

  • Love love love panforte. Cannot wait to make this.

  • Um, just my two cents regarding Fernet. Its really good with sparkling water and freshly squeezed lemon juice, a la Cinzano lets say. Of course, you can drink it with coke, like we do in argentina. Personally, i like it 7 parts coke, 3 parts fernet and refresh with lemon juice. Drink it cold, i mean it.

    Btw, panforte rocks.

  • You have become my Guru Mr. Lebovits!
    Only discovered you because of “Flow Films”
    Many,(30) years ago I stopped in Siena on the way to San Giminiano (wine country)
    “The must” was, “senora here is a shop where you could buy Pan Forte”
    While the kids (2) ran around the piazza happily chasing pigeons they could never catch, (my husband hit a cafe for an aperitif) I stood in line having a new adventure, Mmmm….Pan Forte:)))) I bought quite a few…..
    Of all things, “today” You give out the recipy and now I’m off to make it (bying 6 organic lemons) but have all the ingrediences actually in the cupbord
    A millon Thanks for the Tart Tatin recipy, (my favorite in the world) which I made again myself after 30 years.(in an old cast iron pan)
    Heavenly!!!!!!

  • David,
    Love panaforte but scared to try and make, as you said the candied fruit here is questionable. Where is Amaro available.

  • Sweet Freak and Sandy: I bought mine in Italy but it’s something you’d be able to find in a (very) well-stocked liquor store, depending on where you live. (Especially with all the interest in hip cocktails and liquors, in America..if that’s where you live.) Or try a shop that specializes in Italian products.

  • I discovered panforte while visiting Sienna and fell immediately in love. They had the most amazing winter market where I must have sampled 10 kinds of panforte along with dried meats and fell into the happiest of food comas.

    Question – do you think this recipe would work without the flour? Or could I possibly sub almond flour?

  • This looks like a wonderful rustic treat and is a great excuse to get some more of my favourite amaro, Ramazzotti. (Fernet-Branca is the pits) I will also look out for panforte when we are in Rome later this year – it’s not so far from Siena after all.

  • I love Panforte, and yours looks great. Thanks for the inspiration!

  • The best panforte I ever had was while on a visit to Sienna. So fresh, absolutely delicious, and I am not a fruitcake lover at all. I am definitely going to make your version, would be fresher than the imported version I buy at Christmas!!
    Best time to visit Italy: Fall or spring in my opinion, to avoid the heat!!

  • I never had panforte, it looks really good. It reminds me of “pan de higos” from Spain, but except for the nuts there are no similar ingredients. Thank you for this recipe.

  • I was so excited to read this recipe, I had to make it right away. I just ate my first slice, and it tastes just like the one I had in Siena (and like the imported ones I buy here in the US). Score one for David!

  • I have made many version of Panforte, it is my favorite and so pricey to buy. $20 for one that lasts me 2 days (if that!) from Siena.

    I am going to try your version now!

    Just went to an Amaro tasting in the W. Village (NYC), wasn’t too keen on any of them, most of them very medicinal, like grappa, but perhaps my palette is not sophisticated enough, I am a bourbon drinker!

  • I’ve never tried this before, but I’m certainly going to try now. Awesome, another dessert for my sweet tooth.

  • i love panforte and how it gets better as it AGES.

  • 2 hours later:

    David, I just finished cooling your gorgeous version of Panforte.

    I dusted it and ate 2 slices warm!!!! The BEST I have ever had. Better than Siena! Thank you!

    Stacey

  • This looks excellent! I just candied some kumquats that I had laying around, and this might be just the thing to use up those and some other odds and ends. Yum.

  • I made this within 24 hours, with pecans and almonds, and like you said, all the honey in the house. So beautiful! I nearly broke my arm trying to blend in the syrup, but it was totally worth it! Can’t wait to get home and have a slice with a glass of red wine. Next time I will definitely use the full amount of pepper (I was nervous) and some candied ginger also. Thank you for posting this and other awesome recipes!

  • I never thought of chile powder in panforte, but it makes perfect sense. I adore panforte with a glass of port or a strong espresso. Or just nibbled out of the wrapping, whilst standing in the pantry.
    I once had a panforte in San Gimignano that was quite different from the Sienese kind. It was bright orangey-yellow, very citrusy, packed with almonds and totally divine. The only other thing I remember about it, was that it had some kind of connection with Queen Marguerite. I have searched in vain for anything like it in every Italian grocery I have access to (not a huge number of those here in New Zealand.) Your post has set me to wondering if you or any of your readers would have a recipe for anything like this.
    Till then, I’m going to make this version tonight, and try to restrain myself from eating it all immediately. Cheers from the Antipodes, Karen

  • Hey David, I’m new to your blog, so forgive me if you have already answered this question, but do you ever come and teach in the U.S.? I love your technique and relentless perfection with baked goods – SO the opposite of me! I know I will learn a ton from your blog. ;) Thanks for the inspiration.

  • My panforte is in the oven now and it smells divine, reminds me of G&B Maya Gold chocolate. But it was so difficult to stir the sugar/honey into the rest, and the it didn’t want to come out of the bowl! And I’m not even going to try to work out how I got honey in my hair….

  • Wow…I just made this and I’m in heaven, or at least back in Siena. I used up the citron from last year so there’s more room in my cupboard. Making the honey syrup and pressing it into a cake was interesting. I felt transported back to medieval times. Best of all, no creaming, whipping, separating, or rolling out! This will definitely become one of my go-to deserts.

  • Ohh, yum, yum, YUM! I adore the combination of spice with chocolate, especially when it’s dense like this. And the recipe appears to be naturally gluten-free as well!

  • Oops–I guess it’s not gluten-free, but it could easily be made that way…I mistook the flour for powdered sugar!

  • love panforte! i made a trip to florence last year and all my belongings were stolen. but the one thing i missed most that i couldn’t replace was my panforte! will have to try this recipe

  • I left off my earlier comment: it’s 3 tablespoons of baking soda.

  • I’m just wondering how much stuff you import from the US and how much you’re able to buy here? This photo has Scharfenberger chocolate and rancho gordo chili powder…. I’ve brought back a few things but it’s looking like I might have to pack an extra suitcase next time I visit the states.

  • This sounds delicious, but I was surprised to see there were no figs in the recipe. I was under the assumption that figs were a basic ingredient in panforte.

  • This recipe nearly went viral. I loved the idea of making it, but didn’t get round to it till my friend and fellow blogger Kalba was inspired by your recipe to make it: http://grillou.blogspot.com/2012/02/comfort-cooking-panforte.html.
    After that, I had to have a go: http://margaret21.wordpress.com/2012/02/14/comfort-cooking-snow-4/. We both tweaked it a little bit, but your recipe is at the heart of our efforts. And now we know of others rolling their sleeves up too.
    It’s definitely worth the effort. Wonderful stuff.