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Pan forte Italian Christmas Cake

Even before the holidays get started, I always make sure that I’ve got all the ingredients on hand to make one of my very favorites desserts: Panforte. Honey, cocoa powder, almonds and hazelnuts I usually have around, for sure, and I make sure to make a batch of candied citron when I find citrons at the market, too.

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 went once and brought me back an overwhelming assortment of different kinds of panforte di Siena for me to sample. And let me tell you — I was beyond thrilled to have so many to try.

Pan forte Italian Christmas Cake

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 on hand.

Pan forte Italian Christmas Cake

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 who long-ago heavily taxed imported goods. Hence folks started using red pepper, which could be grown right in their own yards 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 used both in mine. To my taste, this panforte is just right; not too spicy and not too sweet. I love it with dark coffee in the afternoon and a wedge makes a lovely holiday gift.

Pan forte Italian Christmas Cake

You can certainly take some liberties with this recipe, swapping out other kinds of nuts or candied fruit: candied orange will do nicely, and if you don’t want to make your own candied fruit, you can buy good-quality candied fruit in well-stocked grocery stores and spice markets. It’s best cut into thin wedges and because it’s forte, a good sharp knife is helpful to have on hand for slicing this.


To skin hazelnuts, rub the still-warm toasted nuts in a tea towel, to get off as much of the skins as possible. The nuts can be toasted in a 350ºF/180ºC oven for about 10 minutes first. If you want to make your own candied citron, you can find my recipe at that link. You'll often see Panforte baked on rice paper (or made of another edible starch), which is harder to get than parchment paper. You can buy sheets of wafer paper online, and cut them to size.
  • 5 tablespoons (40g) unsweetened cocoa powder, (Dutch-process or natural)
  • 2 1/2 cups (325g) nuts; any mix of walnuts, almonds, or hazelnuts, toasted
  • 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 chili 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
  • Preheat the oven to 325ºF (160ºC.)
  • Spray a 9 to 10-inch (22-23cm) springform pan with nonstick spray. Dust the inside with cocoa powder, making sure to get it up the sides. Line the bottom with a round of parchment paper.
  • In a large bowl, mix together the cocoa powder, nuts, flour, candied citrus, cinnamon, ginger, black pepper, nutmeg, and red chile powder. Use your fingers to make sure all the ingredients are separate.
  • Melt the chocolate in a small bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Set aside.
  • In a pan fitted with a candy thermometer, heat the sugar and honey until the temperature reads 240ºF (115ºC.)
  • Pour the hot honey syrup over the nut mixture, add the melted chocolate, 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.
  • Bake the panforte for 30 – 35 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



    • anuja

    wow looks so yummy and rustic

    • everyday-vegetarian-recipes

    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….

    • Evitaa

    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 :).

    • tony

    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! .

    • jobeth_b

    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.

    • Francesca

    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!

    • Natasha

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

    • ileana

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

    • Maureen

    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.

    • Susie

    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.

    • Sarah B. Hood

    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!

    • Chrissy @ My Fare Foodie

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

    • Claudia

    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.

    • David
    David Lebovitz

    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 ; )

    • Isabella

    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!

    • Kim Adie

    Wonderful! Thanks for this article.

    • Kiki

    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.

    • Margaret

    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.

    • Sharon T

    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!

    • deborah

    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.


    • Edwina

    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.

    • Norine

    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 :-).

      • David
      David Lebovitz

      There’s a panna cotta recipe on the site, at the link..

    • Amber

    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!

    • Sweet Freak

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

    • Linda H

    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.

    • Flor de Maria

    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

      • Krystn

      @ Flor : Market Hall Foods website – excellent candied citron .

    • Bernie Wong

    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.

    • Bernie Wong

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

    • Linda

    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.

    • Don Jacobson

    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!

    • la domestique

    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.

    • lien

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

    • Michelle

    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!

    • Toby

    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.

      • David
      David Lebovitz

      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.

    • Kiran

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

    • Phyllis Kirigin

    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.

    • emmycooks

    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.

    • heidipie

    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.

    • Colleen at A Curry of a Life

    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!

    • Bradford Lewis

    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!

    • Bradford Lewis

    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!

    • Abra from French Letters

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

    • Gavrielle

    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.

    • mimi

    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?

    • David
    David Lebovitz

    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.

    • Skye from Skye Loves…

    Love love love panforte. Cannot wait to make this.

    • Santiagos

    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.

    • Sweet Basil

    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)

    • Sandy Castro

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

    • David
    David Lebovitz

    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.

    • Gillian

    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?

    • Jane in Denmark

    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.

    • AdriBarr

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

    • Lynn

    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!!

    • Vicky

    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.

    • Julia M

    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!

    • stacey snacks

    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!

    • Steffi

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

    • linda

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

    • stacey snacks

    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!


    • Venessa

    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.

    • Roberta

    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!

    • Karen Brown

    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

    • Julia {The Roasted Root}

    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.

    • Jo Torr

    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….

      • David
      David Lebovitz

      How do you think all those Italian grandmothers get those amazing biceps? ; )

    • denise

    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.

    • amy

    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!

    • amy

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

    • kat

    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

    • Colleen at A Curry of a Life

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

    • denise

    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.

    • Mireya Merritt @Healthy Eating Habits

    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.

    • Margaret

    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:
    After that, I had to have a go: 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.


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