Panforte means “strong bread” and yet the name does it a disservice, as its flavor and texture is much more of a confection. Panforte di Siena is Italy’s version of a fruitcake, packed with nuts, dried fruit and candied fruit and held together by cooked sugar and honey syrup. There is a little flour, but really no batter to speak of. It is always spiced, often with a bit of pepper as we include here to add a bit of zip to the rest of the ingredients, which are very sweet. The dessert is dense and chewy, so serve it in slim slices; a little goes a long way. Consider serving it with a glass of Vin Santo, as they often do in Italy.
Images: Peter Muka
- 2 cups toasted, peeled hazelnuts, roughly chopped
- 2 cups toasted, blanched almonds, slivered
- ⅓ cup Calimyrna figs, chopped
- ⅓ cup dates, chopped
- ⅔ cup dried tart cherries, chopped
- ½ cup apricots, chopped
- ½ cup candied orange peel, diced
- 1½ cups all-purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons sifted Dutch-processed cocoa
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon ground ginger
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
- ¼ teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
- 1¼ cups sugar
- ⅔ cup honey
- Confectioners' sugar, optional
- Position rack in middle of oven. Preheat oven to 325°F. Coat an 8-inch round pan with nonstick spray, line bottom with parchment, then spray parchment.
- Toss together the nuts, fruit, orange peel, flour, cocoa and spices in a large bowl. Place sugar and honey in a medium saucepan and stir to combine. Bring to a boil over medium heat and boil for 2 minutes. Remove from heat and pour over dry ingredients. Begin to combine with a wooden spoon; the mixture will be very thick and heavy. Using your hands is easiest. Make sure the dry and wet mixtures are combined evenly. Scrape into prepared pan, patting top smooth with hands. If it is sticky, dampen hands lightly with water to help level out the mixture.
- Bake for about 30 to 40 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center just comes out clean. The Panforte di Siena will not look that much different from when you patted it on the pan, so you need to rely on the toothpick test. Cool on rack for about 10 minutes, then unmold, peel off parchment and cool on rack completely. Store at room temperature, wrapped well in plastic wrap, then placed in an airtight container for 1 week or 1 month if refrigerated. Cut into thin wedges. Dust with confectioners' sugar before serving, if you like.
Image: Dédé Wilson
- As long as you stick with the total volume of fruit and nuts, you can vary them as you like. Consider dried cranberries, golden or dark raisins, candied lemon peel, walnuts and pecans as substitutions for some of the recommended fruits and nuts. You could even vary the spices if you prefer. Coriander is used in many classic panforte recipes. The fruit above was sent to us by Traina Foods. Always make sure your fruit is moist and plump.
- You can also bake this in an 8-inch square pan and cut into small squares or rectangles – try a 6-inch by 6-inch or an 8-inch by 8-inch grid – and serve as part of a candy or cookie array, placing in small fluted paper cups if desired.
- You can double the recipe, but just realize that the mixture will be very heavy and unwieldy. Your upper arm and forearm will get a workout.